2016 MBAs To Watch: Alex Pham, INSEAD

Alex Pham Insead 2

Alex Pham

 
INSEAD

Age: 28

Hometown: San Diego, CA

Undergraduate School and Degree: UCLA – BA Business Economics, Global Studies minor

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Strategist at Grameen Foundation in Kampala, Uganda

Where did you intern during the summer of 2015: N/A

Where will you be working after graduation? Going back to school to pursue a MPA with a focus on international development and social entrepreneurship at the Harvard Kennedy School. And then hopefully to a social enterprise focused on education in Southeast Asia!

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Co-president of INDEVOR social impact club; Alumni Diversity Fund Scholarship

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Traveling almost every weekend with my classmates to the jungles of Sumatra, the beaches of Thailand, the mountains of Nepal, or the deserts of the UAE. It was incredible to connect and bond with such amazing people in such amazing destinations. I will never forget those experiences.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In Zimbabwe, I advised microfinance lenders, agribusinesses, and fintech startups that had innovative business models that combined both profit and social impact. I had to figure out how to help them grow and scale their ideas in an environment that had gone through major economic collapse and decades of social strife. I went to the far stretches of the countryside to interview smallholder farmers, sat down with clothing traders in local markets to analyze their cash flows, and toured fish feed production plants. By doing this, I truly learned about business and what it really meant to work in a tough frontier environment. It was one of the most exciting times of my life.

Who is your favorite professor? Taking Professor Horacio Falcao’s course changed the way I thought about the world. He taught Negotiations by bringing in amazing examples of tough negotiations he went through in settling a border dispute between Ecuador and Peru, between companies engaged in a hostile takeover, and between couples going through divorce. When the class ended, the long line of students waiting to thank him looked like the line waiting for a head of state.

Favorite MBA Courses? Negotiations with Horacio Falco, Economics & Management in Developing Countries with Loïc Sadoulet, Uncertainty, Data, and Judgment with Theodoros Evgeniou

Why did you choose this business school? I wanted an international life and career — and I wanted a school that reflected those values. INSEAD offered an incredible opportunity to study across three campuses in Singapore, France, and the UAE with an amazing cohort of students from more than 80 countries. There was no other school that had such a truly international perspective.

What did you enjoy most about business school? Every time I step into a room full of INSEAD people, I know that I am the least interesting person in the room. I love that feeling. I love knowing that the people around me have done such amazing things with their lives all over the world. It is incredibly inspiring, humbling, and exciting at the same time.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? My favorite assignment in business school required us to write a memoir of ourselves in 10 years, looking back at our lives. I had to sit down and write a life story for the next 10 years that I could truly feel proud of. It made me think about who I was as a person and what I wanted out of life, not just my career.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? The sheer number of brilliant people around you. I am incredibly humbled to see such a group of talented people.

What was the hardest part of business school? Making life and career decisions that truly reflect what you want and not what you think would look best on your CV. It is so easy to get swept up into other paths during recruiting season. It requires both courage and discipline to be truthful to yourself about what you really want.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your school? INSEAD values unique people who have a very international perspective. What makes you unique? Think about the qualities or life experiences you have that make you really different. And then write about them.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when… I realized it gave me a chance to learn about the world, from people all across the world.”

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be… whitewater kayaking somewhere in Uganda.”

Which executive or entrepreneur do you most admire? Elon Musk, because he thinks differently from almost anyone I know. When he sees a big obstacle, he does not shy away from it. He completely redefines the challenge in order to solve it in a way that no one else had thought about before. That requires a courage, creativity, and audacity that I wish I had.

What are your long-term professional goals? Lead a social enterprise focused on education and job creation in my native Southeast Asia — preferably in a location close to great scuba diving …

Who would you most want to thank for your success? A travel blogger who had a website that I stumbled across in undergrad. The things he was able to achieve with his travels around the world totally redefined for me what was possible in life. It made me realize that my dreams were more feasible than I imagined.

Fun fact about yourself: I spent eight months in 2014 scuba diving around the world and following whale migrations across Australia and the South Pacific.

Favorite book: Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson

Favorite movie: Lost in Translation with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson

Favorite musical performer: Jenny Lewis

Favorite television show: “Friends”

Favorite vacation spot: Indonesia

Hobbies? Scuba diving, mountain climbing, reading semi-pretentious books

What made Alex such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?

“With an interesting international and personal background, Alex clearly demonstrates that he has the drive, team spirit, communication skills, and motivation to do well in such a demanding MBA programme.   He is curious about other cultures and other people’s lives and experiences.”

Sven Biel
Associate Director, MBA Programme Management
INSEAD

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