2017 MBAs To Watch: Vanessa Macdougall, IESE Business School

Vanessa Macdougall

IESE Business School

“Fast-paced, fast-talking, light-hearted London girl.  Happiest in environments or with people that challenge my perspective.”

Age: 26

Hometown: London, UK

Fun fact about yourself: I used to have repetitive nightmares about sharks, so now as a fairly direct consequence I spend holidays diving with them.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Cambridge, History

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Bank of England, Strategic Plan Team

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? Boston Consulting Group, London, Summer Associate

Where will you be working after graduation? Boston Consulting Group, London

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Alumni Association and Forte Scholar; Student Ambassador; Mixed Rugby Touch Captain; Vice President of Consulting and Responsible Business clubs, organizing committee for IESE Quiz night, Spring Games Tournament and Doing Good Doing Well conference.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I think I am most proud that I have actively and consciously spent time contributing back to school life and the IESE experience.  It’s definitely true that you discover a few more hours in the day than existed before. Particularly in 2nd year, I have tried to use those to give back a bit.  This meant organising mixed rugby trainings, socials and tournaments; making a big push to double girls’ attendance; reinvigorating the Charity pub quiz after a four year hiatus; and supporting the amazing organisers of the Doing Good Doing Well conference and Spring Games tournament, which are flagship and super IESE events. For me, the most rewarding was being an ambassador, which involved being a student link between admissions and applicants and running Open Days at school and coffee chats back in London. These things do take behind the scenes energy, are occasionally stressful or to the detraction of a more relaxed second year but that student-level drive from so many people is what makes it such a great and close community.

For pure personal pride, it is taking electives in Spanish during second year and being an active contributor to case discussions, however terrifying.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? It was delivering the first performance measurement reports on the strategy of the Bank of England to the non-executive Court of Directors. I’m proud because of what it represented, as it was new territory for the institution, and crucial in an accountable public body, especially after the crisis. It was also challenging, because it involved developing measures for very wide-ranging and often intangible goals. These ranged from data management to research quality, to culture to data management, so we had to be very creative. On a personal level, I’m proud that for the second version I was entrusted to take charge of the project and that I delivered. That involved managing inputs, expectations, and views from stakeholders across the range of seniority and functions of the Bank, and took quite a lot of resourcefulness and resilience.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? It was Albert Fernandez because he has a huge amount of humour and energy in class, a very inclusive style, and focuses discussion on the ethical as well as purely business aspects of cases.  Even more, it is because he gives an inordinate amount of time and attention to students’ projects, mad ideas, and to school life in general.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Mine was the Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship, more nattily named “Fun,” which IESE is fairly unique in offering as a core course.  It was great because I had never considered the entrepreneurship route, at least in the short-term. The course, however, showed the full 360 degree of players in the entrepreneurial world and made it clear that almost everyone will be involved in some way during their career.

The biggest insight I gained was about business models – how these aren’t just givens or obvious based on a product, but need to be deliberated and chosen carefully. That’s because failure to do so might leave you with an ingenious product but a complete business flop.

Why did you choose this business school? It was a case of all my criteria pointing to just one choice. I wanted a school with a social impact focus and an international experience. That almost narrowed it to one, and my secondary criteria were a small class size and the case method. Add in the ability to speak Spanish and live in Barcelona and it was just tailor made.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? First the people – partly for the richness that the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives adds to conversations in and outside of classes, but also the overwhelming willingness to do things – organize, take advantage, say yes.

Linked to that one of our professors called the opportunity to ‘mess up your life’ in second year – when there are so many choices for what to focus on and how to spend your time. From electives to running clubs, arranging events, international modules, independent projects, it is really an incredible privilege.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? I think it is the importance of the process, not the answer, in the case method.  This was quite a drastic change from the British education, and one which took some getting used to. That transition, however, to contributing to problem-solving, rather than just aiming to sweep in with a neatly packaged solution, was one of the most important things I learned.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be self-aware, know your motivations and your story very well, and do your research – visit, talk with alumni, make sure it’s a good choice for you.  Fit is most important on both sides.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Someone told me on an Open Day for another school that IESE was a “stuffy suits school,” which made me nervous as I am definitely not that type, and by that stage I already had my heart set on it.  It was lucky that I didn’t take their word for it and went to see for myself, as the lack of pretension is the school’s biggest strength. In a student body so wide-ranging, the main commonalities I would point to would be humility and eccentricity – so the exact opposite!

What was your biggest regret in business school? Driving my moped in the rain.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? One of my teammates, Osamah Basamh, who has two abilities which are special individually but quite unique together. He is very shy, and yet has spent the entire MBA putting himself into challenging, extroverted situations either to grow personally, or to help other people. For instance, he has helped others join the rugby team or launch a mega-volunteer day for our Social Action club.  Added to that, he manages to be incredibly true to himself, his quirks, strengths, and foibles (ice cream addiction in particular!), which makes him a very genuine person, full of integrity. I have no doubt he will leave the world better through his post-MBA path.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I graduated from Cambridge.  I knew I wasn’t finished learning, that I wanted to get another degree but not in history, and that I wanted it to be practical and very international.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…doing a Master’s in Public Policy.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would build a little bubble-lift up to the carretera de los Aigues, which is up a steep hill from the school and my favourite place in Barcelona, especially to run.  But it is a small mission rather than just a casual wander to reach. It would have been nice to spend lunchtimes up there.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To work for or launch a successful, sustainable business with something other than profit as its main aim: ideally, it would be the employment of those usually left to the back of the queue in society.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? If I have been successful, it is almost 100% down to my parents, who created an atmosphere of incredible support and care while setting very high standards for how we should behave towards others and approach work.

And career-wise, to the three women successively ahead of me at the Bank of England, who were each strong role models and gave great advice when I was considering next steps.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Someone who can be relied upon to get things done but have fun doing it, a good embodiment of the spirit and values of the school, and comprehensible in English over 75% of the time.

Favorite book:  The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera

Favorite movie or television show: The West Wing

Favorite musical performer: Pepe Herrera

Favorite vacation spot: North Cornwall in the UK, or anywhere with big fish to dive with.

Hobbies? Scuba diving, theatre, running, eating my way round the world.

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

“Vanessa has been an asset for the school. To begin with, she is a Cambridge history graduate. Before the MBA, she worked for the Bank of England. At the end of her first year in the MBA, she did the summer internship at BCG in London. She got an offer from them, and she’ll join the firm in the summer of 2017.

At IESE, she has been a driving force. She volunteered to give support to aspiring consultants through the application process, conducting over 30 mock interviews and leading a CV and cover letter session for the 100+ prospective applicants. She is an IESE Ambassador, which involves running open days on campus and coffee chats in London, responding to queries and generally helping prospective students through the application process. She is a member of the Responsible Business Club (RBC), where her main role has been engaging first year students, and being part of the organizing committee of the Doing Good Doing Well Conference.  In my opinion, her most remarkable contribution to the RBC has been focusing on the creation of a social impact investment vehicle, which is in its final stages. If she and her colleagues are successful, it will be a tremendous achievement, for her and for the school. In addition, she is a humble person and an athlete of sorts: she is the captain of the mixed rugby touch team and has arranged trainings, matches and social events.

Fernando Peñalva

Professor of Accounting and Control



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