Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Payal Saini, HEC Paris

Payal Saini

HEC Paris

Pragmatic, adventurous Indian-American with a dry sense of humor and aspirations to effect positive change.”

Hometown: I was born in Rhode Island, but I’ve had a fairly nomadic upbringing and so I wouldn’t say that I have a hometown. I spent a significant amount of my life in Philadelphia, but I’m currently living in Cleveland, OH.

Fun Fact About Yourself: I enjoy trying new fitness fads and it’s on my bucket list to perform a standup comedy act at least once (preferably in a hole in the wall where no one could possibly recognize me).

Undergraduate School and Major: Pennsylvania State University, Risk Management

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: PNC Bank, Senior Internal Auditor

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I chose HEC Paris because of the diversity of the class, the 16-month length, and the ability to customize my experience through exchanges, internships and the MBA project. HEC’s programming has a clear focus on leadership development through hands-on experience which was what I liked most. I learn best by doing and I knew that I would want options to pick the best path for me during my program. I applied to HEC for the January in-take, which not many schools provide as an option. Having that flexibility was important to me.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? I’m excited about the professional clubs like the Women in Business Club and the Social Impact Club for the professional development opportunities and networking. I’m also excited about the Luxury Club, though I don’t have any plans to go into the luxury industry, as it has always been fascinating to me.

What makes you most excited about getting your MBA at HEC Paris? What makes you most nervous about starting business school?  I am most nervous about being a student again, specifically having exams, homework and studying. I am most excited about getting to know my classmates and learning from each other. The diversity and caliber of the HEC Paris MBA class ultimately drew me to the school. While academics and professional development are important to me, I wanted my MBA journey to be a holistically transformative experience – one that goes far beyond academics and centers on what happens when you explore the unfamiliar and unexpected.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: After graduation, I had major imposter syndrome and didn’t have a lot of confidence in my own abilities to be a leader. After I was laid off from my first job, I had to make big choices about what path to take and spend a lot of time reflecting on who I wanted to become. Eventually I realized that if I didn’t believe in myself to be an effective business leader, then no one else would either. I would say my biggest accomplishment is overcoming my fears and becoming a valued team member whom colleagues trust to get things done.

I typically work on audits evaluating risk management and governance frameworks for mid-to-large size banks. These are very different from financial statement and accounting audits as the subject matter is rather gray, up to interpretation, and goes beyond reviewing accounts. Assessing the effectiveness of risk management and governance requires a lot of critical thinking, discussion among all levels of management, and the ability to convince senior leadership of your assessment. As a result, I learned the importance of informal leadership and “managing up” when necessary. Today, I am most proud of how much I have grown from when I started.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career?  The timing felt right. As someone trying to make a triple jump to a new industry, location, and job function, I decided to pursue an MBA after being absolutely certain that I’ve gotten everything out of my current position that I possibly can.

What other MBA programs did you apply to?  The only other program I applied to was INSEAD.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? The most challenging question for me was this: What is your greatest life accomplishment?

I found this difficult to answer because a question about a life accomplishment seemed to be asking about my broader life story and not just my career. But I also wasn’t sure if writing about a non-career accomplishment was the best strategic move to make in a business school application. I spent a significant amount of time weighing several possible topics as I don’t think I have a Big Life Accomplishment that really stands out as the greatest. Ultimately, I took a pragmatic approach and picked a career-related story that I thought would address the weaknesses that I perceived in my overall application.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school?   A defining moment for me was completing my Bharatanatyam Arangetram, the debut solo performance of Indian classical dance signifying a graduation from student to performer. Though my parents are North Indian, they have always loved the classical dance styles across all of India and were extremely supportive of my interests in dance from a young age. I started learning classical and semi-classical dance styles pretty much from the age I could walk. As an Indian American, I found this achievement to be defining for me in that I was able to honor my Indian heritage while living in the United States and showcase years and thousands of hours of training to my friends and family.

My training and performance prepared me for business school by teaching me to embrace making mistakes and not be afraid to express myself in front of others. These two things did not come naturally to me but I’ve found they are critical to growth, both as a person and business leader. I can’t wait to make mistakes I can learn from and authentically express myself while getting my MBA.

What have you been doing to prepare yourself for business school?  I have been reading a book on case interviewing strategies and learning French, but honestly mostly just enjoying not having homework and mentally preparing to live the broke student life again.


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