2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Aaron D’Souza, Cambridge Judge

Aaron D’Souza

Cambridge Judge Business School

“Adventurer, mini-adrenaline junkie and big-hearted foodie committed to driving positive change, building purpose and creating legacy.”

Hometown: London, United Kingdom

Fun fact about yourself: I used to have a phobia of all types of crisps but have thankfully overcome this!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Queen Mary, University of London – History and Politics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I worked in the CEO office of Global Markets Consultants (GMC), a management consultancy in the financial services industry situated in the City of London. I headed up the Strategy and Operations function while also supporting the CEO on his personal projects. After running the CEO’s successful election campaign as an independent candidate to become an Alderman of the City of London in March 2018 – he was the first non-white male Alderman elected to City of London Corporation in 250 years – I became his de-facto Chief of Staff.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? I worked full-time at Global Markets Consultants (GMC) prior to joining the Cambridge MBA. I have also been a Trustee of UK Youth, a leading UK charity and advocate for young people, for the past four years. Over the summer I helped UK Youth navigate the uncertainty brought by Covid-19 alongside other board members and the charity’s senior management team, ensuring that UK Youth remained financially and organisationally resilient, so that the charity could continue its important activities for young people across the UK.

Where will you be working after graduation? I have most enjoyed working on projects with CEOs and Boards, advising them on their strategic and business plans and creating cross-sector partnerships. I’m therefore seeking to use my Cambridge MBA to transition into strategy consulting and continue working with C-suite executives. I am naturally inclined towards the public, not for profit and social impact sectors, where I would like to help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I was elected as President of the Cambridge Business School Club (CBSC) by the c. 250 students on the Cambridge MBA and MFin courses. I am extremely proud of how the CBSC, a quasi-student council has brought together different cohorts under the CJBS umbrella (e.g. MBA, MFins, EMBA) in difficult Covid times, be it virtually or through one-to-one coffee walks in Cambridge. As President, I have also taken the lead in raising concerns to MBA faculty and leadership as Covid rules changed to ensure we get the best experience possible. I’m grateful to be in a position where I can champion this brilliant, tight-knit, resilient community.

This year, I also co-founded ‘Leading Insights’, a student-led CJBS speaker series with global leaders and thought leaders in a fireside chat format.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of co-founding the Leading Insights series alongside other Cambridge MBA students this year. Cambridge Judge faculty ran an MBA Leadership series, but it has not been continued in recent years. During the first UK lockdown in March 2020, last year’s Cambridge MBA cohort enlisted a series of speakers and we took up the baton so-to-speak by reviving the Leadership Series. The Leading Insights series connects global leaders and thought leaders with Cambridge Judge students producing anecdotes and insights that you can’t find on Google, read in articles, or hear on TV. Our first speaker was Dr Mohamed El-Erian – with many students describing the event as their highlight of the year!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of getting my former employer, GMC, to pay attention to society’s bottom line, as well as its own. Having successfully lobbied GMC management to create a £3M CSR fund, I soon met ordinary people doing extraordinary things, yet were struggling to keep their projects afloat. Therefore, alongside providing small grants, I created the GMC Hero Awards to recognise their positive contribution on our doorstep. Three years later, with the backing of senior leadership, we recognised 50+ community champions / unsung heroes. They included  Steve Whitmore who provided over 3,500 books to 43 police custody suites through his ‘Books in the Nick’ initiative; Amadu Kanumansa who ran a local food bank for free for 10+ years; and Ayesha Azad who volunteered 10,000 hours over 15 years integrating hundreds of Bangladeshi and Colombian immigrants and providing afterschool activities for kids. They all became part of GMC’s family and GMC staff continue to support their projects. It really created a legacy for our company and beyond.

Why did you choose this business school?  I chose Cambridge Judge because I wanted to go to a business school that was situated in a university ecosystem where MBA students could meet and exchange ideas and plans with students from other disciplines. The Cambridge MBA curriculum also really resonated with me, particularly the experiential learning opportunities offered by the Cambridge Venture Project, Global Consulting Project, and the Board Impact Project. Together, they fit my post-MBA goal of transitioning into strategy consulting. Moreover, the school’s mission of being in the business of transformation – of individuals, of organisations and society – is closely aligned with my ethos and has been one of the driving forces throughout my career.  And if that wasn’t enough, since my twin sister completed her undergraduate degree at Newnham College, Cambridge and brother-law completed his bachelor’s, masters and PhD at Downing College, Cambridge, it was difficult to turn down an offer from Cambridge. I’m keeping it in the family!

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Covid has unfortunately demanded that many of the unique and fabled Cambridge experiences be curtailed. Norms such as visiting other colleges, attending and participating in debates in-person at the Cambridge Union, discussing hot topics and making new friendships from all disciplines over some pints at college bars, and playing team sports, have been postponed until restrictions allow them to resume. However, I was lucky enough to enjoy a socially distanced formal – a three-course candlelit dinner – at my college, Darwin College, during the last week of term in December, which provided a glimpse of the long-standing traditions that Cambridge has to offer. I hope that we will be able to experience more Cambridge traditions as restrictions are lifted.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Cambridge Judge offers a vast array of resources, speaker series, and research centres that I have barely touched the surface during a relentless and intense first term. On top of this, Cambridge University and my college provide numerous student societies and other stimulating activities.  I would definitely allocate more time to exploring these in more detail and take advantage of more opportunities offered outside the business school.

What is the biggest myth about your school? When I told friends that I was going to Cambridge Judge, some told me that I was joining an institution only for the elite. However, Cambridge Judge is far from that. The variety of backgrounds – class, ethnicity etc. – and nationalities leads to a stimulating and diverse environment and I have learnt so much from my colleagues in such a short space of time.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was surprised how well Cambridge Judge adapted to the limitations enforced by Covid in readiness for our September start date. We’ve been lucky enough to experience in-person teaching and the resources provided by the virtual learning portal or VLE have been a good addition to our learning experience. Cambridge Judge’s leadership have always been proactive in communicating with students and are doing everything they can to our experience as ‘normal’ as possible, which has been appreciated.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose?  Speaking to alumni from the MBA program at Cambridge Judge Business School was the best thing I did during the application process. The cohort size and alumni size are relatively small when compared to some other US business schools. However, I think that is why I always received a positive and friendly reply from alumni who were willing to answer all my questions and give me some handy tips for both writing my essays and then handling the interview.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I have met so many inspiring colleagues in the Cambridge MBA who have already made such an impact in their field, that it is difficult to choose just one. Tim Belitza, whose ability to turn ideas into strategies and actions played a large part in launching our Leading Insights series. Christina Feng, who was in my study group, has a fascinating background and personal commitment to international development work, including in Afghanistan where she and her team were targeted by the Taliban. Avi Zolty, who entered the MBA without an undergraduate degree, has an impressive background as an entrepreneur of multiple start ups. He always brings a critical and unique view and I’ve been most impressed by his work ethic and willingness to invest his time, networks and expertise in others.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? Cambridge Judge did an excellent job in creating an effective hybrid learning environment. We were one of the few, if not only business schools, to get consistent in-person teaching from September to December. This happened even during later lockdowns, which reduced the disruption to our teaching. We also had access to study rooms and cafes at the business school, so we could collaborate with our study groups and classmates in a safe manner and within the rules.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I am where I am today because of my parents. My dad worked his way up to a consultant position in a multinational company and then launched his own firm without any business or university education. Both my parents passed away when I was 18, so I am always reminded of and grateful for their determination and non-stop hard work to give my sister and I the best opportunities and education possible. Having worked alongside other MBAs at GMC, including the CEO who has an MBA from UCLA Anderson and Executive Education from Chicago Booth, and seeing first-hand the benefits and application of an MBA degree and network, I knew it was the next right step for me.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I would love to be in a position to open my own foundation and invest in the people, causes and issues that I hold dear. I hope to provide new models and methods of funding. I would also like to run for high public office in the UK one day.

What made Aaron  such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Aaron D’Souza exemplifies everything that makes Cambridge’s MBAs such an exciting group of people: he is gifted academically, entrepreneurial, generous with his time and skills, big-hearted, and keen to use his abilities to redress long-standing inequalities in today’s world. As President of the Cambridge Business School Club, he has shown exceptional leadership in spearheading the Leading Insights speaker series, and in representing student interests around Covid restrictions in negotiations with the School’s administration. In his first six months in Cambridge, he has become a strong ambassador for our community, and a great source of pride for us. He remains that today.”

Mark de Rond
Professor of Organisational Ethnography
Cambridge Judge Business School


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