2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Melony Mahaarachchi, Cambridge Judge

Melony Mahaarachchi

Cambridge Judge Business School

Mom who sciences rockets/spaceships and sees the future through the eyes of her children.”

Hometown: Agoura Hills, California, USA

Fun fact about yourself: I’m also a qualified hairdresser and a beautician. Growing up with brothers, I wore hand-me-down clothes from them and had a haircut from their barber. People sympathized with my middle child, only daughter life. So, secretly I went to beauty school after school and learned to groom myself the way I wanted.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of California, Los Angles (UCLA) – Mechanical Engineering

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? My last job before coming to business school was as a Lead Engineer of Mars Rover 2020 mission at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, Pasadena. I led the design and implementation of the Rover’s electrical and telecommunication system. NASA’s Mars programme has never attempted to design a fully digital mockup of any electrical subsystem before for its complexity. I was brought in to assist them to achieve this feat. Currently, some of my designs are in space, but when my new designs reach Mars, I will have to pinch myself.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? NA

Where will you be working after graduation? Having worked at SpaceX and NASA’s Mars programme, I began to focus my sights on technology and sustainability. I am very keen to continue contributing to such technology in a sector that focuses on global business. I plan to go back to the US where I believe I will have the best opportunity to change my job function immediately after my MBA. I decided to concentrate my MBA on Global Business and Strategy to allow my passion for traveling, learning cultures and cross-border negotiations interweave with the responsibilities of my next job. I also plan to continue to be the face of my non-profit organisation where we focus on empowering women in STEM. This is my way of showing any woman can contribute in numerous ways to STEM and be great at it.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I’m the elected graduate student representative for both the School of Technology and Academic Standards and Enhancement Committee at the University of Cambridge. That means I am responsible for representing 2000 graduate students (from engineering divisions and business school) in order to enhance their learning experience as a liaison for their concerns and comments. I sit at the top-level university board meetings presenting and negotiating solutions for issues such as how Brexit affects students, how much of an influence the fossil fuel industry can have on the university, and many more issues, larger than I ever imagined.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I was a track athlete many moons ago. Coming back to school and pursuing my MBA at Cambridge Judge Business School gave me an opportunity to be part of the wider university community. I embraced that opportunity and joined the university track team. Regardless of whether I win an event or not, I’m very proud of myself for training shoulder to shoulder with university athletes in 5-degree Cambridge weather.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I have had the opportunity to be part of many great projects as an engineer. However, looking back, I’m most proud of even having had a career, let alone an amazing one while caring for two young children. I went to engineering school when my children were just 4 and 6 years old, then became successful in the male-dominated US aerospace industry. My children are both in college now and so am I. I get them to grammar check my MBA essays.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Jochem Kroezen’s International Business course really gave me the assurance that I’ve chosen the right path as an MBA candidate. He has made coming to class in the chilling early Friday morning absolutely worthwhile. The class is highly engaging, most exciting for the many impromptu debates about global topics amongst the students.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Cambridge Judge business school for three distinct reasons: challenging curriculum, rich diversity of people, and Cambridge University itself. After building a successful career, I was looking for a programme that would challenge my traditional way of thinking. The rigorous Cambridge MBA curriculum stood out the most. In addition, I was also looking for a diverse cohort. If I ever want to focus on cross-border business post MBA, I’d rather be in a programme that offers me the kind of international blend I’m looking for. What better way to immerse in a learning experience that offers global experience with a cohort of 98% international students?  Finally, as a young girl growing up in Sri Lanka, I looked up to leaders who coincidently were Cambridge alumni. If I ever want to emulate their leadership, I had to return to where it all began.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be authentic and sincere. Crafting an application to fit the school will only misfire. The essence of the diverse Cambridge MBA cohort is the authentic personalities and unique professional experience everyone brings. The Cambridge MBA is highly collaborative and hands-on. Rather than focusing on what and how much you can get out of the programme (I can assure you, it’ll be plenty), focus on what you can bring to the Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) community.

What is the biggest myth about your school? That it’s like Harry Potter. Not entirely true, but there is some truth to it. The business school buildings and classrooms are all very modern. A good portion of learning is digitalized through various simulations to make the learning interesting. Though I have to say, my short bike ride home through King’s Parade – especially during dark winter days – reminds me of what Harry Potter is actually about – wizards, friendships, honour, challenges and being prepared for what might come; true Cambridge spirit, even the wizard part!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Everyone in my cohort inspires me in so many ways. Everyone is unique, kind, intelligent, and talented. There are two friends I met during the pre-MBA trek in San Francisco whom I admire for their unique qualities. Sophia Foroudastan, besides being absolutely funny and a joy to be around, is willing to help anyone and everyone in the entire cohort leaving her own workload and challenges aside. She has been the unofficial campaign manager for many Cambridge MBA students running for various positions. The other is Henry Lau, a fellow engineer, a true friend, and a gentleman who has raised the bar high for me, when selecting friendships in the future.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? The most influential person in my life is my husband. He saw first-hand my struggles and triumphs as a female engineer. Knowing my long-term career aspirations, he influenced me to pursue an MBA, realising my potential outside of engineering when I was tunnel visioning.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Working alongside my first boss, Elon Musk, early on my career influenced me to dream big and treat normal as boring and unimaginative. If most of us had $100M at the age of 30, not many would dare to go build a rocket company and he did. Though not my top two, near the top in my bucket list, are to visit every country possible on earth and to own my own jet to do so. These two can only be achieved if I align my professional goals with my personal interests.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want them to remember me as a graceful, down-to-earth, caring friend whom they can count on anytime.

Hobbies? I absolutely enjoy trail running, wine tasting, and weight training. Recently, my interests shifted towards learning Russian and diving – I guess I haven’t still given up (in my mind) getting recruited to the US astronaut team.

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

“Melony has come to the class with huge humility and warmth and energy that makes her immediately likable. Her background and depth of experience is awe-inspiring, and yet she is humble and embraces new learning and being in a class of wide-ranging and rich diversity with a simple eagerness.

Melony is a strong leader with long-ranging ambitions after her MBA year and we will watch her career progress closely.”

Conrad Chua
MBA Executive Director (CJBS)


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