Chanterria McGilbra – Prancing Ponies Foundation

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Chanterria McGilbra promotes her mission to “Create Women Leaders One Girl at a Time” through her foundation: Prancing Ponies.

The Prancing Ponies has a program called the Leadership Acceleration Academy, which prepares women in STEM fields for leadership roles after college graduation, and champions them to accelerate their career growth.

She likes to incorporate her passion for cars with her mission: her Ferrari, named “Cocoa” (for its chocolate suede interior), is at the core of the fundraising process. She raises funds by organizing The Only All-Women Ferrari Rally in the World and also through organizing the All-Women Car Show during the Monterey Car Week.

participants to the Prancing Ponies Rally and Leadership Acceleration Academy in front of the Monte-Carlo Casino
Participants to the Milano – Monte-Carlo Rally and Leadership Acceleration Academy 2017

Chanterria is based in San Francisco and dreams to see 250 women running S&P 500 companies.

What kind of little girl were you?

I was very wilful. What that meant was that I wasn’t spoiled or bratty. It just meant that when I made up my mind to something, I did it. Many people are challenged with precocious young girls who have their own mind and have their own will and I certainly experienced some of that with my own family. I definitely asserted myself very wilfully.

How did you start your career?

In school, in my undergrad program, I was a self-taught programmer in four different programming languages. When I graduated from university I was working at Charles Schwab, managing the tech team for eSchwab (an electronic brokerage service) and so I always had a strong connection with technology and anything futuristic. I then worked at a series of Fortune 500 companies like Arthur Andersen and Kaiser Permanente. When the dot com bomb happened, all the tech companies crashed, and I looked around and saw that the pharmaceutical companies were still making money. So, I jumped ship and took a lesser position so that I could get into the pharmaceutical industry. It turned out really well.

How did you decide to do a MBA?

I took my first trip to Europe which happened to be the Formula 1 in Monaco and after the race I was in the car going to the airport and saw a little ad in the back of a magazine that said “Get your MBA in Monaco”. It was more faith than anything. And I remembered asking my friends “Does Monaco have a university?” My company was sold 3 times, with a pay-out each time and I knew I wanted to go back and get a graduate degree at this point and it was just a good time in my life to do that. 9 months later I was in a plane to Monaco, living abroad for the first time.

What are your takeaways from your MBA at the International University of Monaco?

There is so much…Here are the top 3.

#1 Courage. I didn’t come from a travelling family and I only had taken 8 weeks of French lessons. It took me a lot of courage to leave everything behind me and move to Monaco. I tell this to the young girls in my program, once you make that leap of faith, you will find that on the other side of fear, there is an amount of courage that you would never have thought would be possible.

#2 Getting to know who I was, as a person.  In Monaco, you have the extreme of the very wealthy and those who have no wealth. My family was really poor and I became successful on my own, and a lot of students were not like me when I was there. It was a very interesting process. It really forced me to be very secure in who I was as a student at IUM.

#3 Setting my goals. It was easy to lose sight of my goals in Monaco because it is glamourous and sexy, with a lot of partying and travelling. I knew that I had to stay focused, budget well and look for work. It all paid off very well. On graduation day, I had already secured a job with a start-up IT company in Brussels, Belgium as VP of Corporate Development.

What motivated you to go work for a start-up after your MBA?

I had some start-up experience in California and I knew that I was very well suited for the start-up environment. I thrive in fast pace, dynamic, diverse work each day. During my MBA I organized a conference called Next Generation Entrepreneur Forum. I was the director of the event and it was very successful. One of the speakers at the event, who was on the board of a start-up, noticed how well it went and contacted me. So, he’s the reason I interviewed and subsequently pursued the position and got it.

Chanterria McGilbra during a rally

How did you get the idea to start the Prancing Ponies Foundation?

I was working at Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical, a biotech start-up. After we went public, I begun to ask myself a very tough question “What’s my life’s purpose?”. In doing the work to figure that out, it was clear that I wanted to help young girls become leaders. I’m a Buddhist and in my Buddhist organization our leader said “Turn your Karma into your life’s mission”. Even in California I have seen how many women get passed over for a leadership position and I also experienced a bit of that. At the time I left the company, we only had one woman in the C-suite and zero women on the Board of Directors. I was witnessing this, thinking to myself, I’ve got to do something about this, we cannot continue with women not being in leadership positions, not being in position of decision. And the bigger question was “what you’re going to do about that?” And Prancing Ponies was the outcome of turning my Karma into my life’s mission.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the girls who have gone through my program. It is not an easy program and they persevere and struggle and they’re challenged in so many ways.

Is there a particular failure that you learned from?

The first year I only recruited girls from high-school and sent them to Paris to the Leadership Acceleration Academy. I realized that it’s hard to talk to these young girls about the importance of doing presentations, budgeting, online self-brand management, when they are not even sure which degree they’re going to have. We needed to focus on girls that were older and ready to look for work. From this learning we changed our application policy to only 3rd year university STEM girls. We graduated 2 girls last summer and both girls have been recruited by automotive companies. Vanessa Grant, who was an international student, is at Toyota Belgium and Eliza Ruiz is at Waymo.

We still have a focus toward high-school girls but we do it in the form of what we call a “Prancing Ponies Club”, where materials, information and resources are all online. I am very excited to launch the Prancing Ponies Club in local high-schools in San Francisco and Marin counties in September.

How do you make your decisions?

The number one question I ask myself anytime I make a decision is “How is this going to benefit my girls?” Everything circles around that question.

What is your message to women in business?

Don’t let how little you value yourself limit your ability to lead.

Men will apply for a job they are not qualified for without question, women will not and the challenge is that women don’t see themselves qualified for a lot of things. Apply to that job anyway. If they are asking for 3 years of experience and you only have 2, apply to that job.

Hard work doesn’t get you promoted. Working smart gets you promoted. Between 3pm and 5pm on a Friday should be your networking hours just like men do. Go have a beer and network with someone from the office. This is just as important as your hard work but this is how you work smarter.

Do not write your own résumé. Always get someone else to write it for you and not necessarily a professional. An external person will be more inclined to speak about your skills, capabilities and abilities more positively than you are. As women, we are not taught to brag about ourselves. If we do, we are seen as precocious and aggressive but it’s brilliant how somebody else can see more in us than we see in ourselves.

My message to women who own their own business, is that their strongest support system is going to be other women business owners. And make sure that, in addition to female mentors, you also have at least one male mentor.


The Prancing Ponies Leadership Acceleration Academy is free to all girls who are accepted. There is still time to apply to the third annual Leadership Acceleration Academy that will take place this summer.  Applications are due May 31, 2019.  Visit PrancingPonies.Org for more details about the program and the activity of the Foundation.  The Prancing Ponies All Woman Car Show is their annual fundraising event held in Carmel, CA on August 14, 2019 and was recently featured on Restoration Garage.  Registration is available online now at: https://prancingponies.org/car-show/. All proceeds benefit the Prancing Ponies Foundation.

Chanterria with Oprah Winfrey who supports Prancing Ponies

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