2016 MBAs To Watch: Farah Haddad, ESADE

Farah Haddad-ESADE-PoetsAndQuants_MBAsToWatch2016

Farah Haddad

ESADE Business School

Age: 29

Hometown: Beirut, Lebanon

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • 2006-2010: Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) – B.Eng. in Industrial Engineering
  • 2015-2016: ESADE Business School (Barcelona, Spain) – Full-Time MBA

Where did you work before enrolling in business school?

  • Alumco Group (Lebanon, KSA, Qatar) – ERP Project Manager
  • Alumco s.a.l (Lebanon) – Production Engineer

Where did you intern during the summer of 2015? Alumco Group, remotely (ERP implementation review over the summer)

Where will you be working after graduation? I am still exploring several options. I will be continuing with “Well2Go,” the project started in the Challenge Based Innovation (CBI), while looking at various opportunities in different industries; specifically, in MBA development programmes and roles in business and product development, innovation, CSR, or change management. I will also be investigating several entrepreneurial opportunities with friends.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I led the water safety team in the CBI project at CERN. We were a multidisciplinary team of two business graduate students from ESADE, two design undergraduates from IED, and an engineering graduate, and an undergraduate from UPC. Our challenge was “to improve public health by providing safe access to water,” using the “design thinking” approach. I was selected as one of a team of three representing ESADE at the 2016 Family Enterprise Case Competition (FECC) in Vermont.

Before business school, I spent two years volunteering with Engineers Without Borders (EWB) in Canada. I led the school outreach programme and then all the education programmes at the Concordia chapter, and had the opportunity to participate in the junior fellowship volunteering programme for four months in Ghana.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The academic achievement at ESADE of which I am proudest is related to the CBI project with CERN, aimed at using a design thinking approach and CERN contacts, knowledge, and technology, to tackle big societal problems. Our team challenge was to improve safe access to water. Our presentation was voted as the best of the four teams, and we received great feedback at the subsequent prototype exhibition, where we demonstrated a working prototype. We were approached by contacts interested in discussing the future of our project and potentially collaborating with us.

I am proud of our project experience, outcomes, and solution. We chose to focus our analysis on rural Ghana, where we built a network of contacts who helped us gather valuable insights and feedback. An essential problem identified is that 78% of wells in Ghana are not fully operational, with one in three broken at any given time. This is a considerable waste of investment. To make matters worse, the users are counted as “served” — which means there is a failure to effectively address the dire water security problem. Our solution focused on maintaining wells by placing monitoring sensors connected to a platform that provides information to technicians, funders, and the community. The proposed business model addresses sustainability needs in rural and poor developing countries by creating a “water monitoring ecosystem.” Maintenance has nine times the impact of building new wells.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? After two failed attempts, Alumco management decided to redesign a new ERP system that more accurately and cohesively meets the needs of all departments. I was originally assigned to assist the new ERP team. However, when the project manager fell sick, I took on his responsibilities and led the project. Difficulties were faced due to his intermittent availability and strong resistance to the change expressed by users. Recognising the opportunities that a well-designed ERP system can offer, I approached the implementation challenges positively, cooperatively, inclusively, and scientifically.

Three years later, the ERP project is considered a success, with much support from users. The company has moved to a more advanced level thanks to the new processes implemented and user training in universal system terminology and concepts. The most significant achievement has been successfully developing the foundations for an effective ERP system, enabling Alumco to reap the benefits of its full potential. I believe that my work with the ERP project has demonstrated my ability to gather needs, analyse problems, find practical solutions, and lead an effective implementation.

Who is your favourite professor? There are many lecturers who inspired me at ESADE, from sharing their diverse and rich international experience to designing a variety of relevant, challenging, stimulating, and unique approaches to courses. Luis Vives exemplifies these characteristics. In addition to being energetic, charismatic, interesting, and compelling, he structured the Competitive Strategy course in a very interesting way, with an extensive range of relevant topics. He also invited prominent business professionals as guest speakers, which provided valuable insights and unique learning opportunities for detailed discussions and question sessions.

Favourite MBA Courses? Challenge Based Innovation (@ Mediterranean) with CERN (a joint course with business, engineering, and design students from universities in Spain and Italy). This was an exceptional learning experience that included a multidisciplinary approach, an inspiring team of teachers, and valuable interactions with CERN professionals. It created a network of contacts who are dedicating their lives to making a difference. I was impressed at how the application of a simple user-centric approach (design thinking) to complex problems led every team to innovative and feasible solutions, along with how powerful a multidisciplinary approach can be in solving major societal challenges. The experience taught me to be more comfortable with uncertainty and to manage and lead effectively to achieve impactful results in such uncertain contexts. I also enjoyed Competitive Strategy, Business Simulation, Leading Change, and Doing Business Globally.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose ESADE because of its unique approach. Along with a strong core curriculum, the flexibility in duration and tracks provide a customised programme that fits everybody. There is a great diversity of students and faculty, with over 40 countries represented in my class.

I found ESADE’s educational approach and MBA curriculum to be a good fit because they closely match my values, interests, and strengths. This was demonstrated in the dedication to creating significant progress both environmentally and socially, and by being clearly committed to excellence, social responsibility, and innovation. ESADE also seemed like a good fit for me because of its hands‐on methodology through its project‐based learning, diversity, feedback, and coaching. With the increasing awareness of the importance of developing emotional-intelligence soft skills for business leaders (mainly shown in the work of Richard Boyatzis), ESADE is one of the prominent business schools in the world promoting and integrating topics and methods related to developing such skills. I was even more convinced that I made the right choice with ESADE when Richard Boyatzis addressed us during orientation week as a guest speaker, sharing fascinating research discoveries and exercises. Later, all the participants overwhelmingly agreed that his talk was one of the most inspiring and captivating that we had experienced.

What did you enjoy most about business school? I enjoyed the variety of approaches in a multicultural learning environment, including the flexibility of the programme structure (with unique offerings such as CBI) and the interactions with a wide diversity of students, lecturers, and academic and industry leaders. One of the experiences I most enjoyed was the Family Business Trek, a visit to Dusseldorf and Witten in Germany with Family Business Management Lab participants. We spent a week learning from workshops and presentations, mainly at the WiFu Institute (the leading academic institute for family business management), as well as from an innovation workshop at A.T. Kearney (a global management consulting firm). I am happy that taking part in such a study tour was a mandatory requirement in ESADE’s MBA program, which is an example of how ESADE incorporates varied teaching methods in its approach.

The school is also located in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, in terms of architecture, culture, and climate. As a result, a large part of the business school experience was discovering and enjoying Barcelona.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? One of the greatest lessons I gained from business school is related to teamwork in diverse contexts, expanding my awareness and appreciation of problem-solving approaches from other disciplines and backgrounds, and (consequently) helping me engage in and manage teamwork more productively. I learned a lot about how to work with different learning styles and cultures, from the ample practice with different teams for course projects. The context of people with the same leadership motivation, but also different backgrounds, makes MBA team dynamics unique in both challenges and potential. Some of the biggest lessons I gained included soft skills in teamwork, adaptability, open-mindedness, and conflict resolution.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? One aspect that significantly surprised me is the strong sense of community — belonging to the ESADE “family.” Unlike my undergraduate degree, the ESADE MBA is a much smaller community, with a total of only about 160 students in 2016, grouped in small classes of 60 students that share most of the programme together on a daily basis. This made the experience much more intimate and the relationships stronger. I was surprised how significantly ESADE has enabled me to build an international and multi-disciplinary network that offers a multitude of opportunities for personal and professional pursuits and projects around the world.

What was the hardest part of business school? The hardest part of business school was managing time efficiently for the extensive course preparation, assignments, and team meeting requirements. This was particularly challenging because, as an engineer, I try to be very thorough in approaching problems and studying details, so I had to learn to let go of focusing on details and quickly assimilate key concepts, delegate, and trust in the team (instead of mainly relying on my individual efforts). It was also initially challenging to efficiently manage team interactions, incorporating, and integrating different ideas on how a problem and presentation should be tackled.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your school? Engage often with students, faculty, speakers, clubs, company representatives, subjects and issues, and cultures. Step out of your comfort zone to connect with new people and topics. Take advantage of the abundant resources and spaces offered, such as the learning and professional opportunities provided at the e-garage and in the various clubs and labs. Finally, take advantage of the programme’s flexibility by tailoring it to challenge yourself, and match your values and passions.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when… I realised the possibilities it would offer.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be… less equipped and confident to create and lead positive change.”

Which executive or entrepreneur do you most admire? The entrepreneur I have admired most throughout my life is my father. He started as an employee in an engineering company, which he later owned, expanded, and internationalised, leading it to become one of the most successful companies in its industry in the Middle East. I admire his leadership style and his ability to create a “family” culture within the company, which has earned him huge respect and admiration from everyone he has encountered along the way.

What are your long-term professional goals? In general, I want to constantly learn and challenge myself to create positive change. My long-term professional goals are less defined by specific performance achievements. Instead, they revolve around being able to find a proper fit with companies and roles that have strong values that are aligned with mine. This includes a genuine commitment to sustainability and work founded on teams, learning, and improvement — which are emphasised in the company’s vision, strategy, and culture. Ultimately, I hope to be a successful entrepreneur contributing to and leading positive changes related to corporate, social, and environmental sustainability.

After the CBI project, I have been considering pursuing postgraduate studies in innovation and design because I realised that I am at my best and happiest in such challenge-based, design-thinking, team contexts. In the meantime, I am focusing my job search in this field. Associated with my family business management and innovation focus in the MBA program, my professional goals in the long term include positively contributing to strategy development in our family business and taking a more active role in exploring innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities there. I would like to help in developing the business in a way that takes advantage of the unique and immense benefits that family business contexts can offer by raising sufficient awareness regarding the complex risks specific to such contexts, developing structures, and minimising potentially destabilising risks.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My parents. I feel lucky and grateful to have been born into a family that has given me the opportunities to attend top schools and universities, and that has been extremely supportive in allowing me to explore different paths and urging me to think big and go after my dreams. My parents have equipped me with a strong academic background while exposing me to international cultures and ideas. This has helped shape my goals as value-based and has fostered my adaptability to changes, resilience when faced with diverse challenges, and self-motivation for continual improvement.

Fun fact about yourself: Every stage of my education has been in a different country: elementary school in Saudi Arabia, middle and high school in Lebanon, undergraduate studies in Montreal with volunteering experience in Ghana, and finally, graduate school in Barcelona.

Favourite book: Shantaram

Favourite movie: Princess Bride

Favourite musical performer: Björk

Favourite television show: “The Wire”

Favourite vacation spot: Anywhere with friends and family

Hobbies? Swimming, scuba diving, playing piano, yoga

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

“Farah is a very creative person with a genuine interest in making the world a better place. With this idea in mind, and leveraging her engineering background, Farah started her career working with Engineers Without Borders.

“During her MBA, Farah achieved a very good academic performance, while going deeper into the creativity and innovation space. Her passion and interests converged with the Challenge Based Innovation, a project developed jointly with CERN to discover novel solutions for the future of humankind.

“While at CERN, Farah managed to create a great prototype that could improve the life of millions of people. Specifically, her team developed a system using big data and wireless sensors to solve Ghana’s water crisis.

“In the development of the project she showed great determination and leadership skills.”

Luis Vives
Associate Dean of the Full-Time MBA
ESADE

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