2017 MBAs To Watch: Nada Chaker, University of Virginia (Darden)

Nada Chaker

University of Virginia, Darden Business School

“Marketing professional with a passion for startups, fiction literature, botany, and baking.”

Age: 26

Hometown: Rabat, Morocco

Fun fact about yourself: I can make a wool scarf from scratch! From shearing sheep to making wool thread to knitting. I collected all these skills in a totally random manner, and will probably never use them.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Diploma from Institut Superieur de Commerce et d’Administration des Entreprises (ISCAE), majored in Marketing

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Marketing manager at Hidden Founders, Analyst at Infomineo, Marketing manager at Flexcible Information System (All in Morocco)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? A.T. Kearney, Chicago

Where will you be working after graduation? Currently recruiting with startups in London

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Selected to work on the Admissions Committee; elected VP of Finance at the Darden Africa Business Organization; participated multiple times in Building Goodness in April events (restauration of local school grounds, repairs to the house of a Charlottesville inhabitant…)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The Moroccan and African table at the International Food Festival. It makes me so proud to share some of my origins with the food I cook for my classmates, and my classmates at Darden love it! It helped smooth the path for many sensitive conversations about Morocco, and about Muslim and Arab communities and their norms and cultures in general.     

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am extremely proud of failing very early in my career, and learning the right lessons from it. I joined a web startup during my last year in college, and worked extremely hard to make it succeed, but it didn’t take off. After that first failure, it was a lot easier for me to see past the “noise,” such as pressure from peers and family to get a prestigious job or the desire for financial security. It helped me see that wat makes me happy is to be around passionate and inspired people, and to help bring disruptive products to the market.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Hard question! Probably Ed Freeman, for the way he pushes people to question their understanding of morality and responsibility.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Creative capitalism, without a doubt. The objective of the class was to explore “the process of creating value for multiple stakeholders by combining traditional value for financiers with the broader concept of value for stakeholders.” We discussed business cases where principles and profit were seemingly at odds, and were forced to examine the kind of business leader we will be in the future in very practical terms. It was an extremely impactful class for me because it changed my understanding of capitalism and the creation of value, from something neutral that only exists in theory and on excel spreadsheets to something far more practical and far more human.     

Why did you choose this business school? Darden had a strong academic argument in the case method, but it was mostly the human argument that helped me make the decision. The people I talked to were welcoming and open and the community was clearly supportive and principled. The whole UVA community lives by the honor code, and I felt how much it meant to the Darden students.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The constant energy from being around so many impressive people. Everyone has a story and everyone has something you can learn from. Movie nights, drinks in downtown Charlottesville, school events… you can find yourself in the middle of an incredibly stimulating discussion any time.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? The most surprising thing was how much personal growth I went through. Going to business school, I expected to build a great network of extremely smart and driven people, but I didn’t expect to make intimate friends who would change me and give me the opportunity to change them, in the best possible way. 

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be very self-aware. Solicit feedback from people around you, reflect on the person you want to be, not just the career you want to build.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Darden has a reputation for overworking students. It is true that, on paper, the first year looks very demanding, with three cases a day and multiple side projects going on (on top of a packed social calendar) However, you learn how to navigate all that with the help of your learning team and your class very quickly. It’s not that bad, really.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not traveling more, and not taking anyone to Morocco for a visit! It’s hard to share all that you are without showing people where you come from, and sometimes, we fall into the trap of thinking we are fairly similar people here in business school.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? In my class, it is probably Jian Yiqi. She is one of the most accomplished individuals I have ever met, and extremely helpful and humble at the same time

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…the first startup I worked with failed. I knew by then how fast I could absorb new knowledge, and how much I wanted to learn more and build more businesses from the ground up.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…working on yet another startup project!”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? Put more people on recruiting students from emerging markets and create scholarships to support them.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to build a product that makes people’s lives better, and bring it to as large a market as possible. It can be books, food, a new technology… the only requirement is for it to add meaningful value to the lives of as many people as possible.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My parents. They came from almost nothing and managed to build a great life for their children, and they always put my education first, no questions asked. They shaped my love for knowledge, encouraged my curiosity, and gave me the tools I needed to succeed. 

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Someone they can count on for help or for an honest opinion if they need it.

Favorite book: His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman. Thrilling story, and an excellent book for a kid just starting to form his or her understanding of good and evil.

Favorite movie or television show: Shameless (U.S.)

Favorite vacation spot: I haven’t discovered it yet! Right now I think it might be the countryside in Japan, but I need to go there to confirm.

Hobbies: Fantasy, romance and sci-fi fiction. Thrillers and mysteries as well. Baking (especially French pastry), cooking (currently learning Chinese and south-Asian cuisine), botany and gardening (inherited from my mom, who is a plant biologist).

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

“A good recommendation should start by saying that Nada is brilliant, enthusiastic, inspirational, etc. But I will not do my recommendation in this way. Sure, Nada is everything I just mentioned, but a standard and flat recommendation cannot capture her spark.

I remember the first class where I met Nada—I was teaching Marketing core and it was the very first quarter for the MBA class of 2017. Many of the most curious and thought-provoking questions were coming from her. Those questions were intellectually challenging and added a blend of complexity, critical thinking, and why not, spiciness to the class. I remember stopping one time after class to congratulate her for her contributions and to encourage her to continue asking those questions.  Why do I still remember that? Because I really meant it.  A year later, I had her again in my Consumer Behavior class. And she was a pillar of the class – with her comments, she tremendously increased the class experience and learning. And that’s Nada’s unique alchemy: deep thinking, intriguing questioning, sharp curiosity, and solar personality. In one word, fantastic.”

Luca Cian, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Marketing

University of Virginia – Darden School of Business



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