Meet Stanford GSB’s MBA Class Of 2020

Abdul Abdirahman

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Son of nomads who realizes it’s all about the journey and the lives you touch In route. Passionate about financial inclusion and sustainable economic development.”

Hometown: Mogadishu, Somalia & Minneapolis, MN

Fun Fact About Yourself: I love extreme sports. I did the highest bungee jump in the world and have skydived. Next up is paragliding, hopefully with classmates at some point during business school.

Undergraduate School and Major:

University of Minnesota: Triple Major – Economics, Accounting & International Business

Harvard Kennedy School: MPA, International Development (in progress)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: EY – Financial Services Office, Assistant Manager

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: In my third year at the firm, I was awarded the EY Culture Coin. It is used to recognize professionals who exemplify the firm’s values. I was awarded this honor due to my focus on making the work environment better for my colleagues, especially junior team members. When working late with extremely tight deadlines, it can be easy to forget the human elements and for tasks to become somewhat transactional. I strived to build meaningful relationships with my team members and made sure they were having a positive experience whether they were with me in New York or we were working together virtually from Bangalore, London, or the Cayman Islands.

Describe your biggest accomplishment at Stanford GSB so far: Over the past two quarters, I have continued to introspect and gain a better understanding of my leadership style. The GSB has a strong culture of peer feedback which facilitates growth. I have learned to speak less and listen more, be more vulnerable and more authentic in my communication. I am proud of that growth and excited to continue doing so over my second year at the GSB.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? The MBA classmates I have met are very entrepreneurial and committed to making a difference in our world. They are motivated by complex problems that require unconventional solutions and are working towards them in their own unique way.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? Before I enrolled, an alum informed me that being at Stanford and Silicon Valley was akin to being in Italy during the Renaissance. This was where organizations that are reshaping our world were being built. I wanted to spend two years at this epicenter of innovation to learn how emerging technologies could be used to make a positive difference in the world, especially in emerging markets. I also wanted to understand how such an entrepreneurial ecosystem was built to help create supportive environments in other parts of the globe to overcome challenges faced there.

What club or activity have you enjoyed the most at Stanford GSB so far? I have enjoyed being part of the GSB Impact Fund, within the fintech team. The opportunity to connect with early-stage founders and learn about problems they are working to solve with their social ventures has been inspirational. It has also provided me with great insights into the world of early-stage investing.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I wanted to transition from financial services and was curious about new technologies and early-stage investing. Also, after almost two years working abroad in London, I wanted to come back to the U.S., and hence it was the perfect time to pursue a graduate degree and pivot.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania

How did you determine your fit at various schools? The culture and values of the program were very important to me. I visited each school I was interested in and connected with as many students and alumni as I could. Hearing about their experiences and how they grew from them was very insightful. In the end, GSB’s focus on changing the world for the better resonated with me. The program’s emphasis on interpersonal leadership development along with its focus on social entrepreneurship and technology was important for my long-term personal and professional goals.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? As a high school senior, I was very lost trying to navigate the education system in the U.S. and trying to determine if college made sense for me. High school was particularly challenging for me, as I was trying to master a lot of new content while at the same time still working to improve my English language skills. I had emigrated to the U.S. six years prior as a refugee escaping the conflict in my home country of Somalia and would potentially be the first person in my family to go to college. There wasn’t really a path for me to follow.

During my junior and senior years, I took many business courses in which I excelled, given their quantitative nature. Two of my high school teachers asked me to join the school’s Business Professionals of America (BPA) competitions. I was hesitant to do so, as I was not sure how I would fare relative to my peers or have the opportunity to prepare appropriately given the aforementioned challenges and my part-time job. Ultimately, the two teachers were my mentors, and out of respect for them, I agreed to partake in the competitions. I competed in Banking/Finance and Accounting. I did well at the school level competitions, finishing in first place and qualified for regionals. I continued to perform well in the regional and state level competitions and eventually qualified for the national competitions in New York City.

Having the opportunity to compete amongst some of the brightest students in the U.S. at the national level was very encouraging for me. It provided me with the confidence I needed to know I could do very well in the business world and thrive in my new environment. More importantly, it also gave me the clarity I needed about my future and changed my life’s trajectory. It gave me a reason to pursue a college degree and a career in finance. I was fortunate to have those two teacher-mentors in my life during that time.

Where do you see yourself in five years? I see myself as a partner in an early-stage investment fund working to close the funding gap faced by entrepreneurs in Sub-Saharan Africa and helping facilitate long-term economic development in the region.

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