MSx Student

Claudia Udaquiola

MSx Class of 2024
Claudia Udaquiola
Claudia Udaquiola
I change when I push myself, and surround myself with a diverse group of people.
April 1, 2024

The only child of a travel agent and a small-business owner, Claudia Judit Udaquiola Rodríguez has known since adolescence that she wanted a business career. Raised in Madrid, she pursued her taste for challenge and adventure in China and then Cuba, where she worked as a management consultant with both Cuban and foreign companies.

“I just knew I wanted to have an experience with people who were really different from me,” Udaquiola says. That perspective informs both her career aims and her contributions as a volunteer diversity and inclusion officer for MSx students at Stanford GSB.

Udaquiola says her rewarding seven-year stint in Cuba involved “a steep learning curve.” It also fostered a deep admiration for the resourcefulness of the Cuban people. As a result, she became interested in helping Cuban Americans and other Latinx business owners thrive in the United States. For both role models and technical expertise, she turned to Stanford GSB.

Tell me about your family background.

My mother is from Spain; my father is from Argentina. They had me in Mallorca, a little island in the Mediterranean Sea, in the eastern part of Spain. We lived there for some years, and then we moved to Madrid. My dad set up his own little logistics and transportation company and grew it, and that was a source of inspiration to me.

He was something of an entrepreneur.

Probably not the idea of entrepreneur that we have at GSB. He didn’t have any university background. I really admire my dad. He’s a real salesman — he can sell you whatever. [Watching him] helped me to see the daily struggles of someone who owns and is managing a company. I used to love going to his office and helping him.

Why did you choose to take a college year abroad in Beijing?

I’ve always wanted to take a different route than people usually take. I think I was born an adventurer. I just love traveling to remote places — the more remote, the better; the more different the people, the better; and the biggest culture shock, the better. I always like to put myself in this kind of uncomfortable situation with different cultures because I think the amount of growth is immense. Those kinds of interactions teach you about “the other,” but also about yourself. [Plus] I’ve always been attracted to Chinese as a language.

How did you land on management consulting?

I cannot tell you that at 23 the decision to become a management consultant was super-well thought through. But I realized through my college experience that I loved facing business challenges. At that point, I didn’t know exactly which industry I was attracted to, and consulting gives you a great, broad perspective on everything that is out there.

What did you learn in your first job at Strategy& in Madrid?

I was a junior consultant. I had no idea what I was doing. I was quite lost. We were doing this project for a Spanish bank. They hired us to find efficiencies and to reduce costs. I went with a team to Venezuela for three months and to Argentina for another three months to identify potential savings in human resources. It was quite challenging. They knew that we were there, in the end, to fire people. I realized the power of relationships — how important it is to come in with empathy and kindness.

“I’ve worked hard all my life to network and develop relationships and communication skills.”

During the second year, I did not get promoted. That was one of the failures in my career that taught me a lot. I learned that, especially in a big corporation, it’s not just about doing a job; it’s about finding a mentor and someone who vouches for you and also about making yourself visible within your organization. I have an introverted side. I’ve worked hard all my life to network and develop relationships and communication skills. Not being promoted was super frustrating, but a deep learning moment for me. I could either tell myself I was not good enough or find an environment where I felt more engaged and valued.

And that environment was Wit Consulting?

It was kind of a startup environment, but with partners that had more than two decades of experience in consulting. I was really taking responsibility. I did not have all the layers above me, which pushed me to take a step forward in every project. Although at the beginning that was scary, that environment turned out to be really helpful because it allowed me to push my learning curve and have the partners’ trust to continue that path.

How did you end up in Cuba?

There was a little voice telling me, “You need to get out of Spain. You know how much you enjoy being around people from different countries.” I started looking for places where I had some connections. There was something missing in my career. The output of my job was too often just a beautiful PowerPoint presentation that usually ended up in a drawer. I was missing real impact.

And the job at EY Cuba Advisory and TAS was different?

We provided advisory services throughout the entire process of foreign investment, [both] cultural knowledge and how things work in Cuba. It was a two-sided experience. Knowing that I could contribute to the development of the island was very powerful and historic for me. But on the other side, I always had this internal debate about the political system in Cuba. I love Cuba. I haven’t met people like the Cuban people before. The struggles that they have had to go through have made them resilient. They are creative. They have a great imagination. They fix things that should be broken. They invent ways to solve problems that you would never see in any [other] environment. For me, that was so transformative. For me, the purpose of my job was to help the people.

Your projects involved airports, cancer drugs, rum manufacturing, cigars, railways, confectionary products, and more.

The first project that I had was developing a series of workshops or conferences as a way to grow our business and meet more potential clients. We came up with the idea of coaching Cuban businesses about international practices, [including] strategic planning, business modeling, and innovation. I led that entire program. It was an absolute success.

So this was something other than teaching international companies how to navigate the Cuban economy and bureaucracy?

Yes, we also gave advice to Cuban companies. That helped us [acquire] expertise in areas that we could potentially sell to other clients. It was really important to understand the culture. It also allowed me to create my brand within Cuba.

You’ve been involved with a couple of nonprofits, too.

One of them, Flores de Kiskeya in Haiti, is a project that I love for single moms. They suffer a lot from social discrimination, so [Flores] has built this amazing place where women can create different things so they can have a professional path. Jovenes Lobur in Kenya helps young people to get educated and to get access to health care. I try to contribute and find people who can contribute.

How important are these social commitments to you?

That’s one of the reasons I came to GSB. I got a chance to meet many entrepreneurs. There are still so many limitations in Cuba, and I realized they could be so successful if they had the possibility to come to the U.S. I wanted to help somehow. The second factor was [on] July 11, 2021, millions of people went to the streets to protest against the Cuban government, knowing the consequences. That kind of bravery encouraged me to realize that I have the power to make a change. I want to contribute to the Hispanic business community in the U.S., and especially the Cuban American community.

Why Stanford GSB, and the MSx program in particular?

It was about entrepreneurship. I wanted a program for mid-career professionals because I wanted to meet people who had more experience than me, people who could teach me things, who could inspire me. And I chose Stanford because I know this is the place to be if you want to build something and reinvent yourself.

What have been your most valuable experiences so far?

I’m the diversity and inclusion officer for the student association for the MSx. I wanted to make sure that everyone, regardless of background or family situation, was engaged and was part of the MSx community. For example, I organized a Halloween event for kids, in which we had pumpkin carving, sweets, and games. It was just a beautiful moment of celebration.

What about your classes?

I will mention Allison Kluger [a lecturer in organizational behavior] as one of the most inspiring teachers I’ve had so far. The first class I’m taking with her is called A Strategic Pivoting for Your Next Chapter. This course helps you get ready for your pivot after GSB. I came [to Stanford] to focus on technical skills, but then I got here and realized what I need to learn is soft skills, how to become a general manager. This class gives you a structured way to think about your pivot and mitigate the risks. It’s co-taught by Alex Rodriguez, the ex-baseball player. I love the fact that he knows the business from doing business. That’s probably what I experienced as a teenager from my dad.

What’s your pivot going to be?

Entrepreneurship through acquisition. [Through a search fund] I sell my skills to investors and raise money to fund a two-year period where I would be looking to acquire a business. Once you acquire it, you become the CEO. My objective is to find a business with a link to the Hispanic community in the U.S, and to have the experience of owning and managing your own enterprise.

Photos by Elena Zhukova

Claudia Udaquiola
Claudia Udaquiola
MSx Class of 2024
Madrid, Spain
MS, Stanford Graduate School of Business
BA and MA, Comillas Pontifical University – Icade Faculty
Professional Experience
Senior Manager, EY Cuba Advisory & TAS
Senior Consultant, Wit Consulting
Consultant, Strategy&
Current Profile