Alumna Q&A: Pilar Guzman (MSFS’05) on her time at SFS and her business Half Moon Empanadas

Why did you decide to come to SFS?

I was looking for a program that would help me understand why Latin America, and Mexico in particular, continued to suffer from underdevelopment, and as a result, could never address the extreme and rampant poverty levels. I wanted to understand the region as a whole, and learn about the policies that could be implemented between public and private sector to promote development. My concentration at the MSFS was International Trade and Finance.

Did you have any mentors or advisors at SFS that made a big impact on you?

Professor Robert Cumby from my International Trade class not only taught me all I know about international trade, but most importantly, he gave me the opportunity to be his Teacher Assistant and helped me feel more confident about the fact that a foreign student could actually thrive in such a tough program. Professor Robin King’s class on Risk Analysis of Latin America taught me how to critically analyze the issues and challenges that the region faces. It was the most interesting class I participated in, and she became my friend and mentor. Maria Carland was of great support on the course of the program as well.

Who are your heroes in real life?

In my inner circle, my father is my hero. I admire his courage, his tenacity, his example of hard work and his good heart. He is always there to support those that he loves and I truly admire that of him. Earlier in his career, he started his own business in the early 80s when nothing was done via the internet. He took his life savings, with no English, and flew to China to find the supplier for a product that back then was not available in Mexico. He became a successful entrepreneur.

In public life, I admire people like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. They believed in their cause and believed that there was nothing more important than the respect for all human beings. They envisioned a better world and fought to achieve that.

I will someday have my own Foundation that will support the development of women entrepreneurs in poor, underdeveloped areas of Latin America. I hope someday I can be one of those citizens that help to make a positive difference in this world.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Mexican Painter, Frida Kahlo. She was from her early years someone with revolutionary ideas and who always challenged the status quo. Despite all her suffering and health challenges, she was always a fighter. She became one of the most recognized painters in Mexico. I respect her tenacity and her strong mind to always stay true to her values and ideas.

What is your favorite memory of your time at SFS?

The good memories with friends studying for the oral exams. That was a fun time. But I think that I have the tough times closer to my heart. My experience at the MSFS was able to build a stronger will in me. It tested my character and forced me to persist and exceed my own expectations. It helped me understand and realize that I could do anything, that if I was able to speak my mind and pronounce my ideas in a different language, I could overcome all of my fears and obstacles.

Describe your current role and what makes you most proud about that.

I am a business entrepreneur in Miami. My husband and I own Half Moon Empanadas. We aim to be the next fast casual concept in the US. I am proud of where we are today. We were able to overcome one the worst economic crisis in US history, in an industry where 80% of restaurants fail within the first 5 years. We overcame many challenges, and were able to grow and become a successful business. Half Moon Empanadas will be the first empanada shop at MIA International Airport and we have a strong presence inside the University of Miami. I am very proud of these achievements.

How did SFS prepare you for your current role/career?

The MSFS taught me how to think critically, how to analyze problems and propose solutions from a systemic perspective. It gave me the confidence to present and manage many situation of my business. It gave me the HOYA reputation and a great network. The most valuable network has proven to be my classmates, people like Mickey Bergman and Miguel Estien who have been key advisors of Half Moon.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

On the personal side, my two children, Diego and Sofia. And also balancing the different aspects of being a mother and entrepreneur is something I am proud of. Half Moon Empanadas is my passion and I believe every thing that we have achieved there represents a great achievement to me.

Have you traveled extensively? For work or for pleasure? What is your favorite place?

I have, although there are still areas of the world that I am yet to visit. Large cities that I have enjoyed visiting have been Madrid, Florence and NY. Smaller town like Los Cabos are among the most beautiful places I have been.

What advice do you have for current SFS students?

Dream big, aim high and work hard. Always remember where you come from and give back. Remember that you were given a special privilege to attend one of the top universities in the world, and just because of that, there is a responsibility in itself to give back.