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Disrupting for Good: Oscar Marquina

Oscar Marquina smiles inside USU's LatinX Center.
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Oscar Marquina’s BS ‘05, MBA ‘10 successful business career pays dividends beyond just financial gain.

His family immigrated to New Jersey from Venezuela when Marquina was 14 years old, and relatives living in Utah put the Beehive State on his radar when it came time to choose a college. He studied mechanical engineering at Utah State University. Upon graduating, he washed dishes at a Cache Valley restaurant, but the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012 allowed Marquina to obtain a work permit and seek out more substantial career opportunities.

Since completing his MBA at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, Marquina has held positions with Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Company, while also leading a hand in recent years to business startups as an angel investor. Marquina’s influence in the Hispanic business community led to him being named to 2018’s “Top 40 Under 40 Hispanic Leaders” list by Prospanica, the association of Hispanic MBAs and business professionals, as well as being recognized as a “40 Under 40 Business Leader” by Utah Business Magazine in 2022.

We visited with Marquina, now 40, in the Taggart Student Center on Halloween, just a few weeks after being honored at Homecoming as USU’s 2022 Young Alumnus of the Year. This conversation has been edited for clarity.

Jeff Hunter: Why did you initially choose to study engineering?

Oscar Marquina: I come from a family of professors, and I had a couple of uncles that were engineers. So, almost since I was little, it was kind of understood that I was going to be an engineer. I remember playing with Legos thinking I was going to work for NASA. Another reason is that it’s a well-paying career. If we had stayed in Venezuela, it would have been even more certain that I would have gone into engineering for the economic security.

JH: What prompted your shift to pursuing an MBA?

OM: The world is better off because I’m not an engineer. You don’t want me anywhere near a building, or a car, or a plane. There were a few things about engineering that I really enjoyed, but I started realizing that I probably didn’t have the full skills to be really good at it. I think by my junior year I kind of already knew I might not have an engineer-type career, but I wasn’t going to be the person doing the designs and number crunching. So, I started trying to get more involved in leadership activities and working with the school government to get us some funding for things like the Mini Baja (engineering competition).

JH: When did the desire to get into business emerge?

OM: When I was a freshman in college, I started a small business. It was driving an ice cream truck. I had lost my job and my mom had lost her job, so I had to figure out how I was going to pay for school. I bought the ice cream truck from a friend and it worked out great. That’s how I paid for school. I even hired a couple of other people. That is really what got me into pursuing business more seriously. By the time I was a senior, I knew I was going to come back and get my MBA.

JH: How long did that take?

OM: I didn’t have my work permit, so I couldn’t get a full-time job. So, for two years I ran the ice cream truck, started another business down in Salt Lake – a handbag store – and I spent a lot of time skiing at Beaver Mountain Ski Area. I was just trying to prepare myself for the next stage, and both businesses were successful. Handbags & More had two locations before I sold it.

JH: What has the value of your MBA from Utah State been?

OM: After I got my work permit I went to work for a commodity trading company out of Kansas City buying and selling wheat. Then I switched to a similar job in the commodities group for Goldman Sachs. What my MBA did was open up a lot of doors for me, and it was very pivotal in me getting another job as a management consultant for McKinsey & Company. A professor I had at USU worked there, and he reached out, asking if I wanted to come over. At the time, I didn’t know what McKinsey was, but after looking into it, I realized it was one of those unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. While I was at McKinsey, I co-founded a group called the Hispanic and Latino Economic Forum, which I feel has had a positive impact in the Hispanic community, at least in the business world.

JH: What do you enjoy about angel investing?

OM: For me, it is very rewarding for a couple of reasons. First, I really like working with startup founders. There’s a lot of raw energy there, which is very contagious. And second, after being involved with the Hispanic and Latino Economic Forum, I thought, OK, it’s time to put my money where my mouth is and try and help make things easier for other people than I had.

JH: Will you share some details about the companies you’ve invested in?

OM: A couple of the angel investments that I have made are in the space tech industry, companies that are working on satellite refueling and space debris mapping. I’ve also invested in a company that is creating smart contact lenses. The tie-in is that my engineering education helped give me an appreciation on how technology can improve society, and I see my skills in business and as an investor as a way to support these innovations.

JH: You’ve been referred to as a business leader by several different publications and organizations. Do you feel like one?

OM: I don’t know if I’m a leader or not, but I feel like I’ve been fortunate and lucky enough to find myself in different situations where I’ve been able to make a positive impact with people and communities.

JH: You have truly embraced the Huntsman School of Business’s motto of “Dare mighty things.” That seems appropriate for someone whose career is investing.

OM: I think it’s a good motto to have for anything, not just investing and business. It’s a good attitude because it helps you push the limits of what you think is possible and really try for something bigger. I really feel that having that vision to be able to “Dare mighty things” is something that is worth embracing for students.

By Jeff Hunter ‘96

Photo by Levi Sim

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