With a bachelor's degree in economics from Williams College and an MBA in marketing from Universidade de São Paulo (USP), Thaís Mariz de Oliveira Tavares '93 started her professional career as a marketing trainee. In 2006, she transitioned into executive Search and leadership Consulting. Today, fifteen years later, Thaís is a principal at Heidrick & Struggles and a member of its Global Industrial and Global Diversity & Inclusion practices. This month, Thaís speaks with the Graded Gazette about her experience as a 'Graded lifer' and the mark it has left on her life.
1. What years did you attend Graded?
From T1 [a former intermediate grade between Kindergarten and first grade] to senior year, graduating in 1993. An authentic 'Graded Lifer.'
2. What are some of your favorite memories from your time at Graded?
Oh, so many! How do you summarize 13 years in one paragraph? I remember Mrs. Gulati making perfect circles on the chalkboard using her sari. I remember loving the Halloween parades every year, staying after school almost every day until at least 5:00 pm, and taking the last bus home. I remember Dona Emilia's delicious food and how mad I got when kids started food fights... so disrespectful. I remember winning a prize in the science fair with a doll I made from 'trash' and being in every possible play: You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown; Charlotte's Web; Charlie, and the Chocolate Factory; and Brothers Grimm. I remember some of my teachers and school staff: Ms. Powell, Mr. Carah, Mr. VanHull, Mrs. Evans, and Dr. Brandt. I remember our trip to Paraty and our senior trip to Bahia. I remember being captain of the volleyball team during my senior year and being carried into the court during the final Big Four game after having sat out half the season due to an injury.
Halloween at Graded circa 1983
3. What extracurricular activities or athletics did you participate in at Graded?
In EVERYTHING! I performed in the plays and talent shows, sang in the choir (New Horizons), and participated in the Graded Fashion Show. I was captain of the volleyball team and played basketball, too. I was on Graded's Yearbook staff and Student Council... You name it!
4. Do you remain in contact with your friends from Graded?
I do. Not nearly as frequently as I would like since they are spread across the world, but I still see a few of them and communicate sporadically with several others. As part of the Alumni Association since forever and as president for many years, I stayed in touch with many Graded alumni who became friends regardless of their graduation year.
Graded Fashion Show photoshoot, 1993
5. You have been a very active Graded alumna. Why is it important for you to stay connected?
Graded was a significant part of my life and responsible for 13 of my most relevant formative years. It was my foundation and truly shaped me into the person I have become. Staying close to the school is not only super nostalgic because it brings back all sorts of memories, but it also allows me to give back. I studied at Graded because my mother taught there for 30+ years, and thus, I had a scholarship. I have a debt of gratitude to the institution and will be forever grateful. As a bonus, Graded alumni are SUCH interesting people. I always have a blast getting to know them and interacting with them. As an added benefit, it's a great professional network!
6. How did your time at Graded shape the way you view the world?
My time at Graded gave me exposure to a truly multicultural environment, which provided me with diverse and broad references and repertoire. Graded prepared me to function, understand, explore, and develop a love for languages, foods, music, traditions, and dance. It was the foundation upon which I have built so much. It gave me structure, an ability to think critically, and a backbone!
Thais pictured with her mother, known as Dona Vera, a Graded teacher from 1981-2008, and her brother Henrique '95
7. Why did you choose to study at Williams? How was the transition from Graded? Did you feel prepared?
I didn't really choose Williams; Williams chose me. The college honored me with the Haystack Scholarship, a free ride awarded to just nine international applicants each year. It was the only school I applied to after Superintendent Dr. Brandt suggested the college. He made me aware that it was one of the few colleges at the time that gave out full scholarships to international students, so I figured, "Why not try?" I got my acceptance fax on April Fool's Day, and I remember hanging up on Mrs. Clemensen, my college counselor, who called to let me know! I thought it was a really bad prank...The transition from Graded to Williams was challenging but not as brutal as the adjustment from São Paulo to teeny-tiny Williamstown! Like I said before, I didn't know what I was getting myself into since we only had brochures and no internet to research about colleges. Little did I know that I had gotten into one of the best and most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the world.
Graduation, May 1993
8. You are currently a principal at top international executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles. Why and when did you decide that you wanted to work in executive search?
Again, not really my choice. It happened more by chance, but interestingly, it is a story that also links back to Graded. Laura Rosso, a class of ´93 classmate, used to work at Heidrick and was invited to hop onto the client's side. For some reason, she thought that I'd make a possible replacement for her, thinking I had what it would take to be a headhunter. I guess SHE was a really good headhunter because it has been 15 years since she called me to come in for an interview. I fit right in. My background in economics and psychology has helped. My relationship skills and sensible nature make me a good fit, too, I think. I replaced Laura as an associate for the industrial practice at Heidrick and have worked here ever since. The decision to remain in executive search after so many years is a daily one. It's a job that truly makes you feel smarter every day and provides an opportunity to make a relevant impact on so many lives.
9. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoy (and really miss) traveling. I enjoy being outdoors, at the beach, in the mountains, spending time with family and friends. Also, I love coffee and wine, dining, and watching series on Netflix.
10. Do you have any advice for current students at Graded?
Enjoy the ride, INTENSELY! You'll miss it soon enough. Oh, and please enjoy the AWESOME campus you have. In my time, it was already great, but nowadays... OH MY GOSH! Surreal and something else! Also, please come back and remain a part of the Graded community as active alumni.