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Building Strategic Alliances: Priscilla Zozaya (’15)

Building Strategic Alliances: Priscilla Zozaya (’15)

Priscilla Zozaya at a Mexican government meeting
Priscilla Zozaya (’15) at a high-level Mexican government meeting

“For me, there is a life before, and a life after IWP, for which I am very grateful… I got to study what I really wanted and apply it in real life.”

Priscilla Zozaya (’15) is passionate about helping businesses and governments work together. Here, Priscilla describes her work in building alliances, from her first days as a college graduate building international investment in her home country of Mexico to her current role as Head of Government Affairs for Siemens Energy. Along the way, her IWP education has been helpful.

Diving into international affairs work for Mexico

In Mexico, undergraduates must choose their major before choosing their college. So, Priscilla Zozaya (’15) dove right into her chosen field, attending an international affairs school for her undergraduate experience. Soon thereafter, she took on her first job with the Mexican government for an agency that was promoting investment in Mexico, as well as Mexican exports to the world.

She was soon sent to India to open the first Mexican commercial office there, in Mumbai. She quickly began learning Indian culture and gaining a sense of how India does business.

Priscilla was there in the wake of the 2008 attacks in Mumbai – in which members of the Islamist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out a series of twelve shootings and bombings over four days. In addition to the professional challenge of developing commercial relations between Mexico and India, Priscilla found herself in a very tense situation, especially as a young woman. “It was a big challenge,” she remembered.

After two years in Mumbai, Priscilla was sent to China in 2010 to close down Mexico’s Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010 for the end of the year. Soon, Mexico needed a regional manager for all the Asian commercial offices. Priscilla stayed in Shanghai for over three years, managing Mexico’s offices for investments and exports in Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, and Hong Kong.

“Then I decided I needed to invest in myself,” said Priscilla. She was ready to pursue her master’s degree.

Priscilla Zozaya in an IWP classroom
Priscilla in a classroom at IWP

Intelligence Studies at IWP

After living through the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, which involved being checked for bombs when going into the office and terrorist attack drills, Priscilla realized that she needed to be more aware of what is happening in the world on a larger scale.

“I found IWP online, contacted Jason Johnsrud [Sr. VP for Student Affairs], and fell in love with the curriculum,” said Priscilla. “IWP had the perfect combination of academics and real-world experience.”

She soon joined the M.A. program in Strategic Intelligence Studies.

Priscilla found that the education at IWP was indeed what she had been looking for: “It gave me a holistic approach to both personal and professional situations. International relations teaches you to see the whole picture – to look at economics, politics, culture, etc. IWP goes even further: it teaches you that there is a broader way to think, to take into account the smallest details that may not seem important initially but may matter a lot in the end.”

“Thanks to the skills I gained at IWP, I have been able to contribute in both the public and private sectors, working with my government and with other governments.”

Michael Webber and Priscilla Zozaya with former Director of Central Intelligence Jim Woolsey at IWP

Applying lessons learned at IWP in international business

Upon completing her studies at IWP, Priscilla joined the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce. Soon thereafter, she joined CT Strategies, a consultancy on border security and border processes. There, Priscilla did open-source intelligence work. She collected information from social media that may impact her clients’ operations across the border. She was able to infiltrate some drug cartels via social media to see where they would be and warn her clients where not to go. Priscilla soon found herself working on international business development for CT Strategies.

Priscilla found that her IWP education had prepared her well to gather information, check open sources, and know how to approach these sources.

Addressing more border challenges

After three years with CT Strategies, in 2018, the Mexican government asked Priscilla to help with the challenges at the U.S.-Mexico border, including the caravans coming from South America.

Priscilla knew that, in addition to this being a humanitarian issue, the U.S. saw this as a national security issue. She worked with Mexican security agencies on a strategy to put forward to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and State Department describing how to mitigate the issue. Part of the solution involved implementing programs in Central America that would encourage people to stay in their home countries. The training and development for these programs were created by Mexico, and the U.S. offered the funding. “We had incredible roundtables with all the governments involved – Mexican, American, and Central American,” said Priscilla.

The library of the Mexican Secretary of the Interior set for a meeting with with the DHS Secretary.
The private library of the Mexican Secretary of the Interior set for a high-level meeting with the DHS Secretary.

Enhancing car security for General Motors

Priscilla’s next adventure was with General Motors. In Mexico, she explained, car theft is a big problem, and many people do not buy insurance. People prefer to have a security package that comes with a car, including a commitment from the car company to help recover the car if it is stolen.

Priscilla learned how the cars were usually stolen so that GM could make them more secure. She worked with police to find stolen cars and put in place a standard procedure to recover them.

“This job took me back to everything I had learned about information gathering, market and security risk, and how to use that information to inform our strategy,” said Priscilla. “I really loved it.”

Soon, GM had a 90% recovery rate for stolen cars.

Back to the border

After her work with GM, Priscilla began working in government affairs with railroad company FERROMEX, which had six points of crossing into the U.S. Priscilla was in charge of their relations with customs in Mexico and Customs and Border Protection in the U.S.

Priscilla created alliances so that each entity could achieve its goal: FERROMEX needed to provide a seamless transportation service and turn a profit, and the U.S. needed to ensure its national security.

She worked with her security team to figure out how to protect the last mile before the border to guarantee that no unauthorized immigrants were on the train and no drugs were being smuggled in any merchandise. Ultimately, Priscilla was able to bring the DHS representative in Mexico on a visit to the train yards on the border, where he could see how FERROMEX was protecting its cargo.

“It has been exciting to enhance the security of the U.S.-Mexico border, working with governments and the railroad.”

Priscilla Zozaya at a last-mile rail inspection
Priscilla at a last-mile rail inspection
DHS and CBP officials at a yard inspection
A DHS and CBP yard inspection

Looking to the future: Continuing to build alliances

Priscilla is now the head of government affairs for Siemens Energy, where she oversees all government relations in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. In this role, she is balancing Mexico’s concerns about foreign investment in energy, efforts to mitigate pollution, and more. “I am building a strategy so that the Mexican government can see us as a partner and not a competition,” said Priscilla. Her intelligence skills from IWP have come in handy yet again, as she gathers information from a variety of sources to craft her company’s messaging with Mexican government officials.

In the future, she would like to continue to learn more about other countries and cultures, travel, build more strategic alliances, and eventually become a teacher and pass along her knowledge.

Headshot of Priscilla Zozaya ('15)
Priscilla as a participant on SheTalks about Energy Sector

Reflecting on IWP’s impact

Looking back at her professional experiences, Priscilla has found her IWP experience to be foundational to much of what she does on a day-to-day basis.

She said, “As I was gaining more experience in my professional life, the basics I learned at IWP about information gathering became my core in doing business. IWP has impacted how I present myself and how I prepare and strategize for meetings.”

She found that “IWP’s classes taught us to understand how the adversary thinks. This has been fundamental to me in my work. I understand how different parties speak about themselves and how they think about themselves and their objectives. It is essential for me in improving my way of doing business and achieving my goals. It has definitely given me a broader perspective on how the world works.”

Speaking about her degree in Strategic Intelligence, Priscilla commented: “No matter what you do professionally – economics, diplomacy, national security, international affairs – if you behave like an intelligence officer, you will gather all the information you need to do your job well.”

To those beginning their studies at IWP, she advised, “The IWP experience and academic curriculum is a way to dive deep into the knowledge that will improve your skills in the real world. What I would suggest to new students is to get to know your professors. They have a lot of knowledge – take advantage of it. Ask everything! Reach out to people who are at IWP or who are alumni to get to know them and learn more about how you can further your professional goals. IWP is a family!”

Priscilla Zozaya at IWP Commencement
Priscilla Zozaya at IWP Commencement