Meet the MBA Class of 2024: Ayano (Aya) Kirihara, University of Virginia (Darden)

Ayano (Aya) Kirihara

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

“Enthusiastic reformer who strives to create an inclusive environment and seeks ideal solutions.”

Hometown: Chiba, Japan

Fun Fact About Yourself: I started learning English 2 years ago.

Undergraduate School and Major: Tokyo University of Science, Bachelor of Management

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Daiwa Asset Management Co. Ltd. (DAM), Associate Director

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? The case method is not only a way to gain the knowledge necessary for management, but also a way to train your brain in decision-making. The class is entirely student-centered; a student’s opinion is questioned by another student and a discussion begins. It is truly an experience of decision-making processes through the case method. We repeat this cycle: 3 cases, 4 days a week for a year. Repeating the decision-making process in a diversity-rich class, listening to various opinions and using a variety of methods, will improve your skills as a better manager.

Aside from cases and classmates, what was the key part of Virginia Darden’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? First of all is the school’s strong support system for international students. From the application stage, I was anxious about moving to Charlottesville by myself, but the Admission Teams and Darden Alumni were very supportive and helpful. Second, I thought it would be a great opportunity to be in an environment with few Japanese people in order to gain perspective as a minority. Because Japan is an island nation, the population consists of about 97% or more Japanese, so I was always one of members of the majority. Now, of course I feel lonely, but I would like to reflect this experience in future reforms of the working environment in Japan.

What course, club, or activity excites you the most at Virginia Darden? I am looking forward to going to Scandinavia through Global Immersion Courses. Scandinavian companies are highly regarded in terms of the work environment for women, and I would like to gain insight through the companies I visit.

What has been your first impression of the Darden MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far. Tell us your best Darden story so far. My first impression of Darden was that “something is different from other schools.” The Darden students with whom I conversed talked about their own struggles as an international student and how they overcame those struggles and what values they gained. It made me want to get to know Darden better.

The best Darden Story would have to be ISOP, Darden’s six-day orientation for international students. It is a pretty tight schedule, but during that time you get to know almost everyone and make some new friends. At the orientation for all students, I experienced culture shock, but just greeting them in the hallway made me feel so much better.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: One of the biggest accomplishments I made was that I led the team of Corporate Philosophy Creating Project at DAM, beyond my managerial accounting job.

DAM had never had a corporate philosophy separated from its parent company, Daiwa Securities. I proposed a new project which involved everyone in the company from the Corporate Planning Department, then to the CEO directly. Despite being the youngest team manager, I led 7 members from each different department to define a new vision of the company. Due to COVID, we worked remotely, and all team members had different backgrounds and a strong, different perspective toward DAM. However, I used design thinking to keep us focused. Seven months later, we presented a new Corporate Philosophy statement, “All Challenges for All Investors” to all 600 employees and investors for the first time. According to the post survey, new Corporate Philosophy enhanced employee’s motivation and productivity.

I believe that vision and corporate philosophy are the most significant entities in a company. They will be the keys to decision making. With this corporate philosophy, I hope that DAM employees, despite their different identities, will share the same vision and make DAM an even stronger company.

What is one thing you have recently read, watched, or listened to that you would highly recommend to prospective MBAs? Why? I recommend one of the famous Ted Talks, “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are” by Amy Cuddy. After graduating from undergraduate school, I was always devastated by being compared to the wonderful, educated colleagues around me. But I pretended to be my ideal self, and after three years, I gained a lot of experience and trusted peers. Every MBA applicant will have a career goal and an ideal figure to aspire to. “Fake it ‘til you become it.”

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Tuck, IESE, Kellogg, Ross, Stern 

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Virginia Darden’s MBA program? All Darden classes are case studies. The opinions and ideas of each student’s unique experience make up all of our classes. Among them, the opinions of international students will include the unique and wonderful values of each country. My advice is to share your thoughts and experiences in the interview. The interviewer can surely imagine what role you would play if you were in the class.


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