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2020 MBAs To Watch: Blerina Xhelilaj, Cambridge Judge

Blerina Xhelilaj

Cambridge Judge Business School

A dreamer with a strong belief that the people who we choose to surround ourselves with will be the key to our personal and professional success and happiness.”

Hometown: Durres, Albania

Fun fact about yourself: My name is Blerina e sono una studentessa della Cambridge Judge Business School, ku po studjoj per MBA. That is my conversation mood after a tiring day – all the languages I speak get mixed up.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bocconi University, MSc Finance – Italy

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school?  ING Bank N.V. (Italy), Associate Financial Institutions Coverage

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? Prior to the MBA, I was working full time at ING Bank (until the week before starting the MBA)

Where will you be working after graduation? I am still exploring various opportunities, but I am currently driven towards roles in the ‘fintech’ space.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I am co-chairing the business school’s Fintech SIG (Special Interest Group) and I am an active team member for the private equity/venture capital SIG group. Furthermore, I am a member of the Cambridge Business School Club. I am currently the Communications Chair, which is a great opportunity to be the voice of the students in the Cambridge Judge Business School community.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The most exciting experience in my MBA has been my participation in the HULT competition. Together with my team members, (Lana, Sophia, Ashar), we will be presenting an alternative protein source for dogs, Scrappy biscuits. The unique characteristic of the biscuits is the source of the protein: Black Fly Larvae (BFL). This novel pet health food is beneficial for dogs and environmentally-friendly. Moreover, I will also be working on the BFL alternative protein solution during the Global Consulting Project, which for me takes place in Jakarta, Indonesia. Together with three of my Cambridge MBA colleagues, we will evaluate the economic feasibility of Black Fly Larvae as an alternative protein for fish as well as humans.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I have spent my professional career at two financial institutions: Standard Chartered Bank and ING Bank NV. While working for SCB, I had the opportunity to actively engage in volunteer work with CasArche, a social organization that takes care of mothers and children with social discomfort and fragility. Investing my time with these children, helping them with their English and computer studies, has made me understand the importance of sharing and helping others to accomplish their dreams. On the other hand, while at ING, I learned the relevance of building an internal network within the bank and the importance of becoming the reference point of their network for issues related to Italian and Swiss banks, as well as insurance companies.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My Cambridge MBA has been enriched by the academic and professional experience of each professor. However, Professor Gishan Dissanaike, who teaches Corporate Finance, truly surpassed my expectations. Having done multiple degrees in finance, I wasn’t expecting to be challenged by this course. Professor Dissanaike created interesting and engaging lectures, even for the students with advanced backgrounds in finance. For example, it was an opportunity for me to learn how to effectively share knowledge and experiences with people who have completely different backgrounds.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Professor Michael Pollitt, who teaches the Energy and Emissions Markets and Policies course. The course helped me discover the fascinating field of energy and its multifaceted impact on society and the environment. This is another field that I am considering as a future career option.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite Cambridge MBA event/tradition is the college formal halls. Formal Hall is a three-course dinner by candlelight in an ornate dining hall where the students wear black-tie attire. My cohort frequently attends these events as social gatherings. These formal events foster our individual relationships by creating a fun social environment.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Cambridge Judge Business School for many reasons, but I will highlight three in particular. First, relative to other MBA programs, the class sizes are smaller. Further, the smaller study groups to which we are assigned within the classes, create a more intimate setting to learn about our MBA colleagues. These attributes are key factors that build our communal network and forge everlasting relationships. Second, the Cambridge Judge MBA has two significant real-world projects, the CVP (Cambridge Venture Project) and GCP (Global Consulting Project), which allow students to work for companies in different industries and geographies. Finally, doing an MBA at Cambridge provides an opportunity to explore ideas outside the realm of purely business. To provide one example, I was fortunate to attend a talk with Noble Laureate, Didier Queloz, regarding his work with exoplanet detection

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? I would highly encourage any prospective candidate to attend the in-person interviews at Cambridge. The on-campus interview is a great opportunity to meet staff, current students and other prospective candidates. It also provides an opportunity to gain a broader view of the program as a whole.

What is the biggest myth about your school? When I used to think about Cambridge, I expected a competitive environment. After spending several months here, I have instead discovered a stimulating and collegial and very supportive environment overall.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? At the inception of the Cambridge MBA program, I was overwhelmed with the sheer volume of case competitions, social interest groups, lectures, and so forth that I ended up committing myself to far too many obligations on account of all the excitement! Though I was able to successfully navigate these commitments, I could have prioritized all of these options and been more prudent with my time commitments.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I am truly grateful to each person I have met on the Cambridge MBA program; each person I have encountered has helped me become a better version of myself. However, among all of my MBA colleagues, Lana Kostenko stands out from this exemplary group. Lana is a highly intelligent and interesting woman, with a varied and accomplished professional background. However, the most amazing thing about Lana is her ability to manage a high-level professional career, as well as being a mother of two children. Lana has been both a great inspiration and a wonderful friend.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? There were several people who influenced me and helped me to evaluate my decision to pursue an MBA. However, my mother was the primary influence in my final decision. I could always count on my mother to be incredibly supportive of my ambitions and goals. She served as both my greatest supporter and more importantly, as an important critic in my decision process.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? First, having been provided with the opportunity to pursue an MBA at Cambridge has made me realize how fortunate I am. At some point in my professional career, I hope to be able to give back to my community by assisting with the educational and professional development of other women from Albania. Second, growing up in a small country such as Albania, has imbued a sense of communal belonging. As a result, I hope to be involved in the political sphere at some later stage of my professional life.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As a loyal friend

Hobbies? Travelling, sports (skiing – still a novice, but working on it!), sommelier club

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

“Blerina, as with all our choices, is a good touchpoint for the class. She is the Communications Chair for the Cambridge Business School Club, and has taken active leadership roles in supporting women across the class as well as her sector of finance and tech.”

Conrad Chua, MBA Executive Director