"When work doesn't feel like work, and you're truly just passionate about what you're doing, to me, that's magic."
It wasn’t always magic for Tori Penso, MBA ‘15. From making tough career moves to trading a dream job for more education, Penso’s path to success has been a long time coming.
Upon graduating from Florida State, Penso hit the ground running in her career at Coca-Cola before moving to Red Bull in 2010. In 2012, she was promoted and moved to Santa Monica to work at Red Bull’s headquarters. That’s when she realized something was missing.
“What I learned from my early career experience was that I’m a really good marketer, but I lacked the foundational knowledge of the business,” Penso said. “I needed to take a break from my career and work on skills like finance and accounting. I wasn’t going to get where I wanted to be long term by riding the struggle bus.”
A Florida native, Penso traded the palm trees and sandy beaches for a new life in Ohio with her husband, who surprised her when he said that Cleveland experiences all four seasons.
"When I went to Ohio, I was evaluating who had the best MBA program and where I would fit in, so I checked out a number of programs,” Penso said. “Case Western was the obvious choice.”
In typical fashion, Penso immersed herself in the learning experience. During her second year, while pregnant with her first child, she was elected Vice President of the Graduate Business Student Association. She also made connections as a graduate assistant and a department student ambassador.
“The program challenged me in all the ways I needed to be challenged,” Penso said. “I still struggled, but the professors were able to bring in the real-world experience and it always brought to light why we were learning the material.”
Penso remembered learning from Weatherhead faculty members who influenced the way she perceives the business world today. Richard Buchanan’s design class changed the way she approached problems, and she describes Simon Peck’s strategy course as “imperative” to seeing the bigger picture and different market layers. To this day, Penso still uses organizational behavior concepts she learned in Richard Boyatzis and Ellen Van Oosten’s classes to lead and develop teams.
“To me, receiving my MBA wasn’t just a check in the box or a line on my resume,” Penso said. “Building on these foundational skills was extremely important for my next step.”
After graduating from Weatherhead in 2015, Penso went on to hold leadership roles at digital and marketing agencies in both Cleveland and Florida.
While climbing the corporate ladder, Penso was also making waves on the soccer field.
As a National Referee for the U.S. Soccer Federation since 2013, Penso has officiated more than 100 professional soccer matches across the country including games for the US Men and Women National Teams, Major League Soccer, National Women’s Soccer League and more.
“I soon came to the realization that if I could align my business skills with my passion for soccer, it would be the perfect match,” Penso said.
No sooner did she have this realization, Penso was contacted by the National Intercollegiate Soccer Officials Association (NISOA) with an offer she couldn’t resist.
Penso was named Managing Director of NISOA in January 2020. In this role, she provides strategic leadership, develops critical partnerships with outside agents, serves as a spokesperson for the organization, assists in the implementation of NISOA’s strategic plan and more.
NISOA is an organization of roughly 5,000 soccer officials that trains, certifies and provides qualified soccer referees for the college soccer community throughout the country.
As a female in a male-dominated industry, Penso says she has received an outpouring of support since taking on her new role.
“It’s such a positive thing seeing more women in leadership roles,” Penso said. “The more young girls see women in leadership roles, the more they feel empowered that they can be there too.”
With the soccer landscape drastically changing, Penso says she is excited for the challenge that lies ahead.
“Soccer has defined who I am today,” she said. “I want to bring that experience to other people, and I am bringing all of the business concepts I learned at Weatherhead to do just that.”
Looking back, Penso knows that without her education from Weatherhead, it would have been difficult to get to the next step on her own. But she also recognizes the importance of real-world experience before pursuing her MBA, as she was able to identify where the gap in her skillset was, and she encourages others to do the same.
Despite the difficult decision to uproot her life in Santa Monica to purse her MBA at Weatherhead, she says it was all worth it to be where she is today.
Learn more about Weatherhead's MBA Programs.