Meet Stanford GSB’s MBA Class Of 2021

Nadine ElAshkar

Stanford Graduate School of Business

“Curious Cairene who dreams of making the world a little better and a lot weirder.”

Hometown: Cairo, Egypt

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have been to 80 countries, and needed visas for 75 of them.

Undergraduate School and Major: The American University in Cairo. Business Administration and psychology minor

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Associate/Junior Engagement Manager, McKinsey & Company

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: When I was in the Middle East, I worked on integrating two major retailers across several countries. We created $50M+ in synergies for the merged entity. However, what was more exciting for me was creating “social” value. Day in and day out, I worked with the team on the ground to tackle the “softer” elements of integration and foster an inclusive culture. This latter success (evident by employee retention and satisfaction many years post-integration) was my biggest accomplishment.

I had to connect with a group who, at least on the surface, were as different from me as possible. More importantly, to succeed, I had to align our interests (including polarizing interests within the client’s teams). The circumstances were not in my favor: the client team was under a lot of stress due to the uncertainty of the merger, I was working in a nation foreign to me, and with a group of 40-year-old Middle Eastern men…as a 21-year-old woman.

However, through a mix of tactics, including the magic power of carpooling with different clients (I ditched Uber on purpose) and offering to help my clients on tasks beyond the integration mandate, I was able to build the rapport.

It was that human element that made the economic outcome viable, a lesson I hold dear to my heart.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Humble. The GSB has the most impressive concentration of individuals I have ever encountered. Yet to this day, I never heard anyone brag about their accomplishments, no matter how impressive they are. In fact, you have to unpack their accomplishments through 3-4 separate conversations.

Curious. GSBers are curious about a full spectrum of topics. They invest time and energy in getting to know their classmates on a personal level, before a professional level. They are curious to get one’s perspective on past, current, and future events: historic, economic, or social. People are constantly bouncing ideas off of each other: ideas that would change lives, organizations and the world. I remember on our GST (Global Study Trip), the tour guy told me “How come you guys are always chatting about something important?”

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? GSB’s focus on personal growth. GSB has a culture of vulnerability that is prevalent in social and academic settings.

For example, in social settings, each section runs optional “Ask me anything (AMA)” sessions, where a section mate sits in the middle of the circle and is “asked anything” for 10 minutes. AMAs are also not uncommon on official and unofficial trips.

On the academic side, the GSB has several leadership courses on understanding one’s self and others better, such as The Art of Self-Coaching, Leadership Labs, Strategic Management, and the famous class: “Touchy-feely.” Seriously, just think of the essay prompt for the GSB and how much reflection it requires and you will understand why I chose GSB.

Additionally, the flexibility to design your own program and the variety of teaching methodologies (role-play, interactive, case etc.) were also a big contributor to the decision.

This is important to me because while all business schools would teach you the same hard skills, hard skills are not what actually make leaders. Instead, in GSB, we are asked, “Why would people follow you” and “What do you want to be?”.  We have the courses and resources to help us find the answer.

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve found about Stanford GSB so far? Easy: the black squirrels that are conquering the campus. But in seriousness, it would be the humbleness and openness of my classmates.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? It was the essay’s question, “What matters the most to you and why?” is by far the most challenging question I have ever had to answer.

In the process of writing the essay, I spoke with friends from different stages of my life and I connected with previous teachers and classmates. In addition, I went through my journals all the way back to my childhood. The process of introspecting in order to write the essay was exasperating but illuminating. I remember thinking to myself that even if I don’t get into Stanford, I am grateful for the experience of reflection.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? HBS

What is the biggest epiphany you’ve gained about yourself or the world since you arrived at Stanford GSB? Not all PE bros are “PE bros.” Just kidding … partially.

On a serious note, I learned that we have mental short-cuts to group people into boxes and gravitate towards those similar to us. We start forming cohorts (such as sections!) at times and it can be absurd. The GSB does a great job at 1) Raising awareness of such short-cuts and biases in classes such as Organizational Behavior, and 2) Encouraging cross-pollination through activities such as “Pods” and “Small Group Dinners.”

I can guarantee you, if you think of the most different person from you, have a couple of conversations with them. You will find you are much more similar than you think. This was the biggest epiphany I gained: we are quick to box people out, and miss out on great perspectives.

What do you see yourself doing ten years from now? I see myself working in my consumer-facing company, probably in the hospitality or e-commerce space. Additionally, around the 10 years post-graduation mark, I see myself starting my social enterprise that focuses on increasing access to education and improving its quality, especially for women, as a way to elevate them out of poverty.

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