2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Jiwon Kang, INSEAD

Jiwon Kang


Striving to be the best version of myself while motivating others to do the same.”

Hometown: Seoul, South Korea

Fun fact about yourself: When I was seven years old or so, I was pocked by a white pigeon on my right arm, and since then I became afraid of birds.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of California, Berkeley, double major in music and sociology

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? The Metropolitan Opera in New York City, where I managed one of the world’s most prestigious training programs for the next generation of opera stars. From producing concerts, planning department budget, supervising 14 artists, and doing everything in between, I was responsible for the program’s overall day-to-day operations.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? Not applicable.

Where will you be working after graduation? This is a big (and exciting!) unknown. I am currently looking at HR roles in media/entertainment and tech sectors. Whatever I end up doing, I know that it will be about positively influencing people around me and being part of a creative and collaborative team.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: In addition to being a member of the INSEAD Women in Business club, I am especially excited to volunteer as a Student Ambassador, acting as a bridge between the school and prospective students. Connecting with alumni was tremendously helpful when I was going through my application process, and I look forward to serving as a resource for future INSEAD students.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Other than passing INSEAD’s unique Exit Language requirement test after studying Mandarin for only four months, I am proud of how I am handling INSEAD’s fast-paced, intense academic curriculum in general. Given that it is a one-year program, things move very quickly here. I came from a non-traditional background, so juggling the core classes that I am not familiar with has not been easy at times. But I am learning a lot every day not just academically, but also personally as I am motivated to manage my time better and prioritize strategically. Thankfully, INSEAD offers many resources and I have wonderful study groupmates who are supportive and patient.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Only five months after I joined The Metropolitan Opera, my boss left the company and I stepped in to manage the department for two months. During this period, I took on additional responsibilities such as getting on a conference call with the president of another organization to plan a major concert and negotiating contractual terms with artists.

Holding down the fort was an achievement in itself, but I am most proud of how I managed the transition once the new boss came on board. I worked in a small department where the department head and I handled everything. As such, working closely with my manager as an effective team was crucial for the success of our department. Believing in the power of good communication, I made efforts to communicate clearly to my new boss what I did and how I worked best. I shared information generously, explained the organizational culture, and set up short check-in sessions to make sure the two of us were on the same page. I also wanted my manager to implement her vision and ideas and told her that I was there to support and assist.

After six months of collaboration, she fully settled into her job and I was pleased to have established a strong relationship with her. Through this experience, I also built more confidence in my potential as a leader and promised myself that I will remember to use effective communication skills when I am the one joining a new company in a leadership position.

Why did you choose this business school? Once I decided to pursue an MBA and started researching schools, I initially focused on programs in the United States because of my personal and professional backgrounds. After much self-reflection, I realized that I wanted to challenge myself as much as possible. I asked myself: why not move to a completely new country where I will be surrounded by people from 90 nationalities?

Among the schools outside the US, INSEAD immediately stood out because of its international reputation and emphasis on educating global leaders. At INSEAD, I knew that I would be pushed to my limits and challenged to expand my horizons. Realistically, I was also drawn to the benefits of a one-year program and the chance to live in Asia since I am considering building my career in the region.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? I would advise you to first think about if INSEAD will be a good fit for you. The program is intense, and you will not enjoy the experience to the fullest unless INSEAD is a good match for you. Research online, attend events, and talk to current students and alumni. In addition, I would encourage you to remember that the application process is a two-way conversation. You should find out about the school as much as the school gets to know you.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Fortunately, there has not been much I wish I had done differently at INSEAD. For me, it was helpful to take some time off between my work and MBA to reflect on my experiences and organize thoughts on what I would like to get out of the MBA. I remind myself every day what my priorities are and put conscious efforts to make most out of my experience.

One thing I would like to do outside INSEAD is to get to know Singapore better. It is a fascinating country with a dynamic history and culture. When moving to a new country, I think that it is important to immerse oneself in the local culture and experience the place as it is. I would like to meet people outside the INSEAD circle and build my own community in Singapore.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I have huge admiration for classmates who are pursuing an MBA while balancing their own family, especially when they have children. Being an INSEAD MBA student is more than a full-time commitment, so doing this while taking care of family is simply admirable. There are at least a handful of people in my cohort who are here with children and I think they are true heroes.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My parents have always been supportive of my education and professional aspirations and I am so thankful. When I told them that I was considering non-American business schools but that I was still skeptical, they encouraged me to explore options and give it a chance. Had I not had their support, I would have needed a lot more courage to come to INSEAD.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • Become a mentor for others. I have been fortunate to have a couple of amazing mentors when I was starting my career and I want to follow their footsteps.
  • Be a colleague that my co-workers want to work with again.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my peers to remember me as a generous, genuine, and good person.

Hobbies? Hot yoga, classical music concerts and musicals, Korean television shows

What made Jiwon Kang such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Ji Won has what we call in Admissions a non-traditional academic background since she studied music at Berkeley. She worked in music administration of the performance industry. The Admissions Committee was impressed by her bi-cultural background and the fact that she did a university exchange in Germany and frequently traveled to work with international artists.”

Valerie Mahe
Associate Director, INSEAD Admissions


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