2022 MBA To Watch: Pauline Agius, INSEAD

Pauline Agius


“Driven, passionate and immensely curious, a polyglot English-qualified lawyer with strong quantitative skills.”

Hometown: Le Pecq, France

Fun fact about yourself: No one has ever guessed where I’m from: I’m Belgian and Maltese – but I’ve never lived in either country!

Degrees: SOAS, BA Chinese (Modern & Classical); LSE, PgDip in Accounting and Finance; BPP Law School, GDL; BPP Law School, LPC; INSEAD, MBA

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Linklaters LLP, Tokyo Office, Project Finance Associate Solicitor

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? INSEAD is only a one-year programme, and I spent the summer prior to my MBA working as a solicitor in Tokyo, Japan for Linklaters LLP.

Where will you be working after graduation? I have yet to decide, but am considering Consulting and Public Policy-related roles.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I am an Academic Representative and am very involved in the Public Speaking Club and OUTSEAD. I am also trying to revive the Politics Club. When applications open, I am vying for leadership positions in all three clubs, and I am also considering running for Student Council.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I have only been at INSEAD for a month, but I take great pride in the number of people I have managed to help (with accommodation problems – including reviewing prospective INSEAD students’ tenancy agreements, proofreading cover letters for classmates pursuing Investment Banking internships, answering miscellaneous queries – particularly with regards to the French passe sanitaire). I seem to have become people’s go-to person for any administrative, healthcare or just general life queries in France. This makes me both very proud and happy, as I truly enjoy helping people to the best of my ability.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? There is no single achievement of which I am most proud. Rather, I am proud of how far I have come, and how every step gets me closer to my goal.

What drives me is an ambition to work on critical societal issues, such as access to healthcare and education. However, reconciling that with my love for Asia has at times proven difficult. There is no direct route for a young European woman (with no obvious ties to Asia) interested in public policy and wishing to focus on East Asia. Therefore, I am having to pave my own path – step-by-step.

My love for Asia is undeniable. I was 8 when I declared to my parents that the pinnacle of success was the purchase of a penthouse in Tokyo. I started teaching myself Japanese at 12 (thanks to Google and free language websites) and Chinese at 14. However, when I started thinking about university, I was conflicted: I enjoyed math, science, and helping others, and I seriously considered majoring in genetics. It is only because of Asia’s unyielding calling that I ultimately chose to read Chinese at SOAS.

Nevertheless, my interest in healthcare never waned. For my final year undergraduate dissertation, my interest in diseases and their impact on society led me to choose as a topic the impact of AIDS in rural China, with particular focus on those provinces where, in the early to mid-1990s, a concentration of infections that was related to blood-selling activities approved by local government authorities had occurred.

In 2015 I secured a training contract with Herbert Smith Freehills LLP and qualified as a solicitor in March 2019. Upon qualification, I accepted a Project Finance position with Linklaters LLP, in the firm’s Tokyo Office.

I am very proud of my time in law – not only did I have to challenge myself (the rigorous training that law afforded me taught me how to discuss and argue complex, indeed controversial, topics – a skill that was far from innate), but it also enabled me to work on projects that helped the wider community. I also became very involved in advancing the rights of people with disabilities (both physical and mental) and members of the LGBTQ community – at both law firms that I worked for.

Now, with an INSEAD MBA, I seek to leverage my legal training and acquire the skills I need to join a consulting firm active in social and institutional policy and related infrastructure development work, so that I can bring real change at the grass-root level in these sectors. Longer term, my aim would be to build on this background, and the connections made at INSEAD, to make meaningful contributions in a senior policy-making position with strong links to East Asia. The road is far from easy – and at times there is much fog ahead – but I hope that whenever I look back, I feel as proud of each stone laid as I do now.

Why did you choose this business school? COVID had a profound impact on my life. Living alone in Japan, with no family or friends, I was incredibly lonely. Therefore, when considering business school, geography was crucial to me. Nonetheless, it was important to me that I not lose touch with my love for Asia, and I therefore looked at INSEAD. With its international reputation, conveniently located about 2 hours away from my hometown, I thought it the perfect fit. I am particularly excited about INSEAD’s expansion into North America – as this in turn widens the geographical horizons of the alumni base – arguably the most precious resource for MBA graduates.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Pierre Mabille – I found his teaching style interactive, but with a hint of nostalgia as it reminded me of my own French education. Having left France at 18, and only returned for this MBA, any reminders of my previous life have tints of both joy and sadness. The subject matter was also fun and engaging (I still love math – and oh how I missed it when drafting my life away in law…).

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? I really enjoyed Diversity Day – this is a day where INSEAD students can come together to display elements of their countries. Given how many nationalities walk the halls of INSEAD at any time, such an event is bound to be memorable. I really enjoyed it – because of my Japanese-speaking abilities, I took part in the Japan stall. We made curry, matcha and my homemade kimekomi and origami decorations were on display!

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I have only just started – so I have no regrets.

What is the biggest myth about your school? INSEAD is primarily thought of as a consulting school. It is true that approximately a third of any given cohort either returns to or joins the consulting industry. However, there is a vast array of career avenues open to students here, something many only learn when they get to INSEAD.

What surprised you the most about business school? The breadth of people and diversity of the cohort. This is very different from my previous postgraduate degrees where most of my peers were similar to me: academic and from relatively privileged backgrounds. At INSEAD, no two people have exactly the same background: you’re just as likely to meet someone having spent ten years in the army as you are to find a fashion designer who became a business entrepreneur. People’s expectations of the MBA Programme are also vastly different, a fact that has proved quite disorientating to me – as I have always placed great emphasis on grades and academic learning.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? INSEAD’s application process is heavily essay-based, and requires a great amount of introspection as the school is looking to build a diverse student body. As a result, it is well-known that INSEAD is always looking for interesting profiles with strong and original personalities. I believe this happens to be my case, and I sought to bring this out throughout my application.

I’ve lived across the world, and speak multiple languages. This did not happen by chance, and throughout my life I have engineered opportunities to get me to where I am today. I believe this is what built my character. The ability to upend one’s life at a moment’s notice is not something one is born with, but rather a skill acquired through time and grit. People call me ‘fearless’, but I am far from fearless. When I left law, I was terrified: I was walking away from a lucrative and well-trodden path, only to jump back into the turmoil of career-searching and exam stress. Yet, rather than let it paralyse me into complacency, I sought to turn this fear into the galvanizing force that propels me forth towards greater ambitions.

When drafting my INSEAD application, I therefore aimed to showcase my accomplishments, recognizing the hardships I had faced whilst staying true to myself. Going against my father’s advice, I chose to candidly write about my depression, advocacy work for animal rights and LGBTQ+ rights, and of the fear I face when taking on new challenges – particularly when I began considering a career in law, and now that I am moving away from it.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Joy Rivera – her joy for life is more infectious than Omicron, which is far from an easy feat considering how quickly the virus spread in the first weeks of the MBA. I have never met someone as smart that remains as carefree, and she brings a smile on my face every time we speak. Her continued positivity is proving instrumental to my ability to stave off my illness whilst tackling the more challenging moments of my MBA.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My father – the stories of his life have been a source of inspiration throughout my own. We have taken similar paths (he was a development banker, I became a project finance lawyer), but I am distinctly more adept with languages, and a secret aim of mine is to be able to live in more countries than him (although this is very unlikely to happen).

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? The top two items on my professional bucket list are that my work (i) ends up having an impact on legislation and public policy regulations; and (ii) inspires other women to follow my footsteps, recognizing that travel and one’s womanhood are not mutually exclusive. When I feel down, I like to look up female trailblazers I admire: Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Christine Lagarde among others. I hope that one day, other women will be able to seek the same source of comfort from me as I get from reading about the accomplishments of these phenomenal women.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? As much as I love travel, I realise that my ability to change geographies at the drop of a hat is contingent on much more than whether a company will take a chance on me or not. Family, travel restrictions, and the political landscape have all become significant components to the equation.

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

“Pauline has an extremely strong international profile having lived in the US, France, the UK, China, Japan and being fluent in 4 languages. She also appeared to have the courage of her convictions which the Admissions Committee particularly liked.”

Virginie Fougea
Global Director of Admissions & Financial Aid


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