2021 MBAs To Watch: Jonas Kanafani, HEC Paris

Jonas Kanafani

HEC Paris

“A project manager who oversaw the construction of railroad bridges and is passionate about movies.”

Hometown: Saulx-Les-Chartreux, France

Fun fact about yourself: I love making short video animations and continuously work to become better at it. It’s my personal creative outlet. I think I enjoy it so much because of the way animation is a unique blend of art and technology.

Undergraduate School and Degree: DHBW Mosbach, Bachelor of Civil Engineering; Specialization, Project Management

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Implenia Germany – Junior Project Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020?
I chose not to do an internship

Where will you be working after graduation? Amazon Germany, as an Operations Manager in their logistics center
Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

* Organized multiple events for students, including an exploration of Paris for my entire MBA cohort during their first weekend in the country (co-organized with a classmate)

* Organized two MBA Talent Shows (with the help of 5-member team)

* Student Representative on the HEC Paris Board of Trustees

* Recipient of the MBA’s Transitional Leadership Award

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?
Helping organize two MBA Talent Shows was a fantastic experience. These two events will remain the highlights of my MBA. It was humbling to work side-by-side with such a talented technical crew and amazing friends Sally Ghaly and Karan Nimrani. It was also very special for me to help put together shows that highlight a side of our classmates that we don’t normally see during the MBA program.

The first Talent Show, in 2019, was a traditional series of live, on-stage acts, full of wonderful and surprising performances. The 2020 show was a fascinating challenge, as we converted the tried-and-true live-performance format into an online event amid a constantly evolving framework of social-distancing rules. We all worked tirelessly to make both shows a success. The results exceeded our expectations, which was very humbling.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?
Coming out of undergrad, my very first project consisted of completely overhauling a train station without having an impact on traffic. It was therefore necessary to coordinate with planners, subcontractors, and the city hall while ensuring safety for our workers, the trains, their freight and, of course, the passengers. It was a lot of responsibility to take on. Thanks to the experience and positive attitude of all my colleagues and stakeholders, I was able to contribute immediately. The project was on time, within budget, and significantly improved the life of commuters. So much of what I know and do today comes from that experience!

Why did you choose this business school? HEC Paris’ cohort size, combined with the incredible diversity (across many variables) within that cohort, make the program unique. I wanted to experience such diversity and felt that I would fit in well, adding my own uniqueness to the batch. It is a rare privilege to be able to exchange with so many different cultures and personalities at once, both working and enjoying life together. It is something that, I believe, can’t be replicated outside of a campus.

Of course, when talking about HEC, the quality of the pedagogy and the support provided to students was also important to me.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Denis Gromb is my favorite MBA professor. He managed to impart a thorough and intuitive understanding of all matters relating to corporate finance, a subject that I had never been exposed to prior to the MBA, through clear and well though-out courses. Outside class, Denis is passionate and open, helping students go even further than the class materials. All of this while producing world-class research!

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite tradition of the HEC Paris MBA are the different cultural weeks organized by students. They are a wonderful occasion for everyone to come together, discover new cultures, and, above all else, eat well! During these events, students surpass each other with their creativity. During my time at HEC, I attended an American Thanksgiving dinner and an Indian wedding, learned how to properly make sushi and celebrated Chinese New Year.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why?
I love discovering new things. This meant that when I arrived at HEC, it was hard to decide what I wanted to focus on. I participated in events, workshops, and meetups every day. Doing it again, I would have focused slightly more on certain clubs and activities, allowing me to go deeper on the things most important to me.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Because of its history, HEC Paris is still perceived as a very French-centric school. This is very different from my experience of the school in general, and within the MBA in particular. Not only are the majority of students on campus internationals, but the faculty is also very international.

What surprised you the most about business school? Through my work for the Board of Directors, I realized how much HEC is evolving. With students and staff, we worked on improving the sustainability of the school, setting clear goals and milestones to be achieved. This willingness of all stakeholders of the school to transform goes beyond the topic of sustainability and shows HEC’s commitment to leading by example. This was unexpected to me, and a really positive surprise!

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I had confidence in my application. I spent a lot of time refining my message, to make sure that the admissions officers looking at my profile had a complete view of my experience and personality. I showed my submission to people who knew me well, making sure there was no bias in the way I presented myself.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Emric Navarre is a friend and student from my batch who I admire for his strength and selfless leadership. During the lockdown of spring 2020, he naturally became the point of contact between the administration and the hundreds of students on campus. He helped students in difficult situations to feel safe and helped coordinate the school’s response and policies during that time. It was inspiring to see him remain calm and resolute while finding a solution that satisfied every stakeholder, even in the most trying times.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit?
The MBA’s experience is strongly correlated to the richness of our interactions (big and small) with classmates and professors. Moving online, of course, represented a dramatic change in the MBA experience. However, the school mobilized quickly and recreated these interactions as well as possible.

For instance, during the initial lockdown, professors organized daily coffee chats with students, members of the administration organized Zoom cooking courses and we even had a band playing outside the student-housing buildings. While I was in contact with a smaller number of students during that time, living through this experience created strong bonds with many of my classmates.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My father has been a relentless and strong source of support in this journey. His rich life experience and his advice helped me see the value of an MBA.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?
I enjoy working in a dynamic environment and I have a constant need to adapt. I can’t image ever feeling like I’ve achieved enough, and then allow myself to sit back and relax. As long as my work has a positive impact on the world in general — and as long as I am able to support those around me to reach their full potential — I will continue to be active and strive to improve!

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

“I have had the privilege to work alongside Jonas in his capacity as the student representative on the school’s board of trustees. As Dean of Students, I have had the great honor of working alongside many outstanding and engaged students within our community. Jonas is one such individual who rose above his peers during his mandate when our institution, like so many others, was hit by the disruptive force of COVID-19. Not only was he a constant presence and advocate for students in representing that voice, but he also helped shape the discussion on student representation and governance within our institution. Through his active collaborative, he was able to contribute to navigating the diverse, and at times unexpected, challenges posed by the pandemic. However, in this endeavor, he pursued this aim by pursuing a further understanding of what shared governance means for our institutions, eventually meeting with over 30 different stakeholders.

He has been a pillar and a strong voice for all students on campus. On behalf of the school and myself, I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to say a heartfelt and grateful thank you for his continued presence, calm, and unflinching support through a very hectic period in the school’s history. I believe we grow from the interaction we have with our students. I have certainly been honored to have gotten to know Jonas during this very exceptional period, all the while debating topics of governance and responsible student advocacy, two topics he could easily teach. I have learned so much through our discussions, as have many of my colleagues, and hope others will also have the opportunity to learn from him in the future.”

Marcelle Laliberté
Dean of Students, HEC Paris




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