2018 Best MBAs: Maria Potapova, Cambridge Judge Business School

Maria Potapova

Cambridge Judge Business School

Generally optimistic workaholic who likes exploring new things and pushing herself out of her comfort zone.”

Age: 28

Hometown: Moscow, Russia /  Luxembourg, Luxembourg

Fun fact about yourself: I was hiking in Luxembourg once, got lost, and found out from another hiker that I had walked all the way across into Germany.

Graduate School and Degree: MSc in Financial Markets and Financial Engineering, Financial University under the Government of Russian Federation

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Strategic Planning Manager at Eurasian Resources Group

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? Before moving to Cambridge, I worked full-time at my previous company during the summer. I took a week off before the start of the program to travel and mentally prepare myself for the exciting year ahead.

Where will you be working after graduation? I am currently considering a couple of options in restructuring focused investment banking and strategy consulting.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Co-President of Private Equity & Venture Capital Club, Co-Chair of Aiducation International charity organisation (UK Chapter)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am very proud of the charity work we do at the Aiducation International. Our goal is to organise various fundraising activities such as cultural events, parties, charity auctions in order to raise funds and award scholarships to perspective students in developing countries whose families cannot afford secondary education for their children. We have awarded a scholarship to a talented girl from Kenya recently and will be monitoring how she gets on with her studies going forward. If you ever get a chance to participate in a volunteer work, I would highly recommend it.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Prior to enrolling into the Cambridge MBA programme, I was a part of the Strategy team of a mining company based at the corporate headquarters in Luxembourg. Working in this team was a great experience – my colleagues had worked for top consultancies before joining the company and were therefore both focused on getting the job done and were fun to deal with. My main task was to work on the development of the Group financial model and support restructuring negotiations with banks which ultimately culminated in a successfully completed restructuring. During my time in Luxembourg, I learned a lot by working with people from different cultural backgrounds – Asian, European and African, by managing groups of people from different functional areas and by getting massive pieces of work done under pressure and time constraints. We worked long hours, travelled a lot, successfully dealt with challenges, and most importantly became good friends with many of my colleagues. All in all, I am very proud to have been a part of this team.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Lionel Paolella, our strategy & management professor. He is my favourite because of his great sense of humour and positive attitude to lectures, case studies and life in general. I will never forget when he made his Ph.D assistant dress up as a Lego figure for our Lego case discussion and many other hilarious things he did to keep us engaged and entertained.

What was your favorite MBA Course Negotiations – part of the Management Praxis course. I learnt a lot from this course, in particular how to manage complex multiparty negotiations and negotiations with irrationally emotional parties, what are the different approaches to “resetting the negotiations table”, etc. As part of the course, we did real life simulations of various complex negotiations setups. I found it very insightful because although you negotiate quite often in real life, these situations are usually bilateral and relatively simple. You hardly ever get a chance to negotiate complex matters and then discuss the process and outcome and exchange feedback. The value of the class discussions and an honest feedback, in particular from a peer, is huge. I also realised that one can never really “learn” everything about such things like negotiations or management, or teamwork – the only way to hone your skills is to practice as much as possible.

Why did you choose this business school?

I chose Cambridge Judge Business School for a number of reasons:

  1. Being part of the wider University of Cambridge offers a great range of opportunities. As an MBA student, you can attend lectures and events organised by various University departments and colleges and join numerous societies, clubs and sport teams. As a Cambridge University student, you get to meet and deal with the brightest people from across the globe every single day!
  2. Entrepreneurial culture, Silicon fen and exposure to new disruptive start-up ideas create a very stimulating environment. In Cambridge you are always surrounded by entrepreneurs, angel investors, rising startups,and techies. I think it is incredibly cool to be surrounded by forward-looking entrepreneurial individuals!
  3. Atmosphere of the city is unparalleled. It is very hard to explain but one can sense the special Cambridge atmosphere when walking the streets of this unique ancient city. It has a very special vibrant mix of rich historical heritage, spirit of science, young student community dynamics, splashes of international cultures and modern technologies.
  4. And lastly, I couldn’t miss the chance to wear a gown to Formal Hall Dinners at different colleges. It feels like living in the Harry Potter movie, the part where everybody dines in a huge hall with candlelight.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? I would advise to travel to Cambridge to visit the school and meet with current MBAs for a cup of coffee if you get a chance. Being in Cambridge and walking these amazing streets full of history is a very special experience. This will positively charge you with a strong desire to be part of this place and you will be fully focused on getting here.

What is the biggest myth about your school? There is a myth that you need to have distinguishing achievement to be accepted to Cambridge (e.g. be on a National Olympics team, launch and successfully sell a company to e.g. Google, or register a patent etc.). Frankly speaking, it is true to some extent – your chances are higher if you have done something like that in your life prior to the MBA. However, we also have many very interesting people from different walks of life who may not have such impressive achievement but already demonstrated potential for becoming world leaders and can contribute to the school environment in various other ways. Hmm…wait a second, as I was typing I realised that everyone I know in my class is exceptional and has done something really outstanding. So maybe it is not a myth after all…

Another one is that MBA is all about networking and parties. Truth be told, it is only partially so! Socialising is indeed important for building a network for the future – and rest assured your network will grow massively in Cambridge. However, we also have to work a lot on numerous assignments, group projects and extracurricular activities. I am sure my MBA colleague would agree that MBA at Cambridge is a hard work. Just as an example – 90% of people I know from my class didn’t have proper weekends for more than a month this term because of various school-related commitments. It is very intense, but a great fun as well!

What was your biggest regret in business school? The biggest regret is that I cannot stay at the business school for a bit longer and I would have to leave at some point. Another sad thing is that I didn’t do as much hiking in the surrounding areas and in the UK in general as I would have preferred – the fens of Cambridgeshire and East Anglia are marvellous the whole year around.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire my classmates who moved to Cambridge with their families. And, frankly, I admire their partners even more – it is a huge commitment to move to a foreign country to support your beloved one who decided to pursue an MBA. I admire Leonardo Barbosa and his beautiful wife Vicky who gave birth last month. I remember how I met Leo and Vicky at school during the Christmas break – Vicky was seven months pregnant and busy preparing Leo for interviews and encouraging everyone to work harder because it’s the only way to achieve anything in life. I was really impressed. Also, I admire Alex Belikov who somehow manages to excel in his MBA studies, run his own business, and stay sane. I guess it’s partially thanks to great support he gets from his wife Laura.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I don’t think there was a particular person who influenced me to pursue a business degree. I have always been genuinely interested in business and developing in this area. Also, I have always wanted to study in Cambridge, and MBA was a great opportunity to finally achieve this dream.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…continuing learning French, travelling to Paris for freediving sessions, exercising more regularly…Actually, it doesn’t sound bad! So, as you can see, it was quite a change to abandon my Luxembourg life and move to Cambridge for an MBA. I’m just kidding of course! Even if I hadn’t gone to Cambridge, I would have found a new exciting challenge!”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? Reduce the number of assignments or let students choose which ones they want to focus on and introduce some other less time-consuming form of assessment for the remaining ones. This would free up more time for extracurricular activities.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Hiking trip in Scotland in the summer. Complete the next level of my freediving certification and go freediving to the Great Barrier Reef.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Friendly, smart, compassionate, energetic, a person they will want to stay friends with after graduation.

What would your theme song be?Feeling Good” by Nina Simone. “It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life for me. And I’m feeling good…”

Favorite vacation spot: Spain for freediving in summer, Austria for skiing in winter.

Hobbies? Hiking, yoga, reading books, freediving, skiing and horse-riding.

What made Maria such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“Our students still have half of their Cambridge MBA to go, but so far Maria exemplifies the values we hold dear and has shown excellent progress across academics, careers and helping the entire class learn and gel together.”

Conrad Chua

Executive Director, Cambridge MBA


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