Posts from our EMBA-Global bloggers

Our biggest career choices hinge upon some key factors – money, interest, passion, security etc. Some more than others depending upon your own risk aversion, importance of work-life balance, ambition and so on. Whatever the motivation, the common outcome from an MBA is expected to be ‘change’ – accelerated change. “I’m doing my MBA to change nothing in my current circumstances” – said no one ever! If change is the goal, then the measurement of success surely has to be how far you move from your current state. But not every moment in life is ripe for change and an untimely MBA won’t pack the power of a knockout punch.

In my opinion there are three distinct stages at which an MBA makes sense. First, the full-time MBA when you’ve had a few years in consulting, banking or other professions and are eager to get ahead in the corporate world. And because they have no great obligations at this stage in life, the opportunity cost of losing two years’ pay is minimal. The second is when you’re trying to make a similar change, but are a bit further along in your career and life to give up your income. The Executive MBA students, typically with a few more years’ work experience, will juggle work, family and weekend classes to change their position, a team, a discipline or try out another organization.

The third stage, is when you’re an established mid-to-senior level executive with experience in leading teams and organizations with a proven track record. So the case for change at this level is not because you ‘need’ to, but because you ‘want’ to – perhaps because you want a new challenge or want something more stimulating than what you’re doing or perhaps you simply want to see what options are available. Whatever the reason, at this stage in life the single most driving factor is realizing your own potential and pushing the boundaries of your capabilities. Unexplored, this can lead to a midlife crisis.

Enter EMBA Global. When I started the course, I was doing quite well as a revenue strategist at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, but I decided it was time to look at possibilities ‘out there’. I loved the work I did but I also had begun to realize I could do better. So I naturally wanted to equip myself with the education and network to discover other options. Someone once said to me “An MBA is a lot of money to just keep your options open”.  No doubt the case, but the reward when you pick an option can be life-changing. And so I found myself on a plane to London to start the 20-month EMBA-Global journey.

I remember sitting in class on the first day of orientation, being awestruck by everyone’s stories of how they got there, and thinking, “What am I doing here?” But as the year progressed and I got to know everyone, I discovered that we weren’t all that different. We had different backgrounds but still, being in the company of these smart individuals didn’t give me a feeling of competition, but of validation – that I could achieve whatever I set my sights on, like every one of my friends in class could. And so began a journey of self-searching, self-awareness, excitement for the possibilities and, of course, action. I can’t count the number of folks in class who have quit what they were doing when they joined to do something completely different – something they had always wanted to do. Many have chosen to change locations, professions and industries. Some like me, have taken the path of entrepreneurship, which wasn’t an option for me until I started the EMBA Global experience. With six months left to go in the program, I quit my job at Starwood and using that experience, I’m launching SuiteStory, the next best thing in online luxury hotel booking experience – one that will cater to a whole generation of affluent travelers looking for more than just a standard room and who’ve never made a booking on the phone in their life. My co-founder is a fellow EMBA-Global; the program seems to be paying dividends already.

All my classmates have similar stories to tell – a lull in the career, the desire to jump start again on to a new path, building the base of a Global MBA education, then, the leap of faith. Time will tell how the future unfolds, but you’d be hard pressed to find a single classmate who wouldn’t do this all over again. The success of an MBA program can be subjective and while many publications try to standardize it, my yardstick squarely measures how much you were able to do what you set out to do – which was change. EMBA Global has by far exceeded my expectations in that regard. It is the best way to gain knowledge, friends, networks and a new purpose to shoot for the stars. It is the perfect midlife miracle.

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If there’s one word that describes the world in the last two decades – the better part of my adult life – the first word that comes to my mind is Global. It’s the perfect accompaniment to anything business; as fries (or chips) are to fast food. Without global, any conversation of intellectuals in the business world is insipid and lackluster. The most expensive and exclusive gathering of world leaders and businessmen at World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos each year is a monument to the importance of this word in today’s vocabulary. But as with anything exclusive that gains popularity loses its appeal, ‘Global’ has been reduced to a common adjective in any and every context. So, when I was considering an MBA education and first heard of the EMBA-Global Americas & Europe program, my first thought was that this burger also came with fries.

Nonetheless, I chose the program for a) its class schedule – majority of classes take place in block week format, b) the expanded faculty and course choices at London Business School and Columbia Business School (the Asia stream of EMBA-Global includes HKU, Hong Kong in addition to LBS and CBS), and c) the ability to take electives in New York, London, Dubai and Hong Kong.

Eleven months later, just finishing the core curriculum I’ve now realized why applying to this specific program was the best decision of my life. While in block weeks, all sixty nine of us stay, eat, study and play together as a tight knit family. Everyone is genuinely overjoyed to see each other after the gap of a month and we profoundly miss each others’ company. Coming to the end of core has been a bitter-sweet moment, as won’t come together again as a class next until graduation. Neither do we all live in the same city to meet casually for a Sunday morning to catch-up over brunch. Being Global has its disadvantages too. But given the choice I’d choose EMBA-Global over any other; not least for two reasons:

Global means not only people who’re from all over the globe but also live all over the globe

Living in New York (well across the river from Manhattan in New Jersey), I could’ve easily applied for any of Columbia Business School’s programs. There’s the Friday/Saturday EMBA course – the equivalent of which exists at London Business School as well. Also, London and New York being two of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, I have no doubt my cohort would consist of people from all backgrounds and nationalities. But the reality is that they would still all live in London or New York if they were to show up for school every other weekend. My EMBA-Global class probably has the same diversity, if not more, except that these folks live in and travel from all over the world to attend classes. I have classmates traveling from as far as Johannesburg, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Moscow and Wellington (NZ) each month to attend classes in London and New York. We don’t discuss global issues – we discuss local issues from every person from around the globe. That’s a crucial difference, one that separates mere knowledge of the globe and a deep understanding of it. For what it’s worth, it’s like having our own WEF each month in London and New York.

A worldwide network of close friends in every major city in the world

One must differentiate between a diverse network and a global network to grasp the importance of this one. A diverse network that most business schools and programs foster brings together people from a myriad professions, educational backgrounds and cultures. The EMBA Global network is all that plus the added benefit of a diaspora of ‘Globals’ (as we are aptly referred to). Once you’re part of this elite club, you’ve got close friends in every major city in the world, on the ground, in the trenches for anything you need. Your scope widens and you start to think truly global. From a farming startup in Senegal funded from the US to moving from Paris to San Francisco for a new job to a founding a healthcare company in the Caucuses through expertise from the US to expanding a Dubai based education business worldwide – all from connections made in just our class – this program has opened doors for us that have far surpassed any of our wildest imaginations.

My own story is that I’ve recently launched a hotel booking startup with a classmate – we have offices in New York and Rotterdam, our development office in Latvia and we will likely pilot with a hotel in Portugal soon. I came in to this program thinking I knew what I wanted to do – get a decent MBA, learn new skills and grow my network to excel and advance in my employment. I jettisoned that idea somewhere along Term 1, as soon as I embraced the EMBA-Global community. I became the career representative for the class, doing my bit to help every one of us achieve whatever goals we set out for ourselves. I know I’m going to end up on a far different trajectory than I originally allowed myself to dream. This program catapulted my thinking, my skills and my potential light years ahead. Arguably that’s in part due to the superior institutions that I’m part of including the award winning faculty and the vast resources available to us, but I’m convinced that the success of EMBA-Global is more in part to the ‘Global’ than the EMBA.

After all, have you ever tried having a burger without fries?

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So I decided to pursue an MBA degree. It is a thought process that many go through at some point in their careers. I did too. I even blogged about it. I finally decided to apply to the EMBA programme at the London Business School. Why, you ask? There were three very concrete reasons.

First was the structure of the programme. The modular format gave me immense flexibility. I could continue working and earning while I learnt. The format also enabled me to immediately apply what I learnt. Second was the nature of the programme. I am already past the individual contributor stage in my organisation. A General Management focus was just what I needed. Third was the brand name. Responding to the question ‘Where are you doing your MBA from?’ with ‘London Business School’ usually results in raised eyebrows (wonder, not suspicion) and a hint of a sense of awe. In fact, this programme fitted my needs so perfectly that I did not apply to any other MBA programme.

So, I started my application process. I have applied for full time MBA programmes at various top-ranked universities in the past. There is very less interaction with the admissions team until one gets an interview. With the London Business School EMBA, I had someone reach out to me almost instantly. The first thing I noticed was how nice she and everyone else I interacted with was. She was very courteous, knew all the answers to my (often frivolous) questions, and was prompt in her replies. It felt like they really wanted me to have a good application experience.

I went through the cycle of writing essays, re-writing them and then re-writing some more. The single most important piece of advice I can give you here, is that you must write from your heart. You’re combining so many pieces of information in your application that any discrepancies are visible almost immediately. Sure, you want to portray yourself to be the best candidate that you can be. But I think authenticity and honesty are valued immensely at the London Business School. I chose to focus on what I could bring that no one  else could, on my unique story and on how much I would really love to be part of this programme.

Lo and behold, I had an interview call. I visited the Dubai campus on a scorching June morning. The interview started on time and I had senior programme members interview me along with the admissions committee. I liked the fact that selecting candidates was considered a task important enough to have such senior people present. They covered an exhaustive range of topics through their questions, and it felt as though they wanted to understand me from a holistic perspective. Now I recruit for my company, and have interviewed over a thousand candidates during the course of my career. But this was a different experience. I thought I was really good at reading people, but I came out of the interview with absolutely no idea of what they thought of me. I thought to myself, ‘These guys are good. I have never seen such a poker face.’

In the end, I didn’t have to worry too much. I got my offer, and I accepted it without hesitation. The poker faces have been replaced with warm smiles. Now, with two modules completed, I am even more confident that my decision to apply to this programme was correct. But more on that later.

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A year ago, I applied to the EMBA Global Americas & Europe.  While I considered additional programs, this one was the only I decided to candidate to. Reflecting on this, I remember the application period as being both challenging and exciting.

Since I decided to apply, the application process took me about 6 months. For some of my classmates, this time frame was much shorter (for fewer, longer) but here is how I roughly split my time:

- Preparing the GMAT: about 3 months

- Completing the program application: about 3 months

Preparing and taking the GMAT is a must do that each of us has been through. I’m sure that for some it was a no brainer and for others it was more painful. I have a business background and I am not a native English speaker: my experience is that it is mostly a matter of perseverance. Taken individually, all exercises are do-able but the time constraint is adding up a little of spice. I bought plenty of books and spent about 100h practicing after work or during the week end. Just don’t give up at this stage, if you don’t score as high as you want, keep practicing.

When I first logged in the online application for the program, I was excited about what the non-GMAT part that would be ahead of me. Each section of the application had its own importance and I wanted to make sure that every single form was properly and accurately answered. Part of it is mainly administrative and most of it is about you, as a prospective student and future global leader. The essays were key, not only for the application itself but also for challenging me about my goals. I went back and forth to my essays and shared it with a couple of friends. I wanted to be 100% confident about every single line I wrote and asked myself: what is this sentence adding to my application? How does it help the recruitment team getting a better understanding of who I am and gauge the value that I can add to the program? My recommendations letters were written by people who knew me well and I had no doubt that they would share truthfully their thoughts. When I clicked on the “Submit the application” form, I felt like I did the very best I could.

Two weeks after I submitted the application (1st round), I received an invitation for an interview at the London Business School. I was happy to have passed the first step and I looked forward defending my case in a face to face interview. I was clear on my motivations and prepared a list of questions I haven’t had a chance to ask. The interview was run very, very professionally by two members of the recruitment team. They knew my application in details and while the interview was more of a conversation, I felt positively challenged during one hour.

A couple of weeks after the interview, I received an email which started by “Congratulations, …”

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Third block week in London with two mid terms and a presentation down and there is much more to go…

Got to see the best of London with best people – Our London classmates and school had arranged networking events all through the week to meet and greet with other MBA programmes, especially our Asia class. Thanks for organizing!

Lot of work, lot of fun and NO sleep – all in all, very rewarding. I am looking forward to next block week in NYC – please check in with me in a couple of weeks!

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First day at school… again.

Posted by: Kennedy
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It’s been more than 11 years since I left Uni. First day back to school was like the first day at school again, I felt excited, nervous, happy, worried, relax and tense. When I walked towards the school’s entrance, I was greeted by many very well positioned welcome signs. They directed me to the Sainsbury’s building where I was given a warm welcome by Linden Selby. She gave me a precious souvenir from the school – a nice magnetic name tag, with my name, the title of the programme, graduation year and the logo of the two schools. The tag signified that I am now a family member of the two business schools. This was the moment when everything finally sank in: “I am now embarking on a life changing experience. Nobody knows how it is going work out at the end, but one thing for sure – it is going to be great!!”

With the name tag nicely secured on my suit jacket, I started walking towards the lecture theatre area where I spent most of the time during the orientation week. While walking up the stairs, the sense of excitement was building up rapidly. I could hear the sound of people chatting got louder and louder every step of the way. When I opened the door and entered the refreshment area, I was greeted by my new classmates and the first lesson began (although the school didn’t explicitly say it): How to effectively remember the name and face of the person you have just met and the conversation you had with that person, then multiply this by 75? No matter what level you are, this does really sharpen your social skills. The good news was that everyone genuinely wanted to get to know each other well. So it was a great atmosphere.

The first week of lectures was amazing! I attended a class visit a few months back and the experience was great. However people couldn’t help but thinking that the school might have arranged the best lectures for the visits, but they are wrong! All the lectures were equally as good. The applause from the class at the end of each lecture clearly reflected this. It was an amazing experience, I have learnt a lot and I felt very inspired to apply the learning at work.

One of the advantages of being an EMBA Global is that we have an average of 11 years of global work experience, so we can relate to the topics and discussions in class. More importantly, people who are here want to be here, so everyone was very engaged. We were asking constructive questions, giving insightful comments and challenging assumptions professionally. Despite the rigorous schedule and extra curriculum activities, no one fell asleep in class despite the lack of it!

Among all the core courses in the first term, “Executive Leadership” and “Leadership and Organisational Change” were my favourites, where as “Financial Accounting” was my least favourite (no offense Professor, I am just telling the truth). However the first week of class changed my perception to Financial Accounting. The professor turned this seemingly boring, dull and complex subject into a very interesting and easily understandable subject. Well… come to think it, it shouldn’t be a surprise, right? Now Financial Accounting is one of my favourite, in spite of the heavy homework ;)

The orientation week went pass really quickly. It was the last day before I knew it. It has been a fun week. It has been great! I have learnt a lot. I have met a lot of nice people. So I am looking forward to the next class week in New York. See you there!

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The world is shrinking … fast! Connectivity is everywhere. Faster planes or faster broadband, the obstacles to connecting physically or virtually are dwindling, meaning the reality of the future is that opportunities will surface in place and through contacts far more widely spread than in the past.

If you’re reading this, it probably means you have had similar thoughts.  It may well be why you are contemplating an MBA in the frst place?  Lets face it, London Business School is one of the premiere institutions on the planet, and the education and opportunities you will experience here are life changing. Certainly, you will be exposed to some of the thought leaders of our age, and will mix with  (and perhaps become one of) the thought leaders of tomorrow.  London is an international capital of commerce, and LBS draws students and professors from around the world, but wouldnt it be good to  push this experience even further? Is there a way to maximise the international component of the learning experence.  Well the simple answer is yes … you can have your cake (or sould that be apple) and eat it!

EMBA-Global is the partnership between LBS and Columbia Business School in New York City. I joined the program in may 2010, and am in the middle of semester 4 right now.  It is an extraordinary experience, and in my opinion is a real ‘force multiplier’, as you are able to combine the best of LBS with the best of CBS – faculty, network, clubs & societies are all doubled … you even get 2 MBAs!

I realize there is a danger of sounding big-headed here, and that couldn’t be further from the intention.  I hope the blog posts I add will answer some of the questions you may have, and give you a flavour of the experiences that make this such a special program.  I’ll cover the ups and the downs of the rollercoaster; the curriculum, life in 2 cities (plus your home), life outside of the classroom, logistics verses experience, and any other thoughts you have.  Feel free to reach out to me through the blog with any specifics you want me to cover … I’ll be happy to cover any topic.

But for now, that is all I have time for …. I’m off to connect with someone on the other side of the world!

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