2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Emma Sussex, IESE Business School

Emma Sussex

IESE Business School

“Thoughtful, curious, driven, and always first on the dance floor.”

Hometown: That’s actually a tough question! I was born in Hong Kong, grew up predominately in California (and a lot of other places), but am actually British.

Fun fact about yourself: I convinced my mom to put me into clown school as an extracurricular when I was a kid, so I’m quite expressive.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Columbia University, English and Fine Arts (Bachelor’s Degree)
  • Fordham School of Law, Law (Juris Doctorate)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Dashmote B.V., Chief of Staff

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Amazon Launch, London

Where will you be working after graduation? Amazon Launch, Amsterdam

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Forte Scholarship
  • Director Tech Club (Design and Innovation)
  • P. Startup and Entrepreneurship Club (New Ventures)
  • Berkeley Haas Exchange Scholar

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Launching my first product during business school. I’ve spent a lot of my career joining early-stage startups and helping them scale, but I’ve never seen a business go from zero to one. One of my goals after graduation is to start my own company, so I wanted to use school as an opportunity to explore that space.

Over the course of two classes, Entrepreneurship at IESE and New Product Development at Haas during my exchange, I was able to work on the development of an idea that I had been excited about (around early career wayfinding) from the process of conceptualizing the business model to collecting user feedback and ultimately launching the product. I loved being able to work with some really talented teams who helped to shape the idea, and it removed a lot of questions I had about navigating the beginning stages of a company. While my interest has shifted to a different space, and I’ve decided not to pursue that company longer-term, that process gave me the experience and confidence to take the next step.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Closing my first Series A round after switching from big law to working at a startup. That round meant a lot to me for two reasons – it proved to me my ability to pivot and it meant that my team had the resources we needed to pursue our collective goals. After I left the firm, I was worried about the transferability of my skills, but working on that deal pushed me to use my knowledge in a new context, which was gratifying. From a team perspective, it meant that we had the support to build toward the dream we shared for that company. That startup had a deep sense of community, and I felt proud that my contribution was pushing that team forward.

Why did you choose this business school? I love learning new things, so I focused on finding a school that truly valued academics. It was clear to me throughout the application process that this was true of IESE. From the school’s assessment day, where we worked in groups to present a case, to anecdotes that I heard about the rigor of the first year, IESE felt like a great match.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Rob Raney. You cannot say his name at school without everyone at the table exclaiming what a great guy he is. He taught us managerial accounting, a topic that I did not realize that I always needed. He led with compassion and the utility of the subject matter. For many of us, the topic was new. But Rob created a real feeling of psychological safety to ask questions and ensure that we were walking away with actionable learning. He brought a personal touch to his teaching and often shared his admiration of his wife (a successful entrepreneur). It was hard not to feel connected and supported by that style of teaching.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? IESE’s MultiCulti – IESE is such a diverse school, and MultiCulti is a student-organized evening where students from all over the world share their culture (through food, drinks, and performance). After being cancelled for two years due to Covid-19, we hosted MultiCulti this year without really knowing what it was “supposed” to look like, which meant that it felt like both an expression of our home and this class’s culture. It was an amazing evening to see everyone share their heritage, and I was blown away by how seriously each country took the preparation to put on an amazing night.

It’s always hard for me to pick a culture, but having come to the US as a child, there’s a part of me that carries an idealized image of the US in my head. I grew up dancing, so this felt like an opportunity to share that version of the US with the school. These days, being American anywhere in the world can feel fraught, but when “Party in the USA” came on and everyone in the crowd was singing along, I felt overwhelmed by my affection for my borrowed culture and IESE’s embrace of the exuberant and complicated parts of all of us.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Before I came to school, I kept hearing that you could pick two of three: school, friends, or sleeping. I value all of these things and was not sure how to choose. One of the bright spots about studying during the pandemic, was that the restrictions meant that we weren’t able to do really late nights in our first year. It brought some balance to what was already a hectic time and, actually, I’m grateful for that.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was a bit surprised at how far we still need to come to achieve gender equality in a business setting. When I went to law school, the gender distribution was more even, but in business school I was aware that I was entering a male dominated space (despite all of the efforts IESE makes to improve gender ratios). I noticed from an early time that women in my classes stood out both for their achievements and their failures. This is part of what kept my competitive side driving toward achieving the best results I could in every endeavor. I wanted women to be represented alongside the men in every sphere. It also meant that my connections with the women in the program run deep because I’ve loved being surrounded by a group of such daring and intelligent women, and I want to support them both here and when we make our ways into the world.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Really wanting to be there. I started the MBA a little bit later in my career than some of my peers, and it came from a place of earnestly wanting to learn more and change my career trajectory. School wasn’t about meeting anyone’s expectations; it was something I wanted deeply for myself. When it came to writing essays or answering interview questions, the “why” and the “what next” flowed naturally.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? One of the students that I admire the most is Luisa Amaral. She’s a teammate of mine and from the first day she got to campus, she marched to the beat of her own drum. There’s a temptation in business school to go for breadth over depth both socially and academically, but Luisa always knew what she liked and what her goals were. I admire her ability to speak her truth, to engage deeply with her peers, and to leave a specific and lasting impression upon those in her wake.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My husband Geoff. Before school, it felt really difficult to shake my legal background, and I was feeling stuck. Geoff and I discussed the situation, and he was the one who pushed me to apply and ultimately accept the offer. He’s supported me throughout the experience both by engaging actively with the school and giving me the space I need to pursue my goals.

Geoff has a sense of belief that I sometimes lack. One of my objectives at school was to build the skills I needed to feel truly confident pursuing my goals, but Geoff gives me that sense of confidence all of the time, both in myself and the future that I want us to build together.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • To start my own company
  • To be a leader in the business world pushing diversity and inclusion forward and busting through the glass ceiling )

 What made Emma such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“Emma is one of the brightest and most engaged MBA participants that I have interacted with in my 19 years as professor and mentor at IESE. I had the opportunity to both teach her in the core course in Operations Strategy and personally mentor her during these last 15 months in my role as mentor for an MBA student team.

Emma is a very purpose driven person. On her team, she always took a very active role coordinating and planning team efforts, contributing with her intellectual capabilities to raise team outcomes, proposing innovative approaches to the different team projects, and making sure all team members were keeping up with their responsibilities and progress. Team members adopt roles gradually within the team, and she clearly became the “team leader” as recognized by the rest of the team.

In class, I always appreciated as a professor her capability to bring thoughtful ideas and raise lucid opinions to difficult discussions. She greatly helped the class progress when discussions were stuck between different points of views. This was possible thanks to a very special combination of capabilities difficult to find together in an MBA student: a very sound capability for logical reasoning, as provided by her Law background, combined with deep analytical skills and an inclination for innovation and technological business problems. The last two, being capabilities more typical of students with an engineering background. As I told her in one of our mentoring meetings, she is one of the few “law-engine-entrepreneurs” that I found in my life. I am sure this set of skills will make her a successful and impactful leader in the future.

Emma has also actively engaged in different extracurricular activities since arriving at IESE, activities that link with her professional and personal passions. She came to school with an active interest in tech and entrepreneurship. She joined as a Tech Club director her first year, focused on design & innovation and helped to organize and facilitate events to educate her peers on design thinking and corporate innovation. That interest brought her to the Bay Area during her exchange at Berkeley Haas, where she focused on technology and entrepreneurship courses and worked to develop an EdTech product with several other students there. On her return to IESE, she brought many of her insights from Berkeley to her role as a VP in the Startup & Entrepreneurship Club, organizing the startup school for other students building companies. From a personal perspective, Emma actively engaged in team sports with her peers and cultural clubs (even organizing the dance performance for 20 of her US classmates at IESE’s annual MultiCulti event).”

Alejandro Lago
Head of the Production, Technology, and Operations Management Department
IESE Business School

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