Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Sakina Esufally, INSEAD

Sakina Esufally


“In pursuit of little moments with great meaning.”

Hometown: Colombo, Sri Lanka

Fun Fact About Yourself: The idiom “It’s just like riding a bicycle” is, in fact, a fallacy. I’ve shamefully forgotten how to ride one. (And yes, I’ve tried many times since.)

Undergraduate School and Major: Brown University; Literatures & Cultures in English (English Literature)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Employer: Hemas Holdings PLC; Job Title: Strategic Projects

INSEAD is one of the most culturally and professionally diverse MBA programs in the world. How do you see these global perspectives enhancing the value of your business education over the next year? The business environment today is comprised of a web of increasingly global connections. This is primarily in two ways. First, business aspirations and growth have become increasingly focused on global impact. Second, regardless of target market, business processes themselves increasingly encompass a multitude of international market relationships.

What this means is that regardless of which industry or position you choose to build your career, a global outlook and understanding becomes imperative. While the term “global outlook” can sound quite obscure, to me that means being able to build an authentic understanding of global cultures and create deep relationships with international counterparts.

This is difficult, because it often goes beyond the hard skills. Truly having a global outlook, to me, means the ability to understand the nuances of communication, social norms and drivers of teams across the world. This is a hallmark of the INSEAD experience. A core tenet of this MBA program is the ability to interact with colleagues from diverse backgrounds, cultures and language preferences at every moment.

As you work with your colleagues on the hard skills, you also begin to craft a deep understanding of how to earn trust and forge authentic connections — and gain an exposure into the dynamics and drivers of workforces all over the globe. To me, this is a crucial aspect of business education as the field of global business continues to expand.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of INSEAD’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? There were two aspects of INSEAD’s MBA that appealed deeply to me. The first was that it is a devoutly purpose-driven program. INSEAD believes that business should be a force for good; that the goals of business and the goals of society must inevitably align; and that value creation should extend to all stakeholders of a business. Every aspect of the MBA encapsulates these ideas.

One of the most meaningful and challenging career experiences I’ve had was the ability to work in the Corporate Purpose space, interacting with teams in healthcare, consumer goods and logistics, crafting their purpose statements – that is, why, they exist – and working with them on business development plans that bring their statements to life. The literature on purpose is intriguing, vast, and captivating. But executing purpose is not easy. One of my primary objectives of coming to INSEAD was to understand the impact of purpose on business, how to actualize purpose, and how to develop compelling purpose-led strategies that ensure value creation across the board.

The second aspect of INSEAD that appealed to me was its thought leadership on family business. I come from a family business background and was inherently curious about what it takes to become an effective family business leader and a family steward. Aside from school’s excellence in family business research and training, it inevitably attracts a dynamic cohort of family business leaders and next generation members across the globe. The ability to interact with, and learn from, people with similar ambitions and vastly different backgrounds was a space I had no intention of foregoing!

What course, club or activity excites you the most at INSEAD? I’m most excited to immerse myself into Blue Ocean Strategy, arguably a hallmark of the INSEAD academic experience. As the competition in, and demands of, business become ever more fierce, the idea that businesses can shed short-termist aspirations and look at longer term value creation through market expansion and sharp consumer focus is an inherently compelling one. I am fascinated by what would happen if businesses focus on sustainable growth that improves the health of markets, societies and consumer offerings simultaneously. INSEAD is the home of Blue Ocean and the ability to steep in the learnings of global experts is an extremely attractive promise.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: In March 2020, Sri Lanka went into a COVID-19 lockdown and there was acute worry that virus-contamination would lead to hospital closures.

Together with my team, I worked with the Ministry of Health and a former-WHO infectious-diseases specialist to propose an infrastructure-based solution of holding and screening centers outside two key Government hospitals, thereby reducing the risk of virus transmission in wards.

Subsequently, we joined hands with the Sri Lanka Air Force to construct structures in six short weeks that could withstand monsoons, harnessed natural ventilation to minimize infection, and utilized moveable partitions to improve patient-flow.

To date, the tents have accommodated 200,000 patients and have the capacity to host more than 1Mn by 2022. It is an experience that has indubitably defined my career and my ambitions moving forward.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? In many ways, the pandemic forced me to refocus. Before the pandemic, I had given only cursory thought to the career I hoped to lead, the subjects that ignited my curiosity, and the people who gave colour to my life. Perhaps like many of my peers, I was on a hamster wheel of sorts, moving from one experience to the next with ever increasing momentum, unsure of where or how to stop. Where we even supposed to stop?

The pandemic ultimately forced that. It gave me room to think, evaluate and vocalize. Some of this was beneficial: My career moved and motivated me; I was working toward healthcare and education equity in a time that starkly reflected the need to prioritize both. My work perhaps became even more meaningful in a pandemic reality.

But some of the self-reflection pointed out glaring holes: I tended to de-prioritize important relationships in my life for work; I didn’t carve out enough time for self-rejuvenation or for my passions; and I was on the fast-track to relative burnout.

It forced me to reckon with aspects of balance and integration; knowing when to say no; knowing how to prioritize mental health; and learning how to slow down.

Ultimately the pandemic reflected the glaring unpredictability of life and allowed me to re-prioritize my goals, focusing more on what made me truly happy, and allowing myself to be comfortable in that decision.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? I began my career in publishing and veered rather quickly into healthcare and consumer goods. To say that my career has been non-linear would be an understatement. And while I was proud of the fact that I followed my passions, I noticed gaps in my understanding of certain foundational aspects of business management. In addition, as I advanced in my career, I was fascinated by the larger functions of corporate development, internationalization, supply chain management, and succession planning. At a certain point, I had more questions than I did answers. I was hungry to learn, both from specialists and peers, about the frameworks of businesses, and to experience how great leaders made difficult decisions. My curiosity spanned both theoretic knowledge and practical know-how, and as such was a compelling driver to apply for an MBA.

After graduation, I hope to work in business development in healthcare and consumer goods in emerging markets. I believe that focusing on health and personal care accessibility creates social equity across socioeconomic strata and is a singularly powerful force in driving social progress.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Yale School of Management, Kellogg School of Management

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into INSEAD’s MBA program? The first, and perhaps most important, is to be truly passionate about the school. INSEAD has so many unique facets that set it apart from other business schools, it would be a shame to not dig into its offering and understand exactly which aspect of it appeals to you. The MBA class is passionate about what they do and clearly understands how an INSEAD MBA, in particular, will help them. Exploring this space will ultimately give you a strong foundation on which to base your application, and help your narrative shine through by being truly personal.

The second is to spend adequate time on each of INSEAD’s essays. The school intentionally probes you on the many different aspects of your life so that it can get to know you better and develop a sense of not only how the MBA program can help you, but also to understand the many ways in which you will be able to contribute to your group discussions. So, before you dive into your application, take a step back and think about yourself and the experiences which have inherently shaped you, and don’t be afraid to build both your personal and professional experiences into your essays.

The third and final, is to be curious: be curious about the spaces you do not know yet want to explore with an INSEAD MBA. Reach out to alums or professors about their areas of interests and develop a network of individuals who can help you better understand these spaces and the school from which they flourished. These conversations will ultimately give you a vat of knowledge which will help you throughout the application process.

Applying for an MBA can be draining at times, but having a deep appreciation for INSEAD (its culture, people and academia) can be a powerful motivating force, and can ground you as you craft you go along your journey.


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