Jonathan Kolzvary Headshot

 

Jonathan Kolozsvary '13S (MBA)

Global Ventures General Manager,
Visa Garage

By Ashley Rabinovitch
 

For Jonathan Kolozsvary, operating a startup within a corporation can often feel like “taking a cruise ship and trying to turn it into a speedboat.” Developing new business ventures at the intersection of two worlds is not for the faint of heart, but Kolozsvary is equipped with the experience and drive to lead his team to success.

What motivated you to pursue an MBA at Simon?

I had initially planned to become a lawyer or run for public office, but I switched gears when I got a job with C.H. Robinson, a global transportation company, as a customer account manager. With a political science and pre-law background, I was missing the quantitative background I needed to reach higher levels of leadership. I needed to not only learn how to manage a P&L statement but also gain a broader understanding of how a corporation makes money and how I can contribute. Simon was right here in my backyard, so I decided to invest in myself. 

What were some of the highlights of the program for you?

Some of my fondest memories were spent with other students, sitting around a table preparing a case study or putting together a pitch before grabbing a beer at a local watering hole. I also really benefited from many of the guest lecturers who visited Simon. In 2013, René F. Jones, now CEO of M&T Bank, came to speak to my class, and I had the opportunity to ask for advice leading up to my interview with M&T. He told me to state directly that I wanted the job. I did, and I got it!

Can you walk us through your career progression in the financial services/fintech space?

After graduating from Simon, I joined M&T’s Executive Association program, where I spent four years navigating three different sectors of the business. I primarily focused on managing corporate marketing and strategy for business and commercial banking, which made good use of the analytical skills I honed at Simon. I then spent the next two years at Ernst & Young. My time in consulting strengthened my strategic muscles, but it helped me realize that I preferred to be on the other side of the table, closer to the customer. I returned to M&T, this time to lead the bank's new corporate incubator. Our mission was to identify unmet customer needs and build out solutions that the bank could retain or bring to market. After four years in this role, I was recruited by a former colleague to help set up an incubator at Visa called Visa Garage, where we are doing similar work to build, test, iterate, and scale new business ventures.

What is it like to navigate an environment that is part corporate, part startup?

You have to have high EQ and strong support from the highest levels of leadership to make progress. It’s all about demonstrating that you can deliver a product or service that solves a real problem for the corporation’s customers. The proof is in the pudding. When you get that buy-in, it is an incredibly rewarding experience. At Visa Garage, we get the opportunity to bring something competitive to market while also benefiting from the funding and support of an established company. It’s the best of both worlds.
 

What are you most proud of having accomplished?

I’m proud of building a team of entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, and product developers at Visa Garage who can strike the right balance between pushing the envelope and managing risk. It’s not easy to deliver innovative results within the type of organization whose entire governance model is geared toward mitigating risk. I’m also proud of two ventures that came out of my time at M&T: GrowGrade and NOTA. 

GrowGrade gives small business owners a quick, free valuation to help them strategize growth, while NOTA is a cloud-based platform that provides banking solutions for attorneys managing solo and small law firms. Both solutions help business owners deliver on their financial goals while serving their local communities.

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"My experience at Simon played a significant role in getting me where I am today. My MBA was the greatest investment I could have made in myself."

 

                —Jonathan Kolozsvary '13S (MBA)

How have you seen the fintech space evolve over the past decade?

Fintech partners can move faster, acquire and retain higher levels of talent, and focus on one product or experience in a way a bank can’t, while a bank has advantages like scalability and brand recognition. Banks and fintech leaders used to view each other as competitors rather than collaborators or accelerators, but that is starting to change with the rise of corporate incubators. 

How did your MBA experience help set you up for success in intrapreneurship?

I frequently tell people that my experience at Simon played a significant role in getting me where I am today. My MBA was the greatest investment I could have made in myself. I came in without any quantitative background, and since then, I have rarely been in a room where I couldn’t understand and contribute to discussions surrounding everything from strategic financial decisions to pricing and negotiations. Simon has given me the ability to take a seat at the table and have an informed discussion.