I began my professional career in London at an American investment bank right after university. Not long after starting, all the newly minted graduates were dispatched to New York for eight weeks for the firm’s global analyst training program. There were 260 in the class, and most of us were from outside the U.S. and were in New York for the first time. A favorable USD/GBP exchange rate and good salaries enabled us to enjoy a hedonistic lifestyle in New York, which included fancy dining, live music and sporting events, and parties on most nights. Yet, during all of this, I witnessed an act of kindness that changed the way I view the world and my aspirations. This moment of humanity would ultimately drive me to pursue an MBA at INSEAD.
Midway through my training in New York, my friends and I went to see a Yankees baseball game. We caught the subway to return home and sat down next to a homeless man named Sam. Two stops later, another homeless man, J, boarded and sat next to Sam. They proceeded to talk and we overheard parts of the conversation. It became apparent that Sam and J had never met before. Then, Sam asked J if he would like to share some dinner, and J gladly accepted. Sam pulled out a tin of Vienna sausages and some dry crackers, which they shared. We watched all this and lumps gathered in our throats. Sam had no wealth and bleak prospects, yet was willing to share his food with a complete stranger. Would we have shared something worth as much to us with another stranger? This act of generosity humbled my friends and me.
Back at work in London, I quickly overcame the learning curve and grew skillful at my job. I was assured that staying in the banking sector would allow me to build considerable wealth. However, the parable of Sam etched deeply into my mind gave me a sobering reminder of the world around us. While I wasn’t worried about ending up like Sam, I was inspired to seek more in life than those parties and materialistic pursuits. I didn’t want to waste my precious time, and I wanted a challenge. I wanted to make my mark on the world.
It happened that two friends of mine from university were establishing separate technology startups at that time, and I assisted them in an advisory role. I found the work immensely stimulating and exciting. These ventures had an innovative product/service with the potential to make an impact on society, and my involvement in both energized me. I wanted to be even more involved but realized my limitation—although I was a competent financial analyst, there were gaps in my knowledge, such as in marketing and strategy. Earning an MBA was always in the back of my mind, and now the need to just do it became even clearer.
People select MBAs for different reasons: improving skills and knowledge, opening doors to new career paths, and forging strong networks, for example. My reason for pursuing an MBA is to build the skills mentioned and further develop my entrepreneurial skills. I want to use these skills to successfully transform a business concept into a leading business of tomorrow.
The road to business school wasn’t easy. In fact, the past year has been the most hectic I’ve ever experienced. On top of being busy at work (regularly working 80-plus hours a week), I had to juggle taking the GMAT and completing my business school essays. Most of my essays were written on the road during a business trip to the U.S. (conveniently allowing me to visit some of the schools I was applying to). In the midst of completing my applications, I was relocated halfway across the world for a new position in my firm’s Hong Kong office.
For a lot of people, business school means sacrifice: In addition to loss of earnings, there is the often painful separation from friends and family. My girlfriend remained in London during the seven months I spent in Hong Kong, and we will have to endure another year of separation while I’m in Fontainebleau, but at least we’ll be on the same continent.
Study Group Conflict
I know what I want to achieve and get out of business school, but I also know along the way there will be surprises, both good and bad. The sheer diversity of my class provides a great experience, but also leads to constant conflict and a clash of ideas and thoughts. The school selectively designs the study groups to maximize conflict. Why give us such a rough ride? Well, the skill in being able to resolve such disagreements in a diplomatic and efficient way is actually an extremely important leadership skill. I’ve heard from alumni that it is not uncommon for group work to turn into heated arguments and, on rare occasions, it has even gotten physical. I’m sure you’d also agree it is better to discover the limit of your patience and build on your management skills safely in business school rather than going ape one day in the workplace.
What position will I find myself in at the end of my course? Will I find that entrepreneurship is my field of choice? Perhaps I’ll want to disappear into a Bhutanese monastery. Maybe I’ll want to return to banking. What I do know is that over the course of my MBA, I’m going to provide my brain with much needed intellectual stimulation, make some fantastic friends, and indulge in Paris’s gastronomic offerings. Ah yes, I also know that the MBA is going to open many new doors for my career, although probably not in boxing. Classmates (especially study group members) need not worry.