2020 MBAs To Watch: Zara Mahmood, University of Washington (Foster)

Zara Mahmood

Foster School of Business, University of Washington

Last batter, bottom of the 9th inning, bases loaded, 4 runs down…what’s the issue?”

Hometown: This is complicated so take your pick!

3 years: Karachi, Pakistan

5 years: Colombo, Sri Lanka

4 years: Beijing, China

7 years: Shanghai, China

4 years: Boston, Massachusetts

1 year: Johannesburg, South Africa

1.5 years: Seattle, WA

Fun fact about yourself: I once memorized over 400 digits of Pi for a school math competition. Math was never my favorite subject, but I am quite competitive and couldn’t turn down free pie!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Boston University, Bachelor of Science in Communication (Major in Advertising and Minor in Business Administration)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Starcom MediaVest Group – Media Planner, P&G Account

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? Mattel, Los Angeles

Where will you be working after graduation? Mattel, Associate Marketing Manager

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Fritzky Leadership Fellow, coaching 9 First-Year MBA students and 3 MBA teams
  • Vice President, Foster Marketing Association
  • First Year Rep, Foster Marketing Association
  • C4C (Challenge 4 Charity) volunteering 60+ hours during MBA
  • Student Ambassador

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the time dedicated to the Fritzky Fellowship program. I came into the MBA program as one of the youngest candidates with the least amount of leadership experience. A big goal I set for myself was to take on new leadership opportunities where I could start to flex some “managerial muscle.” This fellowship experience has been one of the most rewarding experiences during my time at Foster. The role taught me how to build confidence in new entrants, have honest and tough conversations, and essentially coach students without providing them the answers so that they build trust in their own abilities. I am coming out of the Fritzky program with a newfound quiet confidence in my own abilities to lead teams, mentor them through tough business conditions, and hopefully become an authentic, transformational leader.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The Pantene Sponsorship!! I was the junior-most analyst in my account media team, but I took the initiative to pitch something bold. By using competitive data, I was able to show that all competing shampoos have strong connections to “passion points” our target audiences care about such as beauty, fashion, makeup, etc. I used historic data from social media and TV ratings to calculate the potential viewership and impressions ROI that could be captured through the sponsorship. I worked with my buying team to negotiate a great deal with the channel vendor of the show that would secure an additional TV banner, promos, and logo placements throughout the airing of the event. With approval from my managers, I successfully sold in the idea to the clients, and Pantene once again became a major player in the fashion space. The experience was so enthralling because I had been at the company for less than a year and most strategic work came from the senior members. In this case, I was able to see a whitespace opportunity in the market, pitch the idea by aligning it with P&G objectives, and collaborate with my team to ensure the event delivered against our success metrics.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Simha Mummalaneni for Customer Analytics was the challenge I had been waiting for in my MBA program. Getting to understand Marketing through a quantitative lens of statistical modeling and coding techniques was both grueling and gratifying. I walked away with an arsenal of analytic decision-making skills to help inform decisions on customer targeting, acquisition, and retention. I felt that both the challenge and learning was highest in this course, and it motivated me to continue with the full Marketing Analytics specialization offered at Foster. Thank you for allowing me to embrace the growth mindset to its fullest.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Hands down, it is Welcome Weekend. I am constantly impressed by how our student body goes above and beyond to welcome in the new class of candidates who will continue to shape the culture of Foster. Welcome Weekend is an important part of the Foster fabric since students self-organize to ensure the prospective students get a good understanding of what it means to be a part of our community. Whether its clapping for them as they enter our Thursday night Pub Club, breaking bread with them through an interclass brunch, or walking around Seattle exploring roasteries and breweries, it is clear that Foster is a family. I think this is my favorite tradition because it is a great reminder of the type of candidate Foster attracts and how much magic can be created through the community!

Why did you choose this business school? Phone calls. When I was applying to business school, I was doing it from South Africa and did not have the ability to visit schools as part of my decision-making process. I remember having phone calls with several Foster students and alumni. Every time I hung up the phone, I felt as if I had added another member on my personal board of trustees who was going to help me get to my next milestone. Even through phone calls, it was apparent that Foster embodies the true spirit of community-driven collaboration. I came here for the people, and maybe for the opportunity to see first-hand how Foster students leave things better than how they found them.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Understand your needs. There is enough differentiation among MBA programs that you need to have a strong understanding of which program is right for your needs. Nothing was more helpful to me than getting on the phone with current students and alumni to get a sense of the culture and community of the program. Each school will offer big value pillars of “collaboration” or “culture” or “enter buzzword here,” but it’s important to recognize what lies beneath the brochure surface. One authentic way of understanding the school is by understanding the students that make it up.

Understand yourself. The program is designed to help you discover your next career, whether you are making a career pivot or a career enhancement. However, the program is not designed to hand-hold you through the next two years. It is imperative to have a clear motivation for why this time and degree make sense for your aspirations. The opportunity cost of the next two years is high, so I encourage prospective students seeking an MBA to introspect on what outcome would make it all worth it. Hopefully, it’s more than just a job!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Mallory Monsma. This is a hard decision because I wholeheartedly believe there are a multitude of interesting, beautiful, intellectual peers whom I have had the pleasure of working and learning alongside. I have been continuously inspired and humbled by Mallory’s dedication to improving our program. For two years she has epitomized servant leadership by consistently giving more than she ever takes. I have seen her give up personal time to volunteer, make herself available for an abundance of coffee chats, and act as a role model student during lectures. One thing I will always remember about Mallory is her ability to go through this program with a permanent smile on her face. Thank you, Mallory for being a peer, role model, and friend. I am excited to see what her next chapter at Microsoft will bring.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I have been fortunate enough in life to have several mentors who make up my internal “board of directors.” However, my parents have been my fiercest cheerleaders since the early days of school organized team sports. As the daughter of immigrants, they have always encouraged me to avail of the opportunities that have been afforded to me – the same ones they did not have the luxury to choose from. Both my parents were born in Pakistan, but completed their MBAs and went on to successful careers. I was working back in Pakistan at the time I started considering pursuing an MBA and that interest was all it took for my parents to guide me through the process. I would not be here today were it not for the many timed tests they administered, essays they proofread and drives to interview venues they sat through. Thank you, Mama and Papa, for your undying support and constant questioning of “what’s next?”

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

  1. Lead a product launch from ideation to shelf.
  2. Take a position on an internship/mentorship program to work with undergraduates starting their professional journey.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? The girl who wasn’t afraid to be the least knowledgeable student in the room.

Hobbies? Thank God there is an “s” because I have many! My first love will always be sports (basketball, volleyball, soccer). I enjoy traveling and hope to get a couple of new destinations crossed off before starting my post-grad career. I am energized by the arts: specifically, movies rooted in reality, music that allows me to feel deeply, and cooking that feeds my soul.

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

“Zara Mahmood was selected as one of the 14 Fritzky Leadership Fellows for 2019 – 2020. Fritzky Leadership Fellows are second-year MBA students in the Foster School of Business who support first-year MBA students to adjust to Foster and enhance their leadership and team capabilities through peer coaching, mentoring, and more.

As a Fellow, Zara has been assigned to nine first-year students and three first-year teams. Fritzy Fellows provide a sounding board for topics such as transitioning to MBA life, they act as a thought partner to help identify developmental priorities, and as a peer coach to help figure out how to handle challenging situations. Fellows also work with first-year teams, supporting their team processes and functioning.

In addition to supporting first-year students and teams, Fellow’s focus on their own leadership development and on the development of all the Fellows in their cohort.

As a Fritzky Fellow Zara exemplifies what it means to challenge herself as a leader and as a member of her cohort. She models authentic and transformational leadership with her peer cohort and in her relationships with the first-year students. Zara demonstrates self-reflection, a motivation to challenge assumptions, and a drive toward implementing theory learned into the application as she engages with her peers, executive leaders joining the sessions as guests and with her first-year students.

The students Zara coaches and supports describe her as engaging, caring, and authentic. They have experienced her to be a great communicator, strong in idea generation and problem-solving. She has built strong trust and rapport and listened to concerns both personal and professional in a way that was supportive, non-judgmental, and supported the learning and development of those with whom she works.

As a peer within her Leadership Fellows Cohort, Zara has demonstrated many of the behaviors her first-year students noted. She questions her own assumptions and challenges others to do the same, she is curious and open to other perspectives and is supportive of her peers. Zara exemplifies the values of the Fritzky Leadership Fellows program and of the Foster School of Business.”

Kaeleen Drummey
Research Associate
Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking

Molly Breysse Cox
Leadership Associate
Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking


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