2017 MBAs To Watch: Peter El Khoury, HEC Paris

Peter El Khoury

HEC Paris

 “Experience taught me to acquire efficiency and effectiveness, and use them to beat the odds.”

 Age: 27

 Hometown: Beirut, Lebanon

 Fun fact about yourself: I can solve the Rubik’s Cube in less than one minute.

Undergraduate School and Degree: American University of Beirut, Bachelor of Civil Engineering – Minor in Engineering Management

 Where did you work before enrolling in business school?

Consolidated Contractors Company, Athens – Controls Engineer

I was responsible to develop contractor portfolios, and coordinate between clients and subcontractors on selective projects.

 Where did you intern during the summer of 2016?

Roland Berger, Dubai UAE

I was a part of a corporate strategy team, and led a module related to process analysis and system optimization.

 Where will you be working after graduation? I received an offer from Roland Berger. I am joining the company as an associate in the Dubai office, and will work on various strategy projects.

 Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: As Vice President of the Finance club, I took part in organizing seminars and events for the MBA community. However the London Finance Trek (which I volunteered to lead) was the event of the year, particularly because it was a first-of-its-kind for HEC. 10 international banks and PE firms in London agreed to open their doors for MBA candidates, recognizing our school as one of the Finance recruitment hubs. Leading the Trek was not an easy job; it required commitment, persistence and a lot of networking. Nevertheless, it was a success, and the club is keen on making the event a yearly tradition.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The MBA Tournament (MBAT), renowned as the MBA Olympics, is the largest gathering of MBA students in Europe. It is an annual student-run, hands-on event that is organized by a team of MBA students from HEC Paris, with more than 1500 participants heading to Paris to enjoy the competitive games yet pleasant ambiance and interactions. As part of the MBAT organizing team, I introduced the All-star theme to the games and took the idea to implementation. I designed new models for the All-star sports to accommodate the original concept, and coordinated with the management team to establish an exhaustive schedule that is new to the tradition. As expected, the idea was popular within participants and will be executed in future MBATs.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? While working in the head office of an international contracting company, I was asked to transfer to site as a support to one of the projects in the Middle East. The project was behind schedule and management needed to deliver an urgent tender to a key client. I took on the post of Lead Controls Engineer for one of the teams made up of 6 engineers. While I was 25 years old, I took the managers’ decision to choose me as a mark of recognition and appreciation of my drive and commitment for results. The move helped me grow on many levels, and gave me the right reasons to apply to HEC MBA having a solid experience at a relatively young age.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Olivier Sibony is an affiliate professor teaching several Strategy courses within the program. He has extensive experience in strategy consulting in Europe and was a partner in McKinsey & Company. Nevertheless my admiration lies in his effortless connection with students and his ability to draw interest with unique communication skills. After completing Management Consulting in the fundamental phase of the program, I took an elective with Olivier and had personal, fruitful discussions regarding my future and setting expectations. Once I informed him about my offer with Roland Berger, he took time to give his opinion and help me come to a final decision.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Behavioral Strategy. It is a course that combines Strategy and Psychology, examining decision making processes in the business context. The course is at the forefront of contemporary research, exploring a terra incognita. I got to learn that improving oneself, or even fixing the wrongs in one’s character, requires a systematic approach that is not based on instincts or hunches. I remember the professor quoting that “thoughts without structure are nothing but intuition.” This has given me insight that I know I will leverage in my career at Roland Berger. Concepts discussed are helpful to all industries and professional settings; they assist managers in drawing clear strategies, employees in avoiding corporate biases, and help entrepreneurs in making sound decisions.

 Why did you choose this business school? HEC Paris is an elite business school that has been within the top 5 MBA programs in Europe for the past 5 years. Given that I speak French, it was only natural to pursue my MBA in France and leverage the French connections. Besides, upon comparison with other schools, one cannot but see the notable value for money that HEC Paris MBA offers with its quality of teachers and lower tuition fees.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? As an engineer, I had to expose myself to business concepts not covered by my undergraduate degree. Accordingly, most of the courses in the program offered new professional insight and knowledge. Yet this is not my definition for an MBA – It is the courses, of course, plus many things that yield to a unique experience. It was the peer connections that I mostly enjoyed at HEC Paris MBA. These connections are mature, professional and genuine, which differentiate an MBA from other academic degrees.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? In brief, it is the strong sense of community at HEC Paris MBA. I thought that interactions between students in such a business school might be competitive, having to fight for grades and job placements. On the contrary, my experience was about meeting smart people of different backgrounds, sharing the same concerns, socializing but also growing together, and forming unique, strong bonds. Whether it was professional, academic or personal matters, all I had to do is reach out, and plenty of people were willing to help.

 What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? HEC Paris MBA is a unique program that is gaining much attention from candidates around the world. My advice for future applicants is to be genuine in their essays and interviews. This requires them to be honest to themselves first, and pursue an academic degree that matches their personal aspirations. HEC Paris MBA is designed to be most effective to certain people with a specific set of goals. Projecting a fake image can only get them so far, so I urge them to be themselves.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth is that HEC Paris is a school for the French elite, addressing mainly the French market. In fact HEC is one of the most diverse schools in the world, both in terms of profiles and placement, from USA to Madagascar and Peru to Nepal. By sharing experiences, views and opinions with people from different cultures and backgrounds, we gain a new understanding of ourselves and grow personally. HEC Paris MBA holds culture days to introduce countries and traditions, and I had took part in organizing Lebanese day for my fellow MBA classmates.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Perhaps running for MBA council could have been an objective. The council could have given me the platform to better propose initiatives and community projects. I could not achieve that due to my engagement in the Finance club and MBAT organization. Regret, however, is a feeling that we develop after passing on a great opportunity. At HEC Paris MBA, I got to embrace all aspects of the MBA experience, exploring the environment to learn and the social stimuli to grow personally. I find no room for great regrets in my MBA chapter.

 Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Daffy is a Greek classmate who went far to reach his current state. He graduated as a psychologist from Greece at the peak of its crisis (when youth unemployment was at 65 percent). Daffy, like other Greeks at the time, saw no hope of building a career based on aspirations and skills. As a result, he took over his father’s retail business which was deteriorating with the weakening economy, and managed to turn things around and make the business profitable. He then realized a need for an MBA degree and applied to HEC Paris MBA. I admire Daffy’s perseverance to be better and fight the odds. He portrayed this character in the program as well, and received nothing but respect from his peers.

 I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I saw no future for me in the engineering and construction industry.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…in my comfort zone in Greece, working in the same company, and probably cruising the Greek islands in summer.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? If I were dean, I would make the different MBA intakes more integrated. The January and September intakes together yield a diverse, rich group of people, and together they create a bigger network of candidates. Therefore I would suggest a mix of classes and events that enable 200 students to establish deeper connections with each other through direct interactions.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My objective is to build my startup in Lebanon within the next 10 years. Lebanon is a developing country that has potential in all business streams, and is open to disruptions and new ideas. The digital market, for instance, is far from mature, and is forecasted to significantly grow in the next few years. I plan to be part of this growth, and in the same time affect change in the country.

 Who would you most want to thank for your success? Bahjat is a former colleague of mine back in Athens. He is two years my senior, and he joined the office two years after I did. He was not the typical office engineer that reclines in his comfort zone; he was the outcast in a community full of unambitious people. I was struck by his drive for improvement, belief in self potential, and methodical way of thinking. He planned his career with simple yet clear steps, different scenarios and options, and a distinct objective in mind. As we became close friends, it was only natural for him to push me forward and encourage me to explore beyond my limits. His influence was nothing but positive on my career and way of thinking. He ended up doing exactly what he planned; he is currently a UN delegate in Africa. Likewise, I did my MBA and am now moving into consulting, taking small steps towards my bigger goals.

 In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Peter was a friendly classmate, close to everyone, and had the potential to go far with his discipline and people skills.

Favorite book: Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, PhD

Favorite movie: Memento

Favorite musical performer: Michael Jackson

 Favorite vacation spot: Chania, Crete

Hobbies: Sports, namely basketball and skiing

What made Peter an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“The first time I met Peter was in the Strategic Management course that I offer in spring. He stood out being a motivated student, eager to challenge discussions and never hesitant to contribute when given the chance. I remember his valuable participation in the first class, while discussing the different business models of Southwest and United Airlines. He was confident enough to bring to the table Qatar Airways and Air Asia, adding complexity to our talk yet giving greater perspective. As a result, the class produced rich and practical exchange of ideas. I was pleased by Peter’s communication skills throughout the course discussions, and his contributions demonstrated an exceptional understanding of strategy concepts, as well as the ability to think outside the box in particularly complex settings.

Given that HEC Paris MBA offers the chance to specialize in the fall term, I was offering Behavioral Strategy as part of the Strategy track. I received an email from Peter informing me that he will be specializing in Finance but would like to audit my course. Seeing most of the students directing their focus and time to job applications and interviews at that point, I appreciated Peter’s love for learning. He explained that he read through the course syllabus and he realized the significance of the subject to all industries, and would love to learn about organizational decision making. He was fully available to attend all my lectures and as usual contribute to class discussions.

Peter proved to be a driven person, passionate communicator and an individual with diverse and rich knowledge.”

Olivier Sibony

Affiliate Professor | HEC Paris

Strategy and Business Policy



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