Tag: Cass MBA (page 1 of 3)

Medical leadership: why I’m studying an Executive MBA as an embryologist

The benefits of studying an Executive MBA as an embryologist 

Studying for an Executive MBA as an embryologist is not very common.

I decided to study the Executive MBA in Dubai  because I noticed a skills gap in my field of work. In the IVF field (in vitro fertilisation), most of upper management do not have a medical background. I strongly feel medical leadership is necessary as it is all about understanding patients’ needs and winning hearts and minds, which is my aspiration.

I also chose to study at Cass for the opportunity for career progression. The IVF market is very competitive and having a managerial role in this field is very challenging as it requires good management and leadership skills. Moreover, a promotion in my current organisation is a great incentive.

In addition, the alternative opportunities that arise from studying an Executive MBA at Cass are a great motivation. The wide knowledge taught by the programme and the problem-solving skills and confidence that I will gain can help me have a more flexible career. I may even consider starting my own business in the future!

Last but not least, building knowledge and personal growth was one of my crucial motivating factors. Having a solid background in IVF, the programme allows me to diversify my skills and build confidence in every element of a business of this field.

Why I chose the Cass EMBA in Dubai and my thoughts on the programme so far

I chose the Cass Executive MBA in Dubai because I believe it is the right course for me: it is a triple-crowned MBA and Cass is ranked very high globally for career progression, which makes it stand out among the majority of business schools. Also, the flexible structure of the programme, as well as the location in Dubai, can allow me to remain in employment while studying.

I am really enjoying the programme so far. The whole Executive MBA is full of networking opportunities, as there is interaction with my cohort, with the faculty, the staff and alumni. Thanks to the focus on teamwork and group work, I have built strong relationships with many members of my cohort. This has not only helped me make more contacts but also many friends from different backgrounds and countries.

The programme adds big value in improving my skills, which helps me a lot in building confidence. I have learned to identify my strengths and weaknesses and build emotional intelligence, which is a key characteristic of a leader.

How I balance work, social life and studies?

Although the demands of the course are high, there are ways to balance work, social life and studies. Time management and discipline are essential and necessary for achieving the right balance. I make sure that I allocate specific time for work, family/friends and studying. I usually make a weekly schedule to prioritise and optimise my time and ensure efficiency.

I avoid wasting my time in activities such as watching television and social media, I ask help from friends and family when needed and I make sure I take care of myself. Focusing while studying is crucial and maintaining a healthy mind and body is essential.

Maria Banti, Executive MBA in Dubai (2021)

 

Networking

A friend of mine and I were having coffee.

She was about to quit her job and was sharing her story: “The Vice President of the company has done a lot for me. I was out of a job and out of hope when he approached his senior management and created a designation that never existed before – just for me. He convinced them and hired me here.”

I was baffled by the fact that someone could just create an opening that did not exist before. Fast forward few years, I was contacted by a recruiter on LinkedIn for a job that was not advertised on the company website. Fast forward few more years, I realised that this is not unusual. 60 – 70% of jobs are never advertised. As surprising as it sounds, it is true.

As it turns out, there is a way to access this “hidden” market – networking! A lot of importance is given to this aspect at Cass and as part of this, Mr Will Kintish was invited for a session. Of the many things learnt during this session, here are the ones that I left the room thinking about:

  1. Networking is a gradual process.

 It organically grows over time and we need to be patient for at least eight-nine months. There are three phases:

First – knowing. A good introduction plays crucial part (I talk more about this in my third point).

Second – liking. If I am not sending out good vibes, the other person is neither going to want to spend further time with me, nor is going to be open to listening me.

Third – trusting. In Amy Rees Anderson’s words, “trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.” The best way to build trust in professional relationships is by being reliable.

  1. Taking the anxiety out when at an event full of unknown people.

 It is quite natural to be nervous and confused while attending a networking event. Keep in mind this simple three step process for approaching this kind of situation comfortably:

First – Preparing and planning. When planned and prepared for attending any event, one feels far more comfortable, stays in control and enjoys the event. It is helpful to consider these seven key words while accepting any invitation: Who? What? Where? When? How? Which? Why?

Second – working the room. Every room has:

  • Individuals – they don’t know anyone and don’t know how to break the ice. They are praying for someone to talk to them.
  • Open couples and trios – feel free to go over and join them – they want to meet you like you want to meet them.
  • Closed couples and trios – their body language is saying we are comfortable as we are for the moment but come back later.
  • Bigger groups – only enter when you know someone.
  • Rude people – don’t give them a second though, just move on.

Knowing this structure helped me better understand my audience and know where I will have higher chance of being welcomed.

Third – follow up. For this, exchanging business card and writing down details on it is a good way to remember the details and not miss out on following up.

  1. How to introduce yourself effectively?

Introduction can be broken into four parts:

First – name. Repeating the name “I am Sushmita. Sushmita Nad” helps the other person remember it, while creating an effect.

Second – title. Saying what defines me, for example “I am a recruiter,” will help lead to a conversation post-introduction.

Third – what problems do I address? Your job title might not be very clear or it might mean different things to different people. Adding little description like “I like to find people and then help them find what they want” will serve as ice breaker.

Fourth – prompt. Everyone’s favourite topic is themselves! Ending the introduction with “tell me about yourself” and taking genuine interest in the answer opens the person up for further conversation.

It was helpful to know that networking can be broken down to such small yet effective steps. Now, it is time to work on these and inculcate them.

Sushmita Nad, Full-time MBA (2020)

Diversity, Inclusion and Leadership at Cass

Nina and her cohort

My MBA experience is coming to an end. I am about to graduate this summer. Reflecting back, I can only say that my experience was mad – good and bad and crazy and intense and really like a roller-coaster. But I wouldn’t have changed it for anything, it was exactly how an Executive MBA is supposed to be. Except, my class had a higher proportion of men to women. Let’s talk about diversity and inclusion for a minute.

I am a proud recipient of the Women in Business Award by Cass. A few of my cohort members are. My school is extremely supportive of female leadership starting from a female dean, female board members and offering many scholarship opportunities to women applying to various programs. As with many schools, during the application process we are given an opportunity to apply for a multitude of scholarships, and us women have an opportunity to go for the diversity awards. Like in many boardrooms, business schools seem to struggle to entice working women to join the classroom part-time on top of their full time careers as professionals, and most likely even fuller time careers as mothers and wives. Therefore, many business schools will offer various awards to supports future female leaders and our prospect achievements in our individual fields. What a tremendous opportunity for us, but are we discriminating men? Who cares, you are thinking, women have been discriminated for years, it is our time to rise and shine!

#CassWomen

Hey, I don’t disagree. Give me an opportunity to shine and I’ll take it, nobody can stand in my way. Except, I don’t see the world with ‘men vs women’ eyes. I see an opportunity to grow personally and professionally, perhaps competing against other people, but their gender doesn’t bother me. I see an opportunity to shine, not because I am a woman, but because I have a unique perspective, and unique experience and knowledge that I bring to the table. That is what others should see too. Those that are incapable of seeing past my gender are not worthy of my time, and certainly organisations that recruit me because I am a woman and they ‘lack female leadership’ are not the places I would fit in. Not because I don’t bring a female touch to anything I do, trust me, I am emotional and I don’t hide those emotions, but that is also my choice. These are not the places for me, mostly because they care that I am a woman, and don’t care that I am an experienced professional. That is where I want equality.

I recently read an article in which a personality scientist states that if you are a woman and you popularly ‘lean-in’ you will become a dysfunctional leader. This scientist further states that most people have little insight into their leadership talents, and those that believe that are the best leaders are in fact the most incompetent leaders lacking self-awareness. Statistically, those leaders are most likely to be men – whether women have chosen a different path, chose to stay at home or were just not interested in leading, we are still working in a male dominated business environment. So if we are to lean in, and mimic the behaviours of these dysfunctional leaders, won’t we become dysfunctional as well? That is not my goal. My goal as female leader is to be humble but also to utilise my strengths: communication, passion, endurance, emotional intelligence, empathy, the ability to listen and connect, and the ability to think about my bigger picture, but also to think about the picture of the people I touch and bring on the path with me.

Nina Kerkez (Modular Executive MBA, 2019)

Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani education advocate, who at the age of 17 became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, is a true inspiration in leadership for me. She has overcome adversity, she is standing up to her rivals and she is overcoming diversity, whilst fighting for girls to pick up the books and pens, and get the education that they deserve. There are many things we could all learn from Malala, but as I talk about diversity and inclusion, in words of this wonderful woman it is important for us to remember: “Dear brothers and sisters, I am not against anyone… There was a time when women social activist asked men to stand up for their rights. But, this time, we will do it for ourselves. I am not telling men to step away from speaking for women’s rights rather I am focusing on the women to be independent to fight for themselves.”

So, in my view, my MBA class was extremely diverse containing people of all genders, many races and nationalities, and many professional backgrounds. It consisted of a group of 38 amazing individuals, each and every one of us unique in our own way. We have learned from each other and built relationships that will last us a lifetime. Perhaps, I am finding it harder than I thought to be at the end of this journey. But those connections built in the two years of classroom activity, travel and, let’s face it, pub activity together, give me the feeling that this is not quite the end.

Post-study drinks

Building a bright future

International Consultancy Week in Dublin

Typing down a reflective essay could take a great deal of time! And why not? After all I was scrupulously penning down a yearlong journey of my MBA at Cass Business School that concluded on 22nd January this year. Collecting my degree as a Full-time MBA with Distinction in the presence of my cohort of qualified MBAs and Executive MBAs from Cass Business School, family, friends and other postgraduates from City, University of London was truly a proud moment. The Reception party organised by the School was equally quintessential.

From classroom lessons to leadership training week at Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and Digital Innovation elective that included a notable Design Thinking seminar at Stanford University in San Francisco, Cass MBA proffered a plethora of experiential learning at each stage of the programme.  Some of these learning experiences culminated into great successes and were directly entered in my resume. Working with the C-suite as a Strategy Intern at a London-based travel company and as an external MBA consultant at a health-tech company for my International Consultancy week (arranged by Cass in Dublin) are a few to list. The icing on the cake for me was getting a chance to learn about the different industries in which these companies operate.

People make the difference. Cass Business School made me feel this much more than I had thought. The school’s fantastic academic staff assisted me round the clock for all official activities, well-qualified professors offered exceptional teaching in core MBA subjects and welcomed after class discussions; and well-trained external faculty from iOpener Institute offered personality development workshops on when and how to lead and follow teams. Jorgen Sundberg’s session on ‘How to Build a strong and an attractive LinkedIn Profile’ and David Ohrvall’s ‘Crack the Case’ session were truly skilful and elucidating to leverage my professional profile.

To top it all, MBA classes were a complete fun with an energetic cohort of 70+ people from 23 countries. How could I miss bringing up here ‘The Great Cake-Baking Event’? It was the most frenzied way to learn strategy while baking cakes in groups. Besides giving weight to group exercises, the Cass MBA geared me to look at the business world with a unique lens through its Business Mastery Project. My project demanded understanding of concepts from several subjects – strategy, operations and digital innovation and the MBA programme had underpinned this right in the first half of the course year with its four learning blocks of 12 subjects and 6 electives where I covered all managerial subjects from HR to Corporate Strategy.

Study tour in San Francisco

For obvious reasons (MBA fun – activities, classes and exams), time flew very fast in those 12 months but that same clock ticked unrushed at the very end of the programme aka the job-hunting process. To make this process seem quite effortless, Cass Careers department provided me with copious amount of guidance and motivated me how to key-in my tech experience with management studies for various consulting roles. I’d like to give a special thanks to Laura Levy, MBA Relationship Manager for this! Starting with getting my resume and cover letters apt for these roles to preparing me exhaustively for assessment and partner rounds, the team helped massively before I accepted a role in a Big Four professional services firm in London. Ever since I’ve been on the job, the combined learning experience of the MBA networking events as well as the classrooms sessions of Digital Technologies and Business Innovation, Operations, Analytics and Corporate Strategy have been immensely useful.

Cass FTMBA is a fast track MBA in its complete sense. It opens up a whole new set of interesting alumni benefits, such as attending one free elective per year, which is rarely offered by other business schools. It has brought a great opportunity for me to learn something purely for my own personal interest or curiosity. Just last week, I started studying an elective on fast track venturing. As my learning continues – be it on a new role, project or industry, I look forward to build a positive future in the business world!

Finally, we graduated!

Prerna Thitme
Full-time MBA, 2018

 

How four female fund managers broke the glass ceiling

I knew when I made the decision to study for an MBA, I’d be required to take on challenges that would feel uncomfortable. I expected that the structured path on the course would guide me through, and over, certain obstacles. I wanted to face barriers head on, and improve upon them.

Kylie Poole

In my role as a sales and marketing executive I was used to speaking in front of small groups of people when giving product demonstrations, or meeting new customers for the first time at one-on-one events. I felt relaxed and in control in those types of engagements. But I wasn’t regularly required to speak to much larger groups of people.

My sister, who’s an excellent public speaker, told me that preparation and practise were the keys to success. With that in mind, I was both excited and extremely nervous about the prospect of running an event for the Cass Global Women’s Leadership Programme which would require me to mediate a panel, in front of a large audience.

On the one hand, it was a huge honour. I’m so proud to be involved in a programme that’s asking tough questions and looking to improve female involvement at all professional levels. On the other, I knew it was unchartered territory – what if I lost track of time or struggled to help conversation flow amongst the panellists?

The good thing about hosting a panel is that actually, the stars of the show are your panellists. They do most of the talking and it’s their insights that make the event special. The difficult thing is that you can’t over-practise – you don’t know which direction the conversation is going to go in, and you have to stay flexible.

On the night, I got to the premises quite early – I wanted to see the space in the room and get in a few more run-throughs. By that point, I’d practised my introduction and questions many times over. I was trying to concentrate on the pace and tone of my voice when speaking – I naturally speak quite quickly and knew I had to deliberately slow that down.

Kylie Poole hosting the Global Women’s Leadership panel

I met the fantastic panellists for the first time about 15 minutes before the event began. I was lucky enough to be hosting four seasoned and highly experienced women from the fund management industry, who’d also grown together in their careers, becoming great friends. Their warmth, obvious rapport and intellect had a very calming effect – we were already talking amongst ourselves about some of the topics I was due to bring up and I could see how engaging and knowledgeable they were.

Once the crowd had arrived, there were about 50 people in the room. Some of my friends and my partner had come to support me. When I gave the introductory speech, I tried to picture speaking to them. The rehearsals I’d done in preparation paid off – I was familiar with the script and was able therefore to devote my concentration to remembering to speak in a deliberate, relaxed manner.

The panellists were as I’d expected them to be – absolutely brilliant. The chemistry between them was fabulous – one of my friends after the event commented that it was like being a fly on the wall as four friends from a fund-management version of Sex and the City talked to each other at dinner. It felt intimate, and genuine.

Time seemed to fly by and on reflection, I can remember four messages the most clearly – I’m sure for people in the audience there’d be other topics that resonated. Each point I think is inspiring and helpful to both men and women.

Dagmara Fijalkowski emphasised the importance of practise and preparation for workplace engagements. After she said this, her friends on the panel described her as the most prepared person in the room, despite her vast knowledge and many years of experience. Dagmara explained that she still puts hours of thorough research and rehearsal into all of her presentations. This may at first sound like common sense, but I found it reaffirming to hear how hard work and determination can still often be a differentiator.

The second point I remember highlighted was the importance of following and choosing paths in your career that lead towards what you’re passionate about. This was raised by Jane Lesslie who’s had a fascinating journey into fund management from journalism, through government service and economics. She pointed out how hard it is to lack confidence when talking about a topic you love, or lack motivation in an area that invigorates you.

This discussion of how careers can grow, develop, and flourish over time lead us to talk about the multi-career life. The panel challenged the audience to put less pressure on themselves about whether or not they were exactly where they wanted to be in their careers at this exact moment. They highlighted how every step contributes unique learning, and that it’s all part of a longer career journey.

Global Women’s Leadership scholars

Lastly, the panel described that despite fund management’s reputation as a male oriented career (backed up with a consistent under-representation of female talent applying at entry levels), it doesn’t at all live up to the image of shouting and bravado on trading floors. Instead, it’s a measured, calculated, research-oriented environment where everyone’s performance tends to be measured in a meritocratic fashion (long term returns).

Once I’d brought the panel to a close, I went out into the reception area and could see pockets of people energised by the event, expanding on the conversation amongst themselves over drinks. I knew I’d achieved a personal milestone with the type of public speaking I’d just done, but I was almost happier to see the inspiring effect the event had had on the audience. For that mostly, we and Cass have the star panellists to thank.

Why I went back to school (and chose the Cass MBA)

My long-term professional goal is to become the CEO of a large financial institution. For that reason, I spent some time researching common traits leaders possess that have climbed up the corporate ladder.

I found that they are all driven, hardworking people that have persevered throughout adversity but the commonality that truly stood out, is that at some point of their lives they all made a decision that transformed the course of their careers.

I knew that I shared these traits with them; however, I was yet to take that life-changing step that would put me on track to fulfil my ambitions. Doing an Executive MBA was that next life-changing step to take, so here I am, on track and ready to squeeze every opportunity on my way up.

My journey before Cass

My name is Natalia Lopez and my dream has not always been to score that top job in the banking industry. In fact, I left school in Spain without qualifications and, having landed in the UK without speaking a word of English, the minimum wage was the first thing that I learnt in this country.

Today I am part of the FX trade technology team at a global custodian bank in Canary Wharf. Given a set of requirements, I configure clients to trade FX products across a number of platforms, carry out test trades and ensure the system architecture is correctly set up to allow the flows.

So, you might be wondering how did I end up having such a cool job in an expanding industry and, more importantly; why is it that I would like to become a CEO? I will reveal all in the next post.

Having obtained an Economics degree from City, University of London, and mentoring for the University, I have worked closely with Cass Business School students for three years. This meant I have been aware of the School’s great reputation for a long time; therefore, I decided to attend MBA related events to explore their programmes (on a side note, this is something I highly recommend if you are thinking of applying for a programme).

First day jitters

I have to be honest though, even after accepting my offer I still felt a bit nervous when I was on my way to the recruitment events. But after five minutes of interacting with the incredible bunch of people that makes up my cohort, I was certain I was in the right place. Have you ever had that feeling? It is great.

During the first week, we were allocated into teams that we would be doing projects with. Sally, Saj, Gemma, Ahmed, Mike, Guillaume and I are Team Cook. We come from different backgrounds which is perfect as each one of us brings something different to the table. We have only been working together for a few weeks but I already know we are going to smash it through the next teaching block.

That is us having a great time at the welcome dinner. I am on the second right 😊

The day after the welcome dinner, we had a masterclass on mind mapping and speed reading. I took this as a hint of the workload we will be given! In only a couple of weeks I have already attended a two-day workshop on presentation skills and another on executive presence (to be continued), both of an excellent quality. So far, I have signed up for Insights into Leadership and the Executive Media workshops, which I am looking forward to it!

I wonder how I will feel when I read back to this blog in two years’ time. At the moment, all I know is that it is going to be a very exciting time in my life and I am going to enjoy every moment of it.

Executive MBA (2020)

Ready, set…GO! The Cass MBA commences

Two months ago, I had the scariest dream I have had in years. I had started the Cass Full-time MBA and it was time to pick groups for our first group assignment.  And like the infamous PE (or gym) class nightmare, I was the last to be picked.

I woke up shaking. Halloween had nothing on this dream. Happily, I can tell you that this dream did not come true!

In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.

Learning how to learn

Here we are at the end of our first month and it’s been a pretty intense period.

For most of us, it has been five to ten years since we last stepped into a classroom. So even though we’re familiar with the rigours of work we’re a bit out of practice when it comes to lessons and homework.

To help with our learning, we had a session in our first week on how to speed read and how to improve our memory. For our studies, we worked on mind maps, linking each branch to the one before, adding quick pictures in to help.

We have been given lots of advice on how to economise our time over the coming year, so we can fit in lectures; networking events; careers research and preparation; and of course reading and assignments.

Some of this means a bit of multi-tasking and everyone has different ways of using their time as efficiently as possible. It is early days, so I am still trying things out to see what works best for me, but so far, the gym and the train have been definite winners.

When I grow up, I want to be a leader … and a follower

Another big focus has been teamwork. After brainstorming the differences between managers and leaders, between strong teams and weak, we were given a challenge to put what we had said into practice.

These are all the things we had listed as important qualities of effective teams:

  • Buying in to a common goal;
  • Mutual respect and trust;
  • Communication;
  • Listening;
  • Support;
  • And, if possible, fun!

Our challenge was hands on: building a construction out of newspaper, tape and six coffee cups. Never have so many adults been so eager and competitive to get a ping-pong ball from one corner of a table to the other as slowly as possible.

(I am happy to say we managed it in the slowest time of 9.59 seconds–well done team!)

Now we’re starting our first Strategy team projects, so it’s time to put these skills into practice!

Starting off with a bang

As part of our careers induction, we have done a lot of work on ourselves and our presentation skills. Much of it was about confidence, identifying our strengths and weaknesses and understanding the audience we are presenting to.

Of course, we had to resist the temptation during a presentation to look down at your notes for a prompt, just to remind yourself what your name is.

We were given the task to start the presentation and introduce ourselves with a bang – cue writer’s block!  There were a lot of nerves in the room, but once one of us had presented, then another, then another, it became clear that it wasn’t so scary.

It didn’t matter if we lost our train of thoughts, our groups would be supportive and the higher the fear hurdle, the louder the applause.

We are now a couple of weeks into block one and my nightmare from months ago never came true.

In its place are the friendliest cohort I could have hoped  to be working and studying with. We had a great barbecue and are enjoying getting to know each other.

We all know the coming year is going to be hard work, but we have been given every tool to achieve the best we can. Now it’s time to use them.

Rhiannon Ludlow
Full-time MBA (2019)

Chat with Rhiannon on Unibuddy to find out more about the course.

 

My extraordinary experience on the Cass MBA South Africa elective

When I signed up for the South Africa study tour, led by Professor Cliff Oswick, my decision was based  on feedback from several alumni who had given me glowing reviews about this elective – I knew then that it was an experience I couldn’t miss out on.

Before donning our student hats, a group of us arrived in Johannesburg from Dubai, two days prior to the tour, to get a flavor of, what is arguably South Africa’s most vibrant city. We spent a terrific day in the Pilanesberg National Park and Sun City, we watched the beautiful sunset on our way back and spent the evening exploring the nightlife scene and experiencing local cuisine.

 The study tour

The programme commenced with a tour of the historic township of Soweto. We visited the Hector Pieterson Museum and Nelson Mandela’s old house, a squat, red-brick dwelling that has now been converted to a museum. Mandela’s house brings history to life; every room and every corner tells a story about his struggles and triumphs and how he sacrificed his freedom for the dignity of his people.

As a Palestinian, the struggles of black Africans resonated with those currently living in my hometown of Palestine.

It was overwhelming to be in the house of my idol leader who changed the history of black Africans and inspired the entire country to move from the unjust system of apartheid into a brighter and more peaceful future.

During the remainder of the week, we paid visits to various businesses and not-for-profit organisations in Joburg and Capetown, from educational institutions such as Harambee and the Gordon Institute of Business Science to large corporations like Pick n Pay.

We also met senior executives and truly inspiring speakers who gave us a better understanding of the history of South Africa, its economy, politics, sustainability, business opportunities and challenges.

Two prominent problems were raised in almost every meeting we attended: the state of the educational system and youth unemployment. I have to admit that the commitment displayed by the leaders to tackle those issues was inspiring. It was amazing to see how these leaders have adopted Mandela’s values and ethics in their businesses.

One of the most impressive organisations we visited was Harambee, which means ‘pull together’. As an accelerator designed to tackle youth unemployment, Harambee offers a range of training programmes to provide young people with the necessary practical skills and knowledge to find work opportunities. As part of our tour of Harambee, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview several students.

With big, bright smiles on their faces, the students shared with us their stories, challenges and hopes for the future. Additionally, they shared their views on leadership and the positive impact they would like to have within their society when they eventually get the right work opportunity. Despite the challenges they face on a daily basis, it was incredible to see how determined they are to create better lives for themselves.

Towards the end of the study tour and after a very busy week, we went on a well-deserved boat cruise to soak up the superb views around Table Mountain Bay in Cape Town – it was a wonderful way to end this memorable trip.

I came back from the tour with profound lessons, great memories and new friends. It’s incredible that a study tour in a foreign country can change you in ways you never imagined possible – this is what made the Cass MBA South Africa elective an extraordinary experience.

 

Reem Awad 
Dubai Executive MBA (2018)

Leadership and innovation in a war zone

As I am crossing at the Qalandya check point between Israel and the West Bank, the huge red sign shocks me: “The entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden, dangerous to your lives and is against the Israeli law”.

It looks like something from a movie scene and you are not quite sure what to expect on the other side. We cross, and all I see is unfortunate reality of the region and conflict between these two territories, thoroughly reminded of my childhood in Yugoslavia.

On the Israeli side we saw the prosperous modern society, full of life and colours that are reflected in almost everything from streets, to people and food. On the Palestinian side our first impressions are the ruins, wall murals of past leaders, abandoned cars and chaos.

Israel and Palestine were my choice for the Cass MBA international electives. The focus of the elective was on Innovation and Technology, which comes as no surprise with Israel being known as the start-up nation. The first month into my Cass MBA, I learned that one of the international options for study will be Israel. I knew in that moment that this will be my choice of an elective – working in technology and financial crime, my interests spans across cyber security and regtech and fintech world.

International electives are intense. You go on a trip abroad and visit numerous locations and companies daily, whilst meeting and learning from founders, owners and investors. You travel from city to city and you cross borders, or in our case – check points.

Many won’t know that a large number of successful businesses materialised from Israel, such as Viber, Waze and Mobileye. The country prides itself as the start-up nation mostly driven by the uncertainty that seems to run through their DNA due to political and economic factors surrounding them. Success on the Israeli side, but what is going on behind the literal wall on the Palestinian Territory?

The western world often can’t understand why there are conflicts between people ‘somewhere far away from us’, and don’t really want to engage in that conversation. Most of my cohort was also confused as to why these two nations can’t be one. It just seemed logical that working in unity would be beneficial for both sides. The Palestinian side suffers a lack of infrastructure, lack of water and many other resources, yet they are as resourceful as Israel is!

The streets may look empty, but don’t let that fool you. Palestinian residents know how to live. On our first night we enter a restaurant and it is buzzing inside, the whole restaurant is packed with families and young couples dining and smoking shishas.

Our night ends in a famous bar packed with kids of American expats living in Palestine. Bizarre, you think? So did we. They are young, happy, dancing, and invite us to join them. We were not that cool to wear bandannas and lose ourselves to the sound of music, but nevertheless we did enjoy our night – we were useless at playing darts, but we proceeded to do so until late at night.

 

We met many successful entrepreneurs during the two days in Palestine. The Palestinian society is a lot more progressive than we are lead to believe. For example, the CEO of Bank of Palestine has fully eliminated the gender pay gap within the bank, insisting on this change himself.

There are in fact a number of factors working in favour of Palestinians. The Palestinian society has a high number of highly educated individuals, and it seems that its diaspora can fuel the culture of innovation and finance it. Of course, the circumstances of country’s occupation are also helping to kindle the creativity of Palestinians.

Speaking to a young entrepreneur at one of the events in Palestine, he mentioned the collaborations between Israelis and Palestinians. Whilst the countries are in conflict, the people seem to be less so. ‘We work together with our friends from Israel’, he said, ‘and our business is thriving.’ Of course, software has the unique ability to flow through wires and borders, but perhaps even more surprising was that he was talking about a medical business, moving people across borders and offering them medical help when needed.

I got home two days before the American embassy moved to Jerusalem. The news were full of horror stories coming from the region, and I was thinking – could successful cross border businesses help build peace in the region? Is it the organised chaos that is prevalent in the region that we need in order to innovate successfully?  Perhaps.

I wouldn’t want to attempt to predict the future of the region, but I hope that these two nations find a common language in innovation – after all making innovation happen is a collaborative process on many levels, from nations to countries, to companies, to military and teams.

Nina Kerkez
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

What makes my MBA

“I said maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me” is blasting from my radio as I’m driving and all I can think of is Vietnam. Why, you ask? Well… that is how we closed our trip to Vietnam, in the dodgiest karaoke parlour in a private room, somewhere in the middle of residential Hanoi.

We are not really sure whose idea it was, but nights in Beer Street and endless amounts of beer or other alcohol will do that to you. It was a long week for all of us; our exam results came in just before Vietnam and thankfully, the whole cohort has passed.

We also just finished our International Consulting Week with various Vietnamese companies and we were ready for celebration. Not that we needed an excuse for it.

When you start exploring an Executive MBA as an option for the first time, nobody prepares you for what it truly is. You hear that it is the hardest thing people have done in their life. You hear that a lot, as well as that you need a lot of family support, work support and plenty of hours of study a week.

If you are exploring Cass, you also hear that you will get a lot of international exposure through International Consulting Week and electives. That is all true. You need plenty of time to work with your groups on assignments and you definitely need a lot of support from your surroundings.

Then, 38 professional adults get to go on a consulting week to Vietnam, supported by their families. You are placed into a new working group from your cohort, new country and new company, all you have to do is figure it all out within a week and deliver amazing results. Really, not much of an ask (sarcasm intended).

Vietnam – a country that we learned is struggling through high level of instability, a country that is culturally hierarchical and extremely different to our normal environment. With such differences from our world, we were not sure what to expect in the business environment or how to navigate it, but most importantly when we had expectations, the reality turned out to be completely opposite.

Not only are you navigating thousands of motorbikes on the streets of Vietnam, but you are also navigating the unknown working environment and language barriers.  But don’t let that dishearten you! All the difficulties we faced, proved to be a challenge that we all wanted, and we came out on the other side with a very positive feeling.

Vietnam is a very fast developing country, and with that so are the companies that we have worked for. With growth come challenges, and many of the things could have been addressed within businesses. Scoping our work was probably the hardest thing we had to do, but once it was agreed between us and the hosts, we embraced it and we delivered. With the pace of change in Vietnam, the scopes can change daily too, yet that is all part of the fun that this week brings to you.

The day before our presentation to the business’s directors, we had a sudden lightbulb moment and decided on a scope change at 4pm. When you are a part of an MBA group, you most likely don’t like to make things easy on yourself and embrace any challenges thrown your way, so we buckled up and continued working as a group till’ after midnight.

In the end, we delivered an extremely successful presentation the next morning, and our company loved us, they want to adopt us, or perhaps just permanently employ us.

 

But let me focus on my cohort for a minute. My friends, rather. The most amazing, the most resourceful and fun group of people I have ever come across with. It comes by no surprise that most of us share ambition and drive, but all of us have different backgrounds, and yet again most of us are very alike. We work hard and we party even harder – the quiet ones will always surprise you.

We also argue and disagree more than you would think, at times we don’t like working with each other and we think that we would get things done much quicker and easier if we could just finish them on our own. But, the reality of things is that we can’t. So we learn to be patient, be there for each other and love each other regardless of what happened five minutes ago in that team meeting where we annoyed each other.

My MBA friends are there when I need them, they are there for the highs and the lows on this crazy journey and we sympathise with each other as we are going through this collectively. If I had to pick one thing that made my Vietnam week, or even my first year of MBA, then it would definitely be the people around me. I thank Cass for bringing us together and placing us in the most random of places where we could go to the dodgy karaoke bar for a song or ten.

After all, we are all each other’s wonderwall.

 

Nina Kerkez
Modular Executive MBA (2019)

 

 

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