2019 MBAs To Watch: Syed Uzair Ahsan, University of Virginia (Darden)

Syed Uzair Ahsan

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

“An idealist with a penchant for efficiency and chocolates.”

Hometown: Karachi, Pakistan

Fun fact about yourself: Boyhood fan of Arsenal FC

Undergraduate School and Degree: BSc. Accounting & Finance from Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), in Lahore, Pakistan. MS Finance, from Illinois Institute of Technology, in Chicago, IL.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Senior Accountant

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? JPMorgan Chase, CAP Summer Associate, in Columbus, Ohio

Where will you be working after graduation? JPMorgan Chase, Chase Associate Program (CAP) Associate, in Columbus, Ohio

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Second Year Coach (for assigned first-year students’ recruiting), Second Year Tutor in Finance (for first years), VP of Finance for Net Impact at Darden

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? A friend and I started a new student initiative this year by the name of Darden Globetrotters, which provides a platform for international students to give interactive presentations on their home countries. I am proud of this because I believe this initiative will increase connectivity and understanding within the student body, and hopefully, provide us all an opportunity to learn from each other and get to know each other better on a new level.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My department went through some team restructuring and turnover a few years ago, and we went into our annual year-end audit with a struggling manager and new team. I suddenly found myself in the role of the person whose management was looking to for managing the audit despite not being the accounting manager. I think I showed good leadership during that process, by being proactive, keeping open lines of communication with different stakeholders, delegating when possible, and managing both up and down. There were times when I feared not getting through the audit. After two grueling months, we had achieved a successful audit. I got plenty of accolades from my superiors, but the most gratifying thing for me was a note I received from the head of the audit team. I look back at that experience as an invaluable learning experience – I learned to stay calm, prioritize, plan ahead, and try to get ahead of the curve as much as possible while being comfortable with uncertainty.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Finance Professor Elena Loutskina. Elena has been a major influence on my Darden experience – I have learned so much from her. She brings an incredible amount of energy into the classroom, does a superb job of keeping the class engaged (even during those nasty 8 a.m. classes), and is available for advice.

What was your favorite MBA Course? Transforming Societies. I think the biggest insight I gained from this class was that we can start positively impacting society wherever we are, by working with the communities directly, with the business skills we already (i.e. we don’t need to wait to become C-suite executives or launch nonprofits to have a positive impact on society). It is something that I intend to implement post-Darden.

Why did you choose this business school? I was keen to expand my skill set and continue my learning. The MBA curriculum provided me with the opportunity to do both. Doing an MBA from a top school like Darden also opens up new career paths at prestigious employers. After working for four years as an accountant, I was ready to take on opportunities with more business ownership that would allow me to deliver more direct impact and progress in my career. Finally, I knew that I would be getting an opportunity to be part of a vibrant community and build meaningful relationships.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Know your goals and have at least a high-level plan to accomplish those goals – this will not just help you with the application process, but also with your business school experience itself.  

What is the biggest myth about your school? I heard from a few people that the Darden learning experience is grueling and that students are cramming cases all the time. I don’t know if that’s a widespread myth, but it’s not true. Yes, the learning experience is rigorous; students do put in a lot of time with cases, but there’s also a lot else going on in both first year and second year. I wouldn’t change anything about the academic workload.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? That first year of business school is a marathon that requires time and attention to be allocated across all spheres of life at business school.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? In addition to developing my all-around skill set, I have learned to plan, prioritize, and act more effectively. This has empowered me to focus my energies and use my strengths to focus on what is important to me in my life and career.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Caitlyn Unsworth. She’s smart, meticulous, and one of the most friendly and genuine people I have ever met – very much an inspiration for me at Darden.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My Accounts teacher in high school would probably be the biggest influence – I just fell in love with the world of balance sheets and debits/credits. I enjoyed the subject so much that I ended up pursuing business in college with an Accounting and Finance major.

What was your favorite movie about business? The Big Short. In addition to being a remarkably entertaining and well-made movie, it reinforces an important lesson to abstain from the herd mentality and to stick to one’s convictions even if collective wisdom says otherwise.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? I don’t believe in the SYBY acronym (Second Year Best Year). It may make the first year students jealous, but I believe that the entire MBA experience is one to cherish and embrace. The first year has its own highlights, as does second-year.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…an accounting manager somewhere waiting for the next year-end process and audit. It wouldn’t be bad. Just a bit less fun.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? My very quick assumption-filled NPV calculation gives me just over $585,000. That’s more than what I paid for it. I would say that the MBA experience is more than worth it.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Living in Italy and becoming an expert at making ice cream.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would want my classmates to remember me for my weird sense of humor and a willingness to help anyone.

Hobbies? Soccer, reading history and fiction thrillers, and writing.

What made Syed such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“I’ve been at Darden since 2009 and in my current role since 2012, so I’ve worked with a lot of student leaders. Uzair will forever be one of those who stands out in my mind. Formally, we worked on the Student Health Insurance Committee (SHIC) together – he as the student rep and myself as one of the administrators. Most SHIC student reps attend the meetings and provide thoughtful verbal contributions but don’t take it much further. Not Uzair. Inspired by a question from an international peer, Uzair designed a survey that turned into a scouring of current resources for information that turned into the creation of an FAQ sheet that will make it much easier for Darden students to understand their insurance options as they start school. Everyone knows insurance is one of those important things that most individuals don’t take enough time to thoroughly absorb; with Uzair’s FAQ sheet, now they can actually do so.”

Sarah Elliott

Assistant Dean of Student Affairs

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