Karina Cuenca (EMBA 2023) is a Senior Logistics Specialist for Siete Family Foods and part of the Inactive Ready Reserves, US Army.
Karina Cuenca was in eighth grade when the Twin Towers collapsed on 9/11. She lived in New York City then, and decided at that “absolutely formative” moment to join the military after college (where she received a scholarship from the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps). “I wanted to serve my country,” Karina says, underscoring a clear sense of mission and purpose that has infused everything she’s done since. From eventually going to work for a family-run startup to pursuing her MBA so that she can, one day, help coach and build a community around other entrepreneurs, it’s always been important to this veteran to associate with people and companies who “not only talk about their mission and purpose, but live them out through their values.”
Ten years after joining the Army, Karina is still in the IRR, the Inactive Ready Reserves. That means she has no regular training commitments anymore, but if she wanted to deploy or otherwise volunteer to fulfill an Army requisition, she could, provided she meets the requirements.
While serving full-time, Karina rotated jobs every year or so. Her last position was as a Logistics Planner and Trainer at Fort Irwin, which she describes as “a lot of management of people and operations.” Before that, she worked as a Supply Chain Manager for a Field Artillery unit at Fort Lewis. At one point, she was in charge of delegating operations to a group of more than five hundred soldiers who in turn supported thousands more soldiers. “It was a lot of responsibility at a young age,” Karina remembers, “but at the end of the day, my primary duty was ensuring the health and well-being of people,” a value she can totally get behind.
Once Karina left active duty, it was important to her not to be pigeonholed by a headhunter into a consulting or sales role—”as so many military officers are,” Karina points out—but to intentionally seek out like-minded companies. Capitalizing on her experience in logistics and supply chain management, she landed a job with Siete Family Foods, a grain-free Mexican American food brand that began life as a startup. There, Karina liaisons between freight brokers and Siete’s warehouse and distribution team to make sure day-to-day operations run smoothly—"Because if our products don’t make it to our customers,” she quips, “what are we here for?”—and works to optimize supply chain strategy.
Although Karina would have liked (between swapping her military career for a civilian one) to travel in the camper van she’d outfitted for that purpose, the pandemic put those plans as well as her intention to start an MBA program on hold for a time. That’s when she went to work for Siete. By the time in-person MBA programs had resumed, she loved her job at Siete so much that she limited her search to part-time programs so she could continue working. With its convenient location and one-night-a-week class format, the Baylor Executive MBA program appealed to Karina more than any other program she considered. “Other programs felt more transactional … whereas Baylor feels more like a relationship,” she reflects.
On Veterans’ Day, the school gave T-shirts to student veterans. Baylor recently hosted a military branch football game in which student veterans were encouraged to carry flags. In the classroom, Karina says she’s once again finding the “network and connections” she loved so much from her time in the Army, but her classmates are also challenging her to “look at business problems very differently” than she did in the military. In particular, she thinks it’s “helpful to study businesses that have failed” since it’s “important to learn from mistakes.”
Once her time at Siete has run its course and her husband, who’s still in the military, retires, Karina hopes to start a small business on the East Coast, where she’s originally from. “I want to create the same community I felt drawn to in the military, that I was drawn to at Siete, and then again at Baylor,” she says, “but for mentoring other young entrepreneurs.” While an MBA isn’t a requirement for starting a business, Karina nevertheless believes her time at Baylor will give her the “tools, knowledge, and credibility“ to be successful long-term, while also increasing her earnings potential in the short-term.
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