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Gustavo Pierini, SM ’87: Giving back, with interest

Gustavo Pierini with Dean David Schmittlein at Alumni Weekend 2011Gustavo Pierini with Dean David Schmittlein at Alumni Weekend 2011

In 1979, Gustavo Pierini was an accomplished 21-year-old engineering student in Buenos Aires when a local private foundation decided to send him on his first trip to the United States. The monthlong journey included visits to the White House, the United Nations, and several college campuses, including MIT.

“There is no better place for an engineer to study than MIT, and when I saw MIT, I knew I wanted to be there,” said Pierini. “That trip was an amazing experience. It was a turning point in my life … and I knew I wanted to return one day for graduate school.”

But first he distinguished himself as a student in Argentina, graduating at the top of his class and earning the coveted ELMA Prize for his academic achievements. “In all of the stages of my life, I tried to excel,” he said. “In everything I do, I aim to be the first. Sometimes I end up second, but I aim to be the first.” Pierini did return to MIT for graduate school, thanks in no small part to scholarships, aid from a local company, and being named a Fulbright Scholar, all of which helped cover part of his tuition, as the cost was otherwise prohibitive on his $7,200 salary. He and his former wife both worked during their two years in Cambridge to make his matriculation possible, and Pierini remembers well the help he received along the way to pursue his educational dream. Despite the challenge of working while going to school, Pierini was also named as the Henry Ford II Scholar, an award that is granted to a second-year student who shows “unusual academic achievement and professional promise.”

As a result of both his gratitude and a strong sense of social responsibility, Pierini has established a fellowship through a substantial gift that supports multiple graduate students from Argentina and Brazil as they work toward earning degrees at MIT Sloan. In addition, prior to the dedication of E62 last May, Pierini donated three study rooms to honor members of his family: his children, Carla, Franco, and Giorgia; his mother, Luisa Levin Pierini; and his wife, Valeria Pierini. A fourth study room is named for his thriving company in São Paulo, Brazil, Gradus Management Consultants, which Pierini founded 15 years ago to support the management of large companies through post-merger integrations, organizational redesign, turnaround programs, and logistics and commercial strategy.

“What happened in my life didn’t happen by chance—it was built,” said Pierini, who formerly held positions at Esso Petrolera, McKinsey & Company, and a large private equity firm. “What I do is I work a lot, and the more I work, the luckier I become. In my life I’ve had three jobs and then I started my own shop. We celebrated 15 years on Monday, October 17. We do our work, and we deliver what we promise.”

Pierini has also delivered on promises made to the organizations that supported his successful journey, including the foundation in Argentina that first sent him to the United States, a trip he now sponsors on an annual basis. He has also made provisions locally for scholarships, seminars, and even facilities for institutions that have touched his life, as a means of recognizing “what others did for me.”

“I knew I had to start giving back, and that is exactly what I want to do for other people, to make their dreams come true,” said Pierini. “With the fellowship, I am providing one per year for perpetuity, so there is enough funding to allow either one student to be paid for the two years or two students to pay for one year of tuition. I prefer the second option, because today there is a loan market. When I went to study in 1985, that didn’t exist and in the United States it was only for Americans; so what I want to do is exactly what happened for me. I didn’t need 100 percent of my tuition. I needed just a part of it. What I wanted to give was enough money to break the threshold between going to MIT or a second-tier institution.

“I want to give back to the world, and [through the fellowship] I am giving back more, with interest,” he said. “I have to give back more than I received.”