2017 Best MBAs: Itsuma Tanaka, ESADE

Itsuma Tanaka


“Passionate telecom professional who chaired global standardization meetings to connect the world with 4G LTE.”

Age: 35

Hometown: Yokohama, Japan

Fun fact about yourself: Rock musician and happy father of two amazing children

Undergraduate School and Degree: Information Systems Engineering, Imperial College London (UK)

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? I worked as a Lead Core Network Architect at R&D Centre, NTT DOCOMO, Inc, Japan.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? N/A

Where will you be working after graduation? NTT DOCOMO, Inc, Japan (Role TBD)

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Elected class representative
  • Vice President of the MBA Student Association (Welcome Committee for ESADE Class of 2018). Responsible for organizing social networks for the class of 2018 (info session, buddy system, Facebook page), a summer session for non-native English speaker students, MBASA Welcome Week and Club Fair.
  • Co-founder and Co-president of the ESADE MBA Music Club, which organized regular Jam Sessions for students.
  • Co-founder of ESADE Quick Immersion Platform (EQUIP), which allows students to make a deep dive into a specific industry through guest speaker sessions, case competitions and industry event tours.
  • Organizer (and joint winner) of ESADE’s Got Talent 2016.
  • Leader of the ESADE Rock Band, which rocked HEC’s MBAT and the ESADE Campus Party.
  • Organizer of ESADE Japan Trek 2016.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud that I accepted all the responsibilities and initiatives I could take without compromising my personal life with my family. Doing an MBA with a family – who had never lived outside their home country – is never easy, especially when you want to spend quite a large proportion of your time supporting them and enjoying life together.

Thanks to the very collaborative culture of ESADE, all the initiatives I took on attracted lots of support from classmates and turned out to be very successful: the Jam Sessions were an instant hit, EQUIP attracted 100 students who toured the Mobile World Congress together, and the MBASA Club Fair will remain a legacy of the school. I could not have done any of these things on my own, and I am deeply grateful to all my classmates and the school staff who helped me bring my crazy ideas to life.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The 2008 global standardization project of the Early Earthquake and Tsunami Warning System changed my professional life completely. It’s a mobile-phone-based broadcast system that sends imminent warning messages so that people can take protective actions before disaster hits. There was a tremendous amount of (time) pressure and push-backs from many mobile operators and equipment vendors around the world, but I had to convince them to make it happen. As a grandson of a Kobe earthquake survivor, I refused to give up. Finally, we managed to deploy the system before the 2011 earthquake in Japan, during which the system helped save human lives in the region. I am also proud of all the other 4G/LTE infrastructure projects I’ve done with wonderful engineers all around the world, but this warning system project was what developed my strong passion and sense of mission in mobile telecommunication systems. They can actually save lots of human lives!

Who was your favorite MBA professor? There are so many great professors at ESADE: Prof. Luis Vives, Prof. Gloria Batllori, Prof. Andres Cuneo, Prof. Connie Lütolf-Carroll, to name just a few. I really enjoyed their dynamic and exciting class discussions. But my vote goes to Prof. Ken Morse, who taught the Global Sales Solutions elective in the second year. He not only had real-world entrepreneurial experience to share and deep academic insights, but also pushed me really hard and encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone during the sales pitch project. And he’s got a real sense of (dark) humor, which I loved!

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Challenged Based Innovation, which is a joint course with CERN in Switzerland and higher-education institutes in Barcelona. Students of different backgrounds – business, engineering, design and art – form a team and tackle a real social problem where technological and business innovation can help improve the situation. My team was challenged to come up with a solution to help survivors of traffic accident go back to their normal, working lives.

The biggest insight I gained from the course was the managerial skill set, which requires a great deal of trust in other team members to move the project forward effectively. It also requires open-mindedness and empathetic inter-personal communication skills to motivate and ensure a high level of engagement from team members at all times and not kill the creativity and strength of each team member. (And of course, now I know how to write a proper business plan!)

Why did you choose this business school?

1) Internationally and professionally diverse student body, which is a simulation of the world where I intend to work after the MBA.

2) Barcelona! Home of lots of IoT initiatives and the Mobile World Congress, so I can stay even more relevant in the industry.

3) Flexible program duration, with 12-month, 15-month and 18-month options. This was a good match for my professional commitment with my sponsor in Japan.

4) Hands-on program with a strong emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship. This was a perfect fit for my MBA goals and learning style.

But the decisive factor was ESADE’s people. I instantly fell in love with the happy people of the school when I visited during the application process. They were all very open and friendly to a random visitor like me. The professors and students even let me do a presentation in class!

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I enjoy when the value I have is challenged by classmates and the professors and when I am exposed to new ideas (and ways of thinking) that I was previously unaware of. Through in-depth interaction with classmates and professors, I had a tremendous amount of intellectual stimulation. I saw that the world I have experienced and seen is very small and that the world is actually much bigger than one can ever imagine.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? I was deeply surprised by the fact that there are many intellectual and capable students who are much younger than me but have as many leadership experiences as me, as well as tons of cool lifehack tricks to maximize productivity and enrich life! I was amazed to see that many people were excellent at managing the balance between social life and work/professional life.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be proactive! Time flies and you graduate in a blink of an eye. Start lots of initiatives, go out and explore the world as much as possible.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Myth: Everybody at ESADE is happy.

Truth: Yes, everybody is! Everybody appreciates and celebrates diversity and being different. My classmates are eager to interact with each other as much as possible so that they can learn about different cultures and values, and how to respect and be supportive of different people’s priorities and interests. As a result, quality of life here is very high and everybody feels comfortable both inside and outside the school.

What was your biggest regret in business school? None. Absolutely none.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Chad Goble from Canada. He’s got the guts to play the clown and ask questions nobody else dares to ask during class: negotiating submission deadlines, asking about key terms that professors forgot to explain, etc. He saved our lives so many times!

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized during the senior-level global standardization meeting for the mobile industry that technology alone cannot change the world, and that I also needed business skills to innovate the industry.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…spending my entire career as an engineer, not knowing the vast world outside my area of responsibility.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? There are lots of new student-led initiatives each year. Some stay as a legacy and some don’t. As dean, I would explore how to accumulate knowledge (knowhow and professional networks) and transfer it to future students. That’s always the challenge.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Invent new technology and business models to support a more reliable and accessible mobile communication infrastructure that will enable humanity to take the next step.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My better half, Yuri, who also had a big adventure in Barcelona with our wonderful children!

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Crazy dad from Japan.

Favorite book: The Cat Who Lived A Million Times, by Yoko Sano

Favorite movie or television show: Any movie by Stanley Kubrick

Favorite musical performer: Dave Grohl (Nirvana/Foo Fighters)

Favorite vacation spot: Beautiful beach on Menorca Island

Hobbies? Rock band (songwriting and selling my own albums on iTunes)

What made Itsuma Tanaka such an invaluable addition to the ESADE MBA Class of 2017?

“Itsuma Tanaka is one of the few people for whom I have only praise, without even the slightest overstatement. Apart from his solid basis of being a committed student who always delivered above-average results throughout his academic career, Itsuma has led high-impact student initiatives practically from day he set foot in ESADE. Not even a month into the program, he single-handedly organized the first ESADE Jam Session, gathering his classmates in a social context to encourage faster integration and networking. This initiative has been so successful, it has become a regular bi-monthly event through which additional funds for the Class Gift initiative and social projects have been raised. He also did an outstanding job serving as a representative of the MBA Class of 2017 and as Vice President for the student government’s Welcoming Committee, which required strong coordination with the program management as well as incoming exchange students from all over the world.

In his scarce free time, Itsuma set up another voluntary initiative, ESADE Quick Immersion Platform (EQUIP), which had a professional focus on the mobile industry. EQUIP consisted of a combination of talks by guest speakers at ESADE, a case competition with GSMA, and exclusive company visits at the Mobile World Congress. Having worked in various roles at NTT in Japan over the last ten years after studying engineering in the UK, Itsuma leveraged his experience and contacts to enrich his classmates’ learning experience and networking through his newly created platform. Itsuma’s outstanding skills for being a team player as well as an effective and empathic leader culminated in his successful participation in the Challenge Based Innovation project at CERN, where he engaged with a diverse group of engineering and design students in order to passionately deliver a successful project.

One last piece of the puzzle makes Itsuma’s picture complete: his adaptation process – coming from Japan and integrating into the local community – was shared by his wife, Yuri, and his sons, Yuuhi and Shinma. The four of them not only participated actively in many ESADE events, but also blended into life in Catalan society better than most single students. Overall, Itsuma exceeded all our expectations by far. He has an exceptional professional and academic profile as well as a great deal of positivity as a person and support for everyone around him. I am absolutely sure all of his peers and his family will agree with that.”

Franziska Ewald

ESADE MBA Program Manager


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.