Starting an MBA requires a major transition. New location, new routine, new demands, and new people too. It can be a little uncomfortable at first. In business school, every class member was once a hot shot somewhere. Some managed hefty budgets and high profile projects for household names. Others racked up notable awards or embarked on grand adventures. Humbling, yes. Naturally, many first-years ask themselves, ‘Do I really belong?’
Soon enough, those doubts are replaced by something altogether different…Exhilaration.
A DIVERSE MIX OF NATIONALITIES, ACADEMIC BACKGROUNDS AND CAREER CHOICES
The Class of 2019 went through that process at the Warwick Business School. The first thing these 120 students noticed was just how diverse their classmates were. That hit home for Kristen Evelyn Rossi, an actress from New York, at lunch one day when she marvelled at the 39 different nationalities around her. “It is inspiring to see the mix of people, Nigerian, Mexican, Jordanian, Thai, Indian, American, Kazak, British, all sitting around the table “breaking bread” and sharing ideas.”
Differing nationalities were just the start. The program features a “driven and ambitious” cohort from a range of industries and backgrounds, observes says Sandhya Ramula, who comes to Coventry, England via Ernst & Young and The University of Calcutta. “There have been activities where an engineer, a chef and a financial analyst are working together on building a Lego bridge. There was a group discussion between an ex-military officer, surgeon, and a banker. A software developer, an HR business partner and a project manager presented a business case together.”
The result, of course, is a rich classroom dynamic where business issues are viewed from a variety of perspectives, greasing unexpected insights and collaborations in the process. The best part, however, is the culture of curiosity and openness that accelerates the learning and deepens the sense of community in the 2019 Class.
“The whole class has been very respectful of others’ views and opinions, realising the value in hearing from those with different experiences,” adds Henry Midgley, a Kiwi who studied chemistry at Canterbury. “This helps create a positive learning environment where all opinions are heard.”
FIRST CLASSROOM TASK: LET’S MAKE AN AIRPLANE
It didn’t take long for the Class of 2019 to jell, either. That’s the scouting report from Marks Jing Xu, a public relations executive whose CV credits include Edelman. During the first term, he was paired with seven students “from seven cities with seven extremely different career backgrounds,” including consulting, sales, and engineering. That came in handy for their first task: building a hand-made airplane – and not the paper kind you’d sail across your 6th grade classroom, either. Not surprisingly, none of Xu’s team members had aircraft industry experience…but that didn’t stop them from pulling together.
“It’s all about teamwork,” Xu explains. “We had one person watching YouTube to learn the building process, two collecting materials and measuring cutting sizes, three working on the tagline and marketing presentation, and one person supervising the whole work progress. Thanks to everyone’s hard work, our group won the best presentation and the 2nd best plane in the whole cohort.”
Diverse, talented, and ready for anything. That’s an apt description for this year’s crop of Warwick MBA students. It is a class who are always in the heart of the action. Take Kristen Evelyn Rossi in 2012, she nabbed a speaking role in The Impossible, a movie starring Naomi Watts, Ewen McGregor, and Tom Holland. Sadly, her big break turned sour when she came down with dengue fever.
“I had a few lines opposite Naomi, but as I had to be hospitalized. We could not finish the scene and the lines were cut!”
Don’t shed too many tears for Rossi. At 22, she had packed two suitcases and headed to Bankok to pursue a career in the performing arts. Eventually, Rossi settled into being a resident jazz singer at a luxury hotel in Vietnam, while collecting awards such as the Thailand Tatler magazine’s “Top 300 Expats.”
FROM LEADING NATO UNITS TO DESIGNING FORMULA ONE CARS
Rossi isn’t the only member of the 2019 class whose life could be described as an adventure. Brittany Walker went from competing in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant to becoming a buyer at Saks Fifth Avenue. Mohanad Mabrouk played professional football while he studied business at Cairo University. Then again, Phil Taneborne served as a programme manager in NATO, where he headed a lead reconnaissance force of 100 soldiers. That wasn’t his only gig, however.
“Alongside the Army, I’ve started three businesses, two of which fell flat on their face,” he jokes.
Think that’s impressive? Just wait until you meet Dubliner Paul Fitzgerald. He turned a mechanical and manufacturing engineering degree into a stint as an aerodynamics design engineer for the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team.
“I had the privilege in my career to design and develop the floor and mid chassis section of the Mercedes Formula One car; helping in reducing lap time by approximately 2 seconds per season, bringing 74 race wins and 5 double championships across 5 years. Working with some of the most gifted engineering minds in the world was an incredible experience.”
SHOULDERING BIG RESPONSIBILITIES EARLY IN THEIR CAREERS
That inventive spirit extends into their personal lives. Devanshi Mehra likes to make things she can’t buy, “everything ranging from file holders and wall decor to handbags and soft toys.” Looking for a great nickname? That belongs to Nana Adjoa Feniwa Yamoah, otherwise known as “Nana from Ghana, who calls herself a 90s music junkie. If you’re looking for a great story, just ask Henry Midgley about the time he took the long way from London to Mongolia – and nearly ended up in a Turkmenistan prison after a car accident.
“Ordinarily, this would have resulted in our immediate imprisonment,” he explains. “By remaining calm and negotiating with them, I managed to keep our passports and avoid imprisonment. This has helped shape my calm demeanour. Now I know that however gloomy and unreasonable a situation I find myself in, remaining calm is usually the best course of action.”
The class is also as accomplished as it is inventive. Devanshi Mehra, for one, received an ACE Award at Accenture – a commendation that only .33% of its workforce ever receives. At Santander, a bank with 650 offices and $57.5 billion dollars in deposits, Mehmet Ulker ranked 2nd in the U.S. as a personal banker. In real terms, he beat his commercial objectives by 224% –which also enabled him to land a branch manager role within 14 months of starting with the company. Not to be outdone, Sandhya Ramula was the first woman promoted to being a senior manager at her firm, which required her to manage 400 professionals across Bangalore, Chennai and Gurgaon in India.
RITE OF PASSAGE: CLIMBING MOUNT SNOWDON
If you’re looking for a risk-taker, Marks Jing Xu certainly fits the bill. He left a high-paying job as a senior executive at Edelman to join a digital marketing startup. Sure enough, betting on himself paid huge dividends in the long run. “At Omni, I established and led the PR team to provide communication plans for clients to gain brand awareness in China. The company grew from 5 people to 40 in less than 3 years. The revenue has been growing over 30% year to year.”
The Class of 2019 also made big leaps of faith by taking career exit ramps to Warwick Business School. That’s not the only way they’ve stepped outside their comfort zones at the school. Mehmet Ulker, for one, led a trek up Mount Snowdon, with a 3,560 peak and a breath-taking view of Wales. According to legend, King Arthur himself passed away on one of its slopes.
“The 29 students who made it to the peak represented over 7 countries; they absolutely loved the views,” he reminisces. “The whole experience also strengthened our bonds of friendship and the day is still one that people still talk fondly about on campus… “Snowdon, a memory that will never be forgotten” is the quote that you may hear from my fellow classmates.”
A “HARD-WORKING” AND “DRIVEN” CLASS
At the same time, Kristen Evelyn Rossi joined forces with Said Muhtadi to launch a weekly radio talk show called “The MBA Show” to further bring the class together. “We bring in different students from the MBA program to discuss various topics like: MBA Parents (how to juggle life between MBA and parenthood) and MBA students with non-conventional backgrounds (military surgeons or performing arts),” says Muhtadi. “This has been by far one of the best activities in the MBA.”
What does Muhtadi think of his classmates five months into the program? He describes his syndicate group as “hard-working, yet fun (party-loving group)” – one defined by working together as a group to break barriers. His radio co-host has enjoyed a similar experience.
“Everyone is open, curious and extremely driven,” adds Kristen Evelyn Rossi. “Every class, I feel pushed not only academically by my professors, but from my peers to do more and be better.”
INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS MAKE UP 85% OF CLASS
By the numbers, the 120-member Class of 2019 brings a 656 average GMAT to the full-time program, with scores ranging from 580-750. International students comprise 85% of the class, an 8% drop over the previous year. Female students represent another 39% of the class, up four points over the previous year. Overall, the class hails from 38 countries.
Professionally, the largest segment of the class – 16.38% – worked in financial services. Technology and consulting backgrounds each make up 13.79% of the class, followed by manufacturing (12.93%), healthcare (6.03%), and energy and retail (3.45% each).