2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Ayla Francesca Reyes, National University of Singapore

Ayla Francesca Reyes

National University of Singapore – The NUS MBA

“Multifaceted, casual gamer trying to uplift lives one community at a time.”

Hometown: Muntinlupa City, Philippines

Fun fact about yourself: I wear headbands all the time and have over 50 in my collection. My friends would joke that this is where I get the source of my power but I just feel incomplete without one.

While I do engage in sports such as swimming and badminton, most of my exercise has come from video games such as Ring Fit Adventure, Just Dance and Beat Saber.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of the Philippines Diliman – BS Business Economics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I worked at Amaia Land Corp. (a subsidiary of Ayala Land Inc.) as a Project Development Manager.

Amaia Land is a residential property developer in the Philippines. It is the affordable housing subsidiary of Ayala Land Inc. and was founded to further Ayala Land’s vision to enhance land and enrich lives for more people. As a project development manager, I oversaw the whole project lifecycle from land acquisition through planning and construction until turnover to the buyers. In addition, I was the retail leasing head and Amaia’s representative to Ayala Land’s Innovation and Sustainability Councils.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? I was a strategy and product management intern at Real Estate Analytics, a proptech startup in Singapore.

Where will you be working after graduation? I have decided to return to Amaia Land as a Senior Manager and Business Lead for the New Business, Innovation and Sustainability Division. This is a newly-created division under Amaia’s Project Strategic Management Group that focuses on developing and implementing new products, business models, systems, and processes in the company. The division aims to keep Amaia at the forefront of innovation and sustainability, especially in the affordable housing market. I will be in charge of driving sustainability initiatives within the company and forging partnerships for product and service innovation.

In this new role, I will be able to integrate my past work experience in residential project development, as well as from the knowledge I’ve gained through the innovation and sustainability courses I took during my MBA.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Pencil Pack Core Member – Regular Contributor to Echoes and MBA Blogsite Lead

Marketing Core Member – Organized an interschool “Intro to Product Management” Event with the HKUST Technology Club

TSAI City Innovation from the Inside Intensive Pitch Finalist – Part of the Top 2 teams to present on Demo Day to accelerator and incubator managers

Awards and Honors:

L’Oreal Brandstorm Singapore National Finals 1st Runner Up – Diversity & Inclusion Track

NUS MBA Survival Kit Best Team Presentation

Asian Development Bank – Japan Scholarship Program Scholar, 1 of 114 post graduate students globally awarded a full scholarship by the ADB and Government of Japan

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the work I did together with my team for our MBA Consulting Project with Nandina Partners and a top FMCG company because of how close the project hit home. Our project was targeted at increasing plastic sachet return in the Philippines to reduce plastic waste leakage into the environment. Being the only Filipino in my team, I shared with them the significance of this project, especially given the gravity of the issue that plastic waste has on our environment (and taking into consideration the nuances of Philippine society). It was an amazing experience being able to provide our insights to the regional office and recommend an implementable and replicable project to decrease plastic waste leakage.

While other teams worked on consulting projects which were about expanding into new markets or solving internal corporate issues, it was fulfilling for me to know that what I was working on for school in Singapore could create a lasting ripple effect in my home country.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Back in 2018, when I was still an associate manager, I was invited to speak at the 6th Annual Township Development Conference in Bangkok. My presentation was on the role of affordable housing in large township developments. Having handled projects located in Ayala Land estates such as Altaraza, I took on the challenge as a presenter and introduced Amaia to other developers and real estate industry partners globally. The industry trend at the time was to develop for the high-end market, but it was evident in the Philippines that growth would be coming from the lower market segments. I was probably the youngest person in the conference, yet being able to capture the audience’s attention and raise the banner for affordable housing was a fulfilling moment.

After the talk, various attendees approached me to find out why affordable housing in townships mattered, especially to Ayala Land given its history of premium and exclusive developments. I shared how while the high-end market drives the creation of townships, it is the affordable segment that drives the growth of the city. They are ultimately the end users and the ones who would benefit most from master planned estates. Speaking at the conference inspired me to expand my view of the industry and also opened the doors to potential partners for Amaia.

Why did you choose this business school? I always envisioned returning to the Philippines after business school. It was important to me that the value of where I studied would translate into the path I wanted for myself. I had applied to US B-schools as well, however. During one interview, I found out the school had one alumni association for the whole of Asia. I instantly saw how the school did not align with what I wanted post-MBA. NUS, on the other hand, is centrally located within South East Asia and the lectures are more relevant contextually to Asia as well.

Furthermore, I love how NUS is well connected even beyond the Asian region. It is a member school of The Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM), and has numerous partner schools for double degree and exchange programs. All these have allowed me to maintain strong relations in Asia and the flexibility to integrate global viewpoints. NUS also has a strong Filipino alumni community both in and out of Singapore. This allowed me to strengthen the networks that I wanted to build and connect with while at school.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? My favorite course was Leading with Impact. This is one of the core classes on the NUS MBA. While the course title might not jolt as much enthusiasm, it was one of the classes I took to heart the most. The course was focused on the four frames of leadership, but it was the selection of cases by Dr Audrey Chia that made it stand out. Her case selection was highly localized, and she was able to impart her first-hand experiences working with some of the organizations that were discussed in class. Besides its leadership focus, the class was able to touch on risk management, strategy and sustainability, especially beyond what is typically considered as Corporate Social Responsibility. The cases were spread out across different organizations globally, and it showed that businesses can be successful while serving a greater purpose.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite MBA tradition at NUS was the Dean’s Challenge, specifically the STARTathon, a startup pitching competition led by the NUS MBA Entrepreneurship Club. The Dean’s Challenge is a series of events hosted by Singapore’s B-schools aimed at fostering camaraderie and a spirit of competition between participating MBA programs. It’s made up of three events: “MBAs Got Talent”, The MBA Olympics, and the STARTathon. Due to the pandemic, the first two events were online so they had a limited audience.

COVID-19 restrictions in Singapore were just lifted when NUS hosted the STARTathon, so it was one of the first large-scale in-person events the school had since the pandemic started. I was able to help the organizers as the official photographer for the STARTathon. It was thrilling to watch my classmates pitch to Venture Capitalists and professors; not only were they representing our school, but they also had a shot to bring their ideas to life. Getting to interact with the various Student Councils from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) for the first time was energizing. It gave me a glimpse of how well schools could work together under such friendly competition.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I was so focused on the path that I wanted that I wish I was able to explore another industry during my internship. While I was really focused on getting my foot in the door of Singapore’s proptech industry, I see how the value of working in fields unrelated to real estate could help me find synergies and solutions that could be applicable to my work later on – and the NUS MBA offers such opportunities. The experience would’ve allowed me to create new networks, understand more processes, and expose myself to new trends. What I needed to learn from proptech, I could still get from other groups or organizations, but to experience the pain points of different industries first hand could’ve charted my learning journey differently.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was most surprised by how fast the whole experience went by. Not in the sense of how fast paced the classes would be, as this was already expected. But by how fast time felt from when I attended my orientation until my last class. The full-time MBA at NUS follows a 17-month schedule, and even then it’s as if that wasn’t long enough to immerse myself in the MBA journey. Once the second semester began, you start seeing your friends get a job, go on exchange, finish their program, and you realize that your MBA journey is nearing its end too. The time spent in school can be the most hectic, fun, mind-boggling and fulfilling time of your life. And in the blink of an eye, its graduation season. It felt a bit shorter for me since I spent a semester on exchange at IESE Business School in Barcelona, but I just cherished the moments I had wherever I was in the world because it’s a time in my life that I’d probably won’t experience the same way again.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Having applied at other business schools previously without a concrete idea of why I wanted to take an MBA, I wasted my time, effort and money. Later, when I decided to apply to NUS, I made sure I knew what I wanted to get out of my MBA and how the school and life in Singapore would help me achieve it. Because I was able to pin down my post-graduation goals, I was able to relate to how NUS’ student club ecosystem and Singapore would help me achieve it. I remember sharing with my faculty interviewer during my application that I wanted to explore the proptech industry, how the NUS MBA Technology Club would expose me to the skills I needed, and that Singapore was home to many proptech companies. Together with my previous work experience in affordable housing, I was able to differentiate myself among applicants and was awarded the ADB-JSP scholarship. This also helped me once I started the program because I focused my activities on building the right skills and networks early on.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire my classmate Spencer Oster Jenk. Spencer was in my section for the first semester and became my “Launch Your Transformation” buddy after. While we get along very well because we both come from a real estate background, it is his tenacity in starting and managing his own property development company that makes me look up to him. He’s never one to shy away from asking questions which everyone might’ve been too embarrassed to ask. His curiosity and passion for innovation help him think outside the box. He is interested in how new technologies such as Web 3.0 could shake up the real estate industry through smart contracts and other forms of shared ownership. I know that whenever I have a conversation with Spencer, I take away new insights about how the world works.

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

1. Change the way people live – Coming from an emerging economy like the Philippines and with a growing backlog of affordable housing nationwide, I always wanted to create a larger impact to society through my work. I was fortunate enough to do so through my first job by building communities for Filipinos all over the country. I hope to continue and provide Filipinos with a safe space for their families to learn, grow and improve their lives. As the income inequality gap continues to grow, I hope that through my work, I will be able to create something that would give them peace of mind and a greater sense of security. Directly addressing the needs of the market and providing long-term stability through their home could aid in closing that gap.

2. Mentor the next generation of nation builders – Throughout my MBA journey, I realized how blessed I was with all the opportunities I received, from getting into a top business school, receiving a full scholarship, and being passionate about the work I do. I want to guide others in attaining their dreams and feel that nothing will hold them back. I’m regularly invited to speak at the Ayala Group Internship Program, but I want to do this on a broader scale. Potentially, I want to partner with my university organization, or maybe teach down the line.

What made Ayla such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Ayla has managed to pack in an amazing number of varied activities while pursuing her MBA. She also has a deep desire to do good to the broader causes – be it a small community like the NUS MBA, or her home country of Philippines. Ayla is among the new generation MBAs who are not only driven to excel in whatever they do, but they care as well. I am confident Ayla will have a large impact at her workplace as well on the broader society.”

Prof Nitin Pangarkar
Academic Director, The NUS MBA and NUS-HEC Paris MBA Programs
Associate Professor (Educator Track), Strategy & Policy Department
NUS Business School


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