“Avid gamer, startups and VC enthusiast, dabbled in NGO work. Overly attached to my dog.”
Hometown: Beirut, Lebanon
Fun Fact About Yourself: I almost lost a toe to frostbite while on a hike in Iceland.
Undergraduate School and Major: American University of Beirut, Bachelor’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Minor in Psychology.
Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Program Manager, The Samir Kassir Foundation
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? A key component in acquiring knowledge is hands-on experience. Business knowledge, in particular, is complex in the sense that it is not an exact science, and approaches, practices, and thinking styles can vary wildly from market-to-market. Hearing first-hand from my classmates who have directly experienced issues in their respective markets and industries will be invaluable, giving necessary perspective and context to most of the topics discussed. Getting the chance to hear from people with such diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise is also very exciting, as we’re often limited in the types of people we encounter through our personal careers.
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? INSEAD held for me as a school is the strength of its brand and the strength of its alumni network in the markets I am interested in, namely Europe and the MENA region. Countless executives hold an INSEAD degree across practically every industry, and it is an invaluable asset to be able to leverage when planning a career.
What has been your first impression of the INSEAD MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far. Tell us your best INSEAD story so far. The most common denominator I’ve seen so far has been the sheer kindness of the people I’ve met and their eagerness to help, answer questions, or being genuinely amazing. It’s common to see people go out of their way to open doors, to help out in administrative tasks, or share knowledge. Some have gone as far as to offer free beds to strangers that are still looking for apartments in Fontainebleau. I haven’t directly interacted with the alumni yet, but I’m sure it’s a feeling of camaraderie that persists even after the degree, and is the main reason why INSEAD’s network is reputed as being as strong as it is.
What course, club or activity excites you the most at INSEAD? Clubs are incredibly useful, and will be of great help for any INSEAD student to build a strong network of like-minded people that want to work in the same industry or otherwise share an interest. Personally, I’ll definitely join and try to be active in the MENA Club, and the PE/VC Club as they’re the most relevant to my future career. That said, the Public Speaking Club is really the club I’m most excited about. Public speaking has always been an issue for me, no matter how often I have to do it or how competent I can appear at it, I dread it every single time. I’ve never actively worked on managing this feeling of dread, so I’m really looking forward to do it during my INSEAD year.
Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My biggest accomplishment is frankly one that we accomplished as a team at the startup company I co-founded, Rawa.tv.
Like at most early-stage startups, every day was a constant struggle and we were pushing always faster and harder to reach our deadlines and milestones. Some of these milestones we set for ourselves while others were set for us by our investors or forced by the market – whether we liked them or not. While dealing with the day-to-day difficulties of getting a product to market and keeping the company afloat, we were hit by the triple disaster of the COVID crisis, Lebanon’s economic crisis, and the Beirut port explosion – all of which happened within 10 months of each other.
These were extremely difficult times for the company, and the founding team (myself included) got very close to our breaking point from an anxiety and stress point of view. The COVID crisis, of course, changed the way businesses were run, and we had to rapidly adapt to maintain our pace and work as efficiently as we could. Then the Lebanon banking crisis happened, “vanishing” half of our investment and forcing us to scramble for more funding while dealing with the administrative hell of re-registering the company outside of Lebanon (since no sane investor would ever put money in a Beirut bank again). The Beirut port explosion felt like the nail in our coffin, vaporizing our offices and our homes, and landing us and our friends, employees and families in the hospital or worse. Completely overwhelmed, we thankfully took the decision to focus on our mental health, take a step back, and give everyone room to breathe. My co-founders elected to leave Lebanon, as did most of our employees, and we slowly re-established a working system once everyone was ready and fit to get back to work.
Thanks to the team’s effort we eventually managed to sell the company. Looking back, I am very proud of how we handled things, and I believe this experience is what thought us the most about ourselves.
What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? I’ve reached a point in my career where I needed to take a kind of a break. I’m also really interested in joining the investor side of the entrepreneurship equation, and work with startups more as an advisor or an investor through VCs. Pursuing an MBA made a lot of sense for me, as it is a year of somewhat low pressure, and the degree and skills I’ll learn will definitely improve my profile and allow me to join a top tier VC.
What is one thing you have recently read, watched, or listened to that you would highly recommend to prospective MBAs? Why? I would recommend going through the Paul Graham essays to literally anyone. They are written in an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand format and are a treasure trove of knowledge and insight. While a lot of his essays are perhaps focused on the VC and startup ecosystem generally, a great many of them hold valuable advice that can be applied to anyone’s day-to-day life. Specifically, one of the essays that influenced me the most is titled “Write Like You Talk”, and basically makes light of all the overly complicated corporate speak and other elaborate terms and turns of phrases that we often use in writing emails, for example. I notice this habit consistently after reading that essay, and it’s helped ease my writing a great deal, making it faster and more efficient.
What other MBA programs did you apply to? None.
What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into INSEAD’s MBA program? I would focus on answering the following three questions, getting their answers absolutely down, and building your story around them.
- What have I accomplished that I’m proud of?
- Why is now a good time for me to pursue an MBA at INSEAD?
- What do I want to achieve once I have my MBA?
I sincerely believe that as long as these three questions remain in focus and can be answered clearly and with reasonable logic, the rest of the pieces will fall together. While it is true that some backgrounds and profiles have higher admission rates than others, no story is irrelevant, and everyone has something to bring to the table.
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