Scholar Spotlight - Chelsea Castañeda

Laidlaw Scholar Chelsea Castañeda on keeping calm and learning important lessons from family.
Scholar Spotlight - Chelsea Castañeda
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Chelsea Castañeda, a Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School, on keeping calm and learning important lessons from family.

I grew up between Mexico and the United States, two countries, whose similarities and differences, have created the person that I am today. My upbringing in these two places has not only provided me with an extensive support system but also with the ability to communicate and connect with people of varying languages, cultures, and viewpoints. This opportunity only furthered my curiosity in other cultures and languages beyond my own and eventually lead me to study International Affairs in Washington, D.C.. Studying in D.C. during such polarized times served to pivot my passions from learning about other cultures, to sharing what I knew about them, and creating bridges between people of varying beliefs.

As with many, the COVID-19 pandemic brought much change and time for reflection. It was during this time that I spent many months helping my family adapt our family business to the new environment. They had worked tirelessly for many years, yet no amount of experience could prepare anyone for the changes we were living. During a time when most small businesses were closing, we kept adapting and pushing forward. The excitement I felt helping during this time sparked my interest in studying business and eventually led me to the London Business School. I knew that its international student population would allow me to continue combining my first passion with my newly discovered one. 

Having the backing of the Laidlaw Foundation and London Business School in supporting women’s initiatives through the Women’s Leadership Fund undeniably has, and will continue to have, a profound effect on the way the world does business and the way business impacts the world. What better team to create an impact on the world than an army of strong, determined women?

What is the biggest life challenge you overcame, and what did you learn from it?

One of my biggest challenges to date has been living the ups and downs of sickness and the eventual passing of my paternal grandfather. My grandfather, a simple man from a small rural town in Mexico, was a never-ending book of knowledge and wisdom. He had a way of making everyone feel special and his hard-working personality created a reputation that preceded him. He would wake up before sunrise and work his land every day; it was a tough lifestyle, but he was a happy man doing so. I think this is a true representation of who he was at his core, someone that would look at any difficult situation and face it with a smile. He did this then and did it for over ten years while fighting cancer.

I have always tried to be like him. As a kid, I remember trying (and many times failing) to wake up and accompany him to the fields. I would listen as he stressed the importance of hard work and honesty, no matter what you do or how much you earn. And now, I try to make him proud welcoming every challenge with a smile (except waking up early, I’m still working on that). 

A photo with my grandfather.
A photo with my grandfather.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

“ El que se enoja, pierde.” ( He who gets mad, loses.) This was probably first said to me during a fight with my younger brother, but this simple saying has proved time and time again to hold a deeper meaning. It speaks to the importance of patience during tough times, to listening to others’ opinions (no matter how different they are to your own), and even to health benefits from avoiding anger consuming your body.

How many times have we seen, or been, in a situation where an individual is so consumed with anger that they enter a tunnel vision and impair their judgement? Sure, we may not like what is being said, but we grow far more when we try to understand, put the points against our own opinion, and strengthen our argument (or admit that we may also not be right). I can’t say I’ve managed to follow this perfectly with my brother since, but I can say I have learned and understood far more staying calm than becoming angry.

What is the worst piece of advice you have been given?

“Just move on to the next thing”  It is never easy to face a moment of failure, however you wish to define it, but there’s something to be said about taking time to reflect on where you went wrong and improve upon it. We are always encouraged to work more, faster, better, but we will keep repeating the same mistake if don’t allow time for processing and reflection. 

Top 3 tips that will help someone become a better leader

    ⚡ Kindle interpersonal connections: Really get to know the people you are working with. It’s a lot easier, and more fun, to be working alongside people whose friendship you value than strangers. My favorite teams have and will always be the ones I leave having made lasting friendships.

    ⚡ Listen: Just because you are in charge does not mean you know everything. Always make sure your team members know their voices are heard and valued. Listening is equally as important as communicating a clear message, so having both present will set any team up for success.

    ⚡ Stay Positive: When things start heading south, don’t let your thoughts go there too. It can be very easy to let our emotions get the best of us and block our thoughts. Take a break, have a laugh, and get back into in! 

    Which leaders in the world inspire you the most and why?

    Choosing one leader has always been hard for me, but I think we often forget to give praise to maternal figures, whether blood-related or not, that allow for us to have a better life and future than them. When I look back to my grandmothers and see how far I’ve come, both geographically and in education levels, I know that I could never have made it here if not for their sacrifices and encouragement. 

    Indra Nooyi, at a talk held earlier in the year at LBS, alluded to a similar topic of her mother having a foot on the gas pedal that accelerated the encouragement and support to become who she is today. We see the same with Barack Obama’s mother who impressed upon him the need for helping his community. I could look into countless leaders, both male and female, and find a proud mother standing behind them empowering them to push further. Because of this, their unconditional love and support, mothers inspire me the most. I hope to be able to give my own mother the thanks she deserves, continue to make all women proud with the progress we make, and one day be someone else’s support.

    What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?

    It means the world being able to form part of an almost family-like community that encourages its scholars to strive for their dreams without sacrificing who they are. Being part of the Laidlaw family, and Women’s Leadership family, has further exposed me to hard-working individuals from all walks of life and motivated me to continue working on my dreams of creating bridges between people. I truly appreciate being part of a community that encourages and helps women like myself achieve their life and career ambitions. 

    Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.

    I am striving to create a more united world. A world where we praise and admire each other’s differences instead of using them to separate us. I hope that at every step of the way I can continue to use the lessons I learn, whether from life or at school, to show people the strength we have when we come together. I understand that it is only natural for us to fear the unknown, but I truly believe that the moment we actively seek to understand each other and establish common grounds, we will be able to advance as a society and reap far greater benefits than if we continue to be divided.

    This world is filled with such amazing individuals with all kinds of talents, journeys, and dreams. I hope to continue bringing people together in conversation and understanding and seeing what we achieve together. 

    Volunteering with MEDLIFE in Peru
    Volunteering with MEDLIFE in Peru

    Quick-Fire Questions

    📺 Currently binging: Inventing Anna. I’m just shocked this is a real story, but I guess it goes to show you can do anything you put your mind to.

    🎵 My current anthem: Bamboleo by the Gipsy Kings. It’s a classic and never fails to get people dancing!!

    📚 My top book recommendation: Who Moved My Cheese. It's a quick read, but so helpful in reflecting on where you are now and welcoming any changes you may be facing.

    🎧 Podcast obsession: The Moth. An amazing way to change your perspective through different individuals' stories.

    🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: Finding my favorite Mexican cookies in a London shop. Never underestimate the power of food to transport you back to your childhood or home. 

    ❤️ A cause I care about: Volunteer in any way, place, or capacity possible. It helps and means far more than you could ever imagine! 

    Chelsea is a Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School. The Laidlaw Women's Business Education Scholarship aims to help build a pipeline of future women leaders through access to best-in-class education, resources and global networks by providing full and half scholarships to women who would not otherwise be in a position to reap the benefits of attending an outstanding school. 

    🔦 Discover more Scholar Spotlights:

    • Amanda Ken-Umuze on tackling technology and infrastructure limitations in Africa and serving as a role model to empower other women.
    • Nouss Bih on confronting her fears and building a pipeline of female entrepreneurs and leaders.

    • Enobong Kennedy on staying determined to succeed and providing rural electrification for markets without energy access.

    • Ifeoluwa Ogunbufunmi on building a network of strong women and achieving with compassion.

    • Princess Agina on helping youth empower themselves and celebrating diverse perspectives.