Ardelia Djati Safira has a habit of becoming the first. She was the youngest person to ever lead an investment project at PT PPA Kapital, an Indonesian private equity firm. In the process, she managed a team of 20 – many much older than she was. It was a role, Safira says, that prepared her to handle everything from preparing due diligence to managing personalities. Despite her impact and influence, she felt “boxed in” – exposed only to one way of seeing and doing things.
“I thought it was the time for me to go out of my comfort zone and explore new things in a new place with new people,” she tells P&Q. “I still need to sharpen my business intuition, learn deeply about business know-how, practise negotiation skills, and sharpen my decision-making process.
THE FIRST FEMALE PRESIDENT
Last year, Safira decided to pursue an MBA to prepare her for executive leadership – or start her own company. Her search ultimately led her to the National University of Singapore Business School as a member of the Class of 2022. One reason for her choice, she says, was the program’s emphasis on self-discovery.
“For me, an MBA program is a safe time and space to evaluate shortcomings and establish foundational strategies to work on those imperfections,” she explains. “The NUS MBA offers amazing experiential learning modules, which include “Launch Your Transformation”, “MBA Survival Kit”, and “MBA Consulting Project”. These modules will help me discover my true strengths and overcome my weaknesses. I am excited to start my own version of transformation with The NUS MBA.”
As an MBA student, Safira has already recorded another first. She was elected by her classmates to be the first female president of the NUS MBA Students’ Council. It was a huge boost for Safira, who is also a mother. The honor was made even more meaningful after the pressure-packed “Faceoff” session before the votes were cast.
“It is an open session where students who would like to be the leaders of The NUS MBA Students’ Council have to deliver a 1-minute pitch and answer multiple questions from faculty members, campus officers, and the cohort. It was a very meaningful experience for me because I learned to deliver my plans and craft my answers to some challenging questions in a short period of time.”
A LONG LIST OF ACCOLADES
Safira isn’t alone in embracing leadership among the Class of 2022. In her first two months at NUS Business School, Mosam Choksi has helped organized three events and been elected as President of the NUS MBA Consulting Club. Not surprisingly, Aayush, a former nuclear scientist, was chosen to lead the NUS MBA Energy Club. At the same time, Bayar Delgernaran helped lead a team that has made it to the final round of the NUS Fintech Month Hackathon.
“In just a few hours, we worked together in harmony and created a well-rounded system that detected corporate loan fraud. I was pleasantly surprised that we even got selected.”
These early successes are just an extension of the class’ career momentum. At 21, for example, Mosam Choksi was already presenting at board meetings. The PwC consultant has since landed three promotions and worked in seven countries. Within three years of graduating from college, Estelle Ang Yi Jia became the top salesperson at Rohde & Schwarz Asia – home to 1,300 employees and 20 subsidiaries. And she didn’t relinquish the top spot until she enrolled at NUS Business School, either. By the same token, Bayar Delgernaran has risen to the challenge and beaten the odds wherever he found himself.
“Even though I did not know anything about marketing, after many trials-and-errors, I was able to help grow the Kobo business in Japan grow from one of the smallest players to being a dominant player in the span of over a year,” he tells P&Q. “In Canada, I learned how to code in SQL and was able to improve on its CRM system through a clear reporting system that showed where we could improve in conversion rates. As a business developer working from Singapore, I was able to work on the marketing strategy of Taiwan’s first fully digital bank. As an entrepreneur, I was able to assemble and manage a robust development team in Mongolia and develop the Irbis platform which matches investors and startups.”
ACHIEVEMENTS RECOGNIZED AT THE HIGHEST LEVELS
In fact, you’ll find the Class of 2022’s fingerprints all across the globe. Aayush, for one, saved one client $14 million dollars. In the process, he boosted their productivity by a third through developing a process optimization simulation. His design was so innovative that he was recognized by the Indian Prime Minister’s office! In Pakistan, Hongyi Liu led a 50-member team for China’s FAW Group. In one year, the team produced $30 million dollars in export value or nearly a third of the company’s annual GMV exports. Then again, Samantha Mae Yau Bautista – “A banker by profession who is a creative at heart” – got to see her achievements recognized in one of the most public platforms imaginable.
“In Security Bank, I was part of a dynamic transformation team in charge of digitizing and growing our retail bank,” she writes. “As a part of this team, I led numerous projects, such as the launch of our mobile banking application, the streamlining of our deposit products, and the creation of a new credit card and loan products. All of our efforts were rewarded when we were awarded as the Best Retail Bank in the Philippines 2018 by The Asian Banker. Receiving the trophy with my colleagues in an event in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia continues to be one of the fondest memories of my time with the bank.”
Neil Nevgi started his career as a mechanical engineer. Eventually, he pivoted to entrepreneurship, producing a rent-to-own operation – one that generated $125K in seed funding and employed nearly two dozen people. Like any entrepreneur, Nevgi is an example of perseverance in whatever challenge he tackles.
“From being hospitalized for severe dehydration after my first ever 10km run, I have now completed four half-marathons,” he tells P&Q. “Next target is to complete a full marathon in 2021 and still look photogenic at the finish line.”
OPEN-MINDED AND GLOBALLY AWARE
Indeed, you’ll find the Class of 2022 stays plenty busy outside work and class. Samantha Mae Yau Bautista is an illustrator and graphic designer, while Ardelia Djati Safira loves to sing, play piano, and paint. That Renaissance spirit is also alive in Victoria Mitrofanova. She can speak four languages – and is certified in hand-to-hand combat. And don’t overlook Bayar Delgernaran. He started university when he was 15 – skipping three grades in the process.
And how is this for a double life? “I solved complex nuclear physics equations by the day and taught Bollywood Zumba by evening,” jokes Aayush.
And how does the class describe their peers? Aayush applies the term “high emotional intelligence” – adding “open-minded, empathetic, and articulate” for good measure. Andrea Coello Kunz – a Deloitte senior consultant and “globe-trotting food engineer” – also uses “open-minded” as a distinguishing quality of her classmates.
“Considering we all have such different backgrounds and grew in opposite corners of the worlds, there is still a constant sense of curiosity and a frequent need to share what makes us unique with others,” Coello Kunz explains. “Everyone seeks to understand each other even when we do have some cultural barriers.”
For Mosam Choksi, “global awareness” is what sets her peers apart. “My classmates come from the most diverse backgrounds and from across the world. Every day in class, I hear stories and experiences from them, each so unique. The learnings I have from these experiences have been the highlight of my MBA journey so far.”
During the 2019-2020 application cycle, the NUS MBA received 791 applications and ultimately enrolled 106 students (not counting the 19 students who deferred to 2023). The class boasts a 663 average GMAT and 670 median score, with the range being 670-710 in the mid-85% range. 11% of the class entered the program with a GRE score.
True to the program’s international flavour, 93.4% of the class hails from outside Singapore. In total, the NUS Business School attracted students from 24 countries, with 31.7% of the class being women. Academically, the largest segments of the class hold undergraduate degrees in Engineering and Technology (35.8%), Business (20.8%), and Finance (16%). In terms of professional backgrounds, 22.6% of the class last worked in Financial Services, with Consulting and Business Services accounting for another 16% of the class.
One reason for the school’s popularity? Think rigorous academics. After all, three NUS Business School faculty members have made P&Q’s Best 40 Under 40 Professors list since 2015: Joel Goh, Kai Chi Yam, and Jonan Sulaeman. Thus far, the Class of 2022 has been impressed by the academic programming.
“The NUS MBA provides MBA fundamentals such as financial management and corporate strategy, but also leadership development,” writes Ma Yuhan, an international legal counsel for a consumer appliance manufacturer. “This has helped me gain a clear insight into the various facets of management. The core courses in the first semester are fun as well as useful. Professors are experienced, resourceful, and creative. I’ve really enjoyed the classes and interacting with professors and classmates alike.”
A FEELING OF “KIASU”
You could call the first semester a rite of passage. Here, MBAs master an array of business essentials, models, and tools. As a result, students are able that prepare MBAs to bring unique value and insight into a wealth of hands-on learning opportunities that follow. That was the case for Corinne Mae Ablaza, a P&Q MBA to Watch in 2020 who now works in renewable energy investments for one of Germany’s largest commercial banks.
“The first semester may be more focused on knowledge and hard skills as core modules are introduced to strengthen our fundamentals,” she admits. “However, through club activities and access to the larger communities at NUS, I was exposed to numerous networking and industry learning opportunities. I also had the chance to participate in several case competitions and a global immersion program to London. By the second semester, I was able to leverage the foundation established in the earlier semester and really dive deep into areas I found most interesting. This was through the myriad of elective modules and the experiential learning component which provided me with additional practical experience. For example, through the MBA Consulting Project, I spent five months guiding a non-profit organisation (NPO) to develop its long-term strategic plan.”
For Mosam Choksi, the first semester can be summed up this way: You’ll never be bored. “There is so much to do here, especially in the first semester – classes, students’ council, events, networking, social gatherings, case competitions – just to name a few. There is no way you can do everything, and this instills a feeling of ‘kiasu’ aka FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Moreover, I have noticed how time flies. I cannot believe that I am already halfway through the first semester. It feels like I just got off the plane yesterday.”
Page 2: Interview with Jochen Wirtz, Vice Dean of MBA Programmes
Page 3: Profiles of 12 MBA students