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My Story: From INSEAD to Avon Cosmetics

Mike Davis, INSEAD MBA and Avon's Director of Web Innovation and Strategy

Michael Davis didn’t follow a traditional path to B-school. One of his earliest memories is leaving Iran ahead of the Revolution. His family landed in Iowa, where he proved himself a quick study. He finished high school at the age of 14. He graduated from Purdue at 19, with a degree in Computer and Electrical Engineering. He joined the working world at Sapient, one of the few, full-time jobs he has ever held – a job he abandoned for entrepreneurship after just four years.

So when he decided to apply for an MBA, he wasn’t showing admissions committees a steady progression up the corporate ladder. Instead, his entrepreneurship-heavy resume wove through numerous industries and countries, operated from cubicles to coffee shops to pickup trucks. It’s just one aspect that made him a natural fit in INSEAD’s diverse MBA Class of 2010.

Once he’d survived INSEAD’s grueling core courses – the first time good grades didn’t come easily – Michael found himself on an unexpected post-MBA career path. Today, he’s no longer in search of the next best product, service or technology for his own startup, but rather dreaming up the future of makeup for one of the world’s largest beauty supply companies, Avon. And he loves it.

His story

I am an entrepreneur. I think like one. I act like one. I have always been attracted to finding the need and meeting the need. To me the formula was simple: Observe. Ask questions. Listen. Respond. Invoice. Collect. Rinse. Repeat.

I realize I’m rather untraditional. Four years into my first job, at the age of 23, I left the comforts of a bi-weekly paycheck to try my hand at the exciting world of entrepreneurism. Just like when you learned to ride a bike with no hands and shouted “Look mom, no hands!” I shouted, “Look mom, no paycheck!” (Just what you don’t want to tell your Persian mom!).

But it worked! Over the next nine years, I created a holding company, with little baby portfolio companies, all doing well. I started with what I knew (technology consulting), and branched out into industries I knew less and less about (read: more interesting, more learning). I started a construction company – in construction, potential customers see a scruffy pair of boots as a sign of experience, so after a rejection or two I hung my boots off the back of my truck while driving around urban New Jersey before pitching other clients. And they hired me! I launched a photography company, and tried my hand at movie production.

I was strangely unsatisfied. No matter what I tried, I could not achieve scale. I needed to recharge, and all signs pointed to an MBA. So in 2009, I applied to the Financial Time’s top-ten US MBA programs, as well as London Business School and INSEAD. Not surprising, my background produced mixed results!

At INSEAD’s orientation, I was still holding out for London Business School, where I was waitlisted. But the INSEAD admits were completely different to any others I had met. I went to an orientation session at another school in the US where the students thought I was presenting! I wasn’t going to learn there. At INSEAD, students didn’t hold themselves too seriously. And the alumni seemed to enjoy where they were: in their professional lives they were accomplished, but they were also loving their lives, which is critical. After thinking about how I wanted to spend 10-months of my life, learning from an international student body in Europe and Asia seemed right.