Tala Al Jabri
The Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania
Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Of Saudi, Canadian, Palestinian and Syrian origin, I have lived and worked in nine countries in three continents.
Hometown: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Montreal, Canada
Fun Fact About Yourself: I was once featured on Just for Laughs Gags, a hidden camera reality television show, in Montreal
Undergraduate School and Major: McGill University, Finance, Women’s Studies (minor)
Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation:
Associate (Junior Manager) at Oliver Wyman
Head of Government Strategy at Dow Chemical Saudi Arabia
International Consultant at the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency
Consultant at Monitor Deloitte
Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: It was convincing a Fortune 50 company that had undertaken a $30 Billion investment in Saudi Arabia to hire me for the key role of Head of Government Affairs & Strategy. This role required a minimum of ten years of work experience; making me the youngest and only female to work in this capacity in Saudi Arabia in that time.
Looking back on your experience, what advice would you give to future business school applicants?
On the GMAT – Don’t boil the ocean
Identify your weaker areas upfront and work on improving your performance in those areas. First, establish a baseline by taking a free GMAT test online. In my case, taking the test allowed me to identify the sections where I was relatively strong in versus those where I was weaker. Second, keep an error log so that you can keep track of the questions you answered incorrectly and record the type of error encountered (e.g., miscomprehension of question, gaps in knowledge). Third, find a study partner who complements your skills. In other words, find someone who is relatively strong in the areas where you need more practice (and vice versa). Doing this gave me the opportunity to learn shortcuts and strengthen my knack for the material. It also allowed me to reinforce my strengths through the coaching of certain topics to my partner. Fourth, make use of free resources. I found GMAT Club particularly helpful in this regard as each topic and sub-topic were organized by difficulty level, making it easy to pick and choose the types of problems I wanted to solve.
On essay writing – Find your inspiration and rally behind a common theme
Getting started and finding a way to make yourself stand out are among the challenging aspects of essay writing. My advice to overcome this: find and reflect on your passions. Start with noting down your passions, and continue to reflect on the experiences that left an impression in your life. In undertaking this introspection, I began to see a common theme emerge that connected my past, present and future and that revealed to me the triggers underlying my passions. Don’t be shy to allow your ideas to flow at first, even if they appear disjointed and incoherent at the time. While most of the experiences I noted were eventually cut from my essays, the process allowed me to engage with what I want to accomplish in the future and helped me identify the aspects of the MBA program that are most relevant to me. From that point on, I was able to arrive at a relatively unique answer to “Why an MBA” and “Why our program.”
On the interview – Be genuine and have fun
You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Think of the interview process like a free lottery: It’s free to play and the pay off is almost guaranteed to be rewarding. At worst, you are meeting new and interesting people who you can learn from and add to your network. There is little need to stress, so sit back, relax and let the fun begin!
What led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA? Choosing The Wharton School was a no-brainer. Nothing speaks more to the school’s influence, diversity and world-class nature than the time I stumbled upon Professor Mayer’s book on Islam and Human Rights in a bookstore. Less than a handful of schools can claim as much breadth. What makes Wharton standout more is that it does not simply have a wide offering, but it excels in all disciplines and is able to intersect various subject areas. My personal interest in a program that combined impact investing, FinTech, gender lens investing, and Islamic finance quickly led me to strongly favour Wharton’s program. From the school’s student-run impact investment fund, FinTech club, to its Gender Lens Insights program, there is simply no match for Wharton.
Moreover, Wharton MBA students are fully engaged in the development of the program and the MBA Program office is very quick to adapt the program to meet the students’ needs. There is no conventional path at Wharton and the program is designed to be flexible to allow students to pursue their varied interests, whatever they may be.
In the Middle East region (among others), Wharton alumni are among the most revered leaders, pushing the boundaries of convention and introducing innovations in both the public and private spheres. Moreover, their open and down-to-earth leadership style, which they were able to hone while at Wharton, was a huge bonus for me.
Tell us about your dream job or dream employer at this point in your life? I am looking for a career that speaks to my passions and that can combine my varied interests in nation-building and development, economic and social inclusion, and technology and innovation. In the short term, I aspire to explore impact investing or big tech.
In the long term, I hope to found an impact investment fund in Saudi Arabia that can serve to empower investors and fund beneficiaries. The fund will employ gender lens investing techniques (among others), ensuring a social return to women and girls, and it will also seek to pool fund from female investors, increasing their financial inclusion and empowering them to manage and grow their wealth.
What would you like your business school peers to say about you after you graduate from this program? I would like my peers to say that I am a troublemaker who breaks with convention and enacts feasible business strategies that promote inclusive prosperity and social good. What’s life without a little bit of fun and disruption?