2017 MBAs To Watch: Zayne Imam, IE Business School

Zayne Imam

IE Business School

“An ex-top-tier management consultant who is using my consulting toolkit to venture into entrepreneurship.”

Age: 28

Hometown: Cape Town, South Africa

Fun fact about yourself: As a teenager I got a job as a travel journalist and while doing a piece in Turkey I unsuccessfully tried to sneak through the boarder of Iraq for a good story – in 2003 when the war started

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Cape Town, Bachelor in Financial Accounting and Bachelor in Financial Analysis and Portfolio Management (Honours) – Cum Laude

Where did you work before enrolling in business school?  

Five-Oh-Two – Co-Founder;

Rethink Education – COO;

McKinsey and Company – Business Analyst

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? n/a

Where will you be working after graduation? Either on my company Five-Oh-Two or at McKinsey and Company as an Associate

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: None

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’ve taken my little start-up experiment from the shores of Cape Town, and put it through a rigorous academic and entrepreneurial process while here at IE Business School. It is not particularly easy to put a developing idea you care about deeply up for everyone to see. It is also difficult to hear the doubt from others about the feasibility of something which is difficult to comprehend. It is a humbling and thought-provoking process to understand how to take that feedback and use it to grow yourself and ways you will have an impact on the problem you’re truly trying to solve.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As a commerce graduate from the University of Cape Town, the expectation of the type of work you’re going to get straight out of under-graduate is not terribly high. Joining McKinsey and Company opened doors to opportunities I’d never thought possible before. I am most proud of being only 24 and acting as an adviser to the President and Cabinet of a North African country on special economic zones for agriculture. My work was eventually taken from there to the World Economic Forum in Davos where the Minister of Agriculture used my work to attract new investment to the country. This was one of the proudest moments of my professional life. Certainly not something I thought was feasible for someone at my age!

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favourite MBA professor hands-down was Professor Jose Esteves, who took us for Digital Innovation. Beyond virtually dragging us into a future where everything would be so incredibly different from what we know right now based on the rate of digital innovation, he also showed the hungry entrepreneurial minds of the class what that might mean in terms of future untapped opportunity.

Furthermore, it’s one thing to have a professor that pushes your thinking – it’s so much more to interact with a professor who really cares. After a sudden medical emergency confined me in hospital for more than two weeks, not only did he help me to use technology to get back into the classroom from my hospital bed – he also shared his own personal challenges with me which inspired me to power-through a very tough point in the MBA year.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favourite course was Critical Management Thinking – where Professor Rolf Strom-Olsen broke the mould of engrained thinking patterns which we so often don’t challenge, and simply accept as true.

While this course was certainly the one that required the most work to derive meaning out of, the challenge was met with a resounding sense of purpose. As future decision-makers in the business world, we need to break old thinking patterns and reconstruct ways we will offer impact to the world. These offerings need to be constructed free of the constraint of how things have always been done, and built up on a basis of logic and values to guide our refreshed thinking.

Why did you choose this business school?

I’d been looking for the right business school for more than 3 years; and exploring the possibilities literally took me across the world. I explored from the East Coast USA in 2013, to the West Coast USA in 2015 to eventually finding a home at IE Business School in Madrid. This long and detailed process of finally coming down to the best possible fit for me was absolutely worth it because IE Business School not only met my high expectations – but totally exceeded them.

I eventually chose IE Business School because it was so clear from their application process that they wanted to know me, and appreciated me for every bit of who I was. The school’s commitment to creating the environment to learn as much as possible through actual entrepreneurial projects is unmatched in Europe and that combined with my own personal curiosity on exploring what a new life in Europe might feel like – all pulled me in. I truly do not believe I could have found a better business school experience anywhere else for me…

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I think that many may view business school as an opportunity to just educate themselves more about the topics you need to be successful in business. I found the real growth came in business school providing me with the environment to take risks and experiment academically, entrepreneurially and even socially and thus open yourself up to parts of yourself you never even knew existed!

IE Business School provided the most perfect backdrop to discard any limitations you might have tacitly placed on yourself – like nah, I’m not an entrepreneur; or nah, I’d never be any good at topics around Machine Learning; or nah I can’t do flamenco… And before you know it, a healthy attitude of putting learning, growing and having fun while making your impact, is put ahead of trying to be right and taking the safe path just because it is comfortable.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? Business school really does open doors, if you’re willing to do the work to get to the door. The power of the network (both your colleagues and the people who work at the school) is truly awesome – virtually everyone in the world who might be worth talking to is now significantly closer. Never limit yourself to your network (albeit an expanding and impressive network) when by just asking for help you can access everyone’s impressive network.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Don’t try to gear your life such that you have the perfect profile for IE Business School. Just be the absolute best version of yourself that you can possibly be. The most important part of the MBA experience is learning from your colleagues, and demonstrating that you (in absolutely any valuable area of life) have learned something meaningful that you can pass onto your colleagues. This will always be more important than meaningless titles and accolades. If you truly want not only to learn – but also to help to bring more people up – you become the asset the school is looking for!

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth about IE Business School is that because it lives in Madrid, one of the biggest social capitals of Europe, the sun never sets on the fiesta. While the social life in Madrid is awe-inspiring, don’t under-estimate how seriously MBA student take the investment on their education. Many people have sacrificed a substantial amount to get here. While socializing is fun, many people have come to Madrid for very specific things, and nothing is going to stop them…

What was your biggest regret in business school? I remember that during our opening ceremony, a student from the previous intake told us that we should aim to never eat alone, that each meal was an opportunity to get to know someone better… I wish that I had shared more meals with my incredible colleagues, because I feel like there are too many people whom I haven’t gotten to know deeply enough to truly understand the full story around what makes them quite as remarkable as they are.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My friend Ethan Jin is a real inspiration to me of what can be achieved when you apply yourself with such singular focus to achieve one thing. He concentrated so much of his energy on working on his start-up, raising capital, and building a business while here at IE Business School… I have never seen someone work so fast and hard to establish themselves in an entrepreneurial community and use that  to catapult their business ambitions so effectively.

I hope to be able to use this platform as brilliantly as Ethan has to both establish myself, affect real progress in my entrepreneurial endeavours, and finally to bring as much useful knowledge as possible to my colleagues in the process.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I knew I wanted to go to business school when my business in Cape Town reached the point where it needed to explore how to take the concept we developed and learn how to scale it globally.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…if I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be in Cape Town raising money to build the Five-Oh-Two app.”

 If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would immediately sign a resolution to bring gender equity to our business school as a matter of urgency. I have been privileged enough to interact with enough brilliant women to understand how the current constructs of the commercial world lend itself blatantly to male success more than it does for females. As a leading global institution, I believe we have the opportunity to role model the change we’d like to see in the world in this regard.

Gearing our world to the rightful equity of women will inevitably lead to our own success, allowing us to be pushed to have more equitable discussion around the redress that needs to occur to achieve equity completely. I believe that once we strike equity around gender, it will be easier to redress equity all minority groups as well.

 What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to make it profitable to eradicate loneliness. In the information age, it’s become unnecessary to ever feel alone, anywhere, anytime – because there are a bunch of amazing people out there who you would get along with we just need to connect you. Strong social connectedness leads to happiness and better health and more longevity. So why not create the shared platform that makes it profitable too. I want to create a happiness industry.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I want to thank the strong network of people who have always availed themselves to help me when I’ve asked for help. The friends and colleagues who have coached me for interviews and investor pitches; helped me to edit applications forms, CVs and cover letters, and most importantly the people who share in any success I have because they believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.

No one person achieves impact alone, so I’m most grateful to all the people who have allowed me to stand on their shoulders to reach for my dreams.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? The guy who would stop at nothing until he built the company that changed the way we connect, and so brought more people together, and so is eradicating the concept of loneliness.

Favorite book: The Velvet Rage – compulsory reading for any young gay male with ambitions of changing the world

Favorite movie or television show: Where Do We Go Now (Lebanon)

Favorite musical performer: OneRepublic 

Favorite vacation spot: Koh Toa in Thailand

Hobbies?  I love to travel to off the beaten track to find some of the hidden gems the world has to offer that can’t be found in a guide book. I also love to cook, without ever really following any recipe!

What made Zayne such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“Zayne is one of those students that radiate positive energy to all classmates and professors that are around him. During the class discussions not only all his comments are well thought and to the point, but moreover with his attitude, his similes, his encouragement he helps to create the type of positive environment that generates great discussions in a friendly manner that combines rigor with fun without forgetting politeness. The atmosphere that he creates generates positive spill overs in terms of a better learning experience to the whole group.

On top of his role as a catalyst in the class discussion, he is also a great leader outside the classroom and has contributed to several initiatives that add tremendous value to the IE community. Two quick examples: First he was invited to attend the “ROMBA Conference” in Dallas. This LGBT conference allowed Zayne to interact with great companies like Google, Facebook and some of the best North American companies searching for global LGBT talent. But more impressive is that the networking opportunities and subject matter has inspired Zayne to work on projects for World Pride 2017 taking place here in Madrid in June / July 2017.

Second, Zayne has remained very close to his previous employer McKinsey and Company. He was flown over to Miami to during his first term to be kept up to date on developments because even more than 2 years after leaving they continue to see him as a potential returning employee and one of their ambassadors. He has stayed true to his ambassadorial role and helped many of his current classmates to prepare for their interviews with all the consulting companies, from beginning to end. That is an invaluable help to those students that plan to undertake a career in consulting.”

Overall, Zayne has made a difference in IE and I am convinced that he will keep doing so wherever he chooses to go.

Juan Santaló

Professor of Strategic Management



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