Calfskin leather bags and sterling silver money clips adorn the aisles of Tiffany & Co. in New York City. The company’s flagship store, a 10-story landmark on Fifth Avenue, dedicates its fourth floor to home and accessories, where ordinary objects like silverware and sunglasses meet modern luxury. It’s a unique combination, managed by a unique director: Cynthia Gonzalez ’13, MBA ’16, the youngest executive in the building.
Hired right out of FIU’s MBA program, Gonzalez has become a standout businesswoman at Tiffany & Co. She is not only a director of sales, but a liaison between corporate teams, an opener of new stores and a guide for celebrity clientele. Her resume is rare for a 26-year-old.
It should be no surprise that 10 years ago, she was one of the youngest students at FIU.
“I started there when I was 16 years old, and those are some of the most formative years of my life. Being proud of who I am stems from the university who created who I am today, professionally and personally,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez, a Miami native, was attending a local high school when she began searching for a greater academic challenge. She enrolled in FIU’s Academy for Advanced Academics, a dual-enrollment program at Modesto A. Maidique Campus.
“Imagine telling high-school-you that you can go to college with zero supervision and not have to go back to the high school that you knew as the regular day-to-day. It was incredibly exciting,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez and her academy classmates attended college courses in the mornings and Advanced Placement classes in the afternoon. She got involved on campus and attended football games, pep rallies and homecoming events.
“Being in Miami and being in FIU, you’re surrounded by so many different individuals from different countries throughout the world. And I think that helps you foster your education a lot further than it would in other places,” Gonzalez said.
The dual-enrollment program helped Gonzalez get ahead by recommending courses that would count toward a future degree at FIU or another university. Gonzalez, a lover of resorts and Disney World, used these credits toward a hospitality major.
As she delved further into her coursework and took a job at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Gonzalez developed a deeper appreciation for the power of hospitality.
“[Hospitality] is the whole 360. It’s hitting all of the points of an environment along with the experience and the product, and creating something that turns into a really deep, ingrained memory for a lot of people,” Gonzalez said.
While at the Biltmore, Gonzalez became more interested in the financial elements of the business. She ultimately left the hotel and returned to the university to pursue her MBA.
“The one-year MBA program I did was 100 percent the reason for my success today in my current company. I had the opportunity to do consulting competitions while I was getting my MBA, and that really moved the needle for me for getting the job at Tiffany & Co. I leveraged that a lot in my interview process,” Gonzalez said.
In the consulting competitions, students were asked to create a full-on business proposal for how to solve an issue that a real-life company was facing. Teams presented their cases in front of top business executives. Gonzalez’s team took second place at the 2016 Florida Intercollegiate Case Competition.
Shortly after the event, Tiffany & Co. came calling, and three years later, Gonzalez is a director.
Where did she get this drive to succeed?
“I was raised in Miami. That’s my answer. I think being raised in a place as dynamic as Miami, Florida, you’re just surrounded by confident individuals all the time,” Gonzalez said.
“And my mom graduated from FIU relatively recently. She went back to school while I was in high school, got her degree, was top of her class and she’s a big inspiration for me as well."
Gonzalez's mom was the Valedictorian of the 2011 professional BBA class and a double major in international business and management.
"I would say my confidence really stems from her.”