Meet The MBA Class Of 2025: Amir Nili, UNC Kenan-Flagler

Amir Nili

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

“Eternal optimist”

School: UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Hometown: Miami, Florida, and London, U.K.

Fun Fact About Yourself:

My last name is pronounced “knee-lee.” It means “blue,” specifically ultramarine blue, because my ancestors transported lapis lazuli by caravan from Afghanistan and India to sell along the Silk Road.

Undergraduate School and Major:

Boston University: bachelor’s degree in psychology

University of Maryland, College Park: master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:

Internews (NGO focused on press/media development), people and culture manager for inclusion and learning (DEI manager)

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of Kenan-Flagler’s MBA curriculum or programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you?

STAR! (Formally, Student Teams Achieving Results.) This program pairs student teams as consultants to real companies to do an impactful project. The clients range from Domino’s Pizza to United Healthcare to the Public Schools of North Carolina. This program is particularly important to me because it gives you the chance to put your learnings into practice while still in school. The choice to go to business school was somewhat daunting for me, in part because you’re stepping away from the working world for almost two years. But this is an opportunity to stay connected and sharpen your consulting skills (useful for everybody regardless of role) by tackling a very real issue while seeing what different companies are like and how they work.

Also, these aren’t fluff projects, the companies take them very seriously. You’re held accountable for meeting deadline and producing high-quality, actionable deliverables. There have been numerous stories of UNC Kenan-Flagler alumni getting hired to implement their recommendations.

What has been your first impression of the Kenan-Flagler MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far? 

I’ve been blown away by the incredibly kindness and support which everyone in this community has shown me. It’s surreal to instantly find people who will move mountains to support you but it’s genuine. That’s what the “Carolina Way” is about.

Through Consortium, I’ve been lucky to have some early recruiting opportunities. Before we went to OP (their conference), a second-year UNC Kenan-Flagler student reached out to give me a personalized primer (there were also multiple “office hours”/info sessions for everyone). During the conference, she regularly checked in on me (even while busy with her own summer internship!) and when I got an interview offer, she went out of her way to find someone who had interviewed with the company before and have them detail their experience. Then another student case prepped me! I didn’t even know to ask for help and it was just given to me. This has really been indicative of my experience with UNC Kenan-Flagler – students, staff, and alumni reaching out without me asking, being unbelievably kind and helping me along this journey.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Kenan-Flagler?

This is hard because there’s so many! I’ll choose one that might be a bit off the beaten path but is very meaningful for me. At UNC Kenan-Flagler, we have a One for the World club that helps students pledge 1% of their future income to a portfolio of charities that show strong evidence of improving lives with high-cost effectiveness. Over the past few years, I’ve been pondering what the idea of “giving back” means to me. I’ve primarily worked in mission-driven organizations and at my last company, we literally saved and improved lives. I probably won’t be saving lives in my day-to-day in the future but I’m hopeful that I can use the outcomes of my career to keep helping others and giving back.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far:

Leading an organizational transformation at Internews. I established and built the DEI practice from scratch, ensuring that belonging, dignity and justice (BDJ) were embedded into all aspects of the company. (BDJ is a framework intended to surpass traditional diversity, equity and inclusion.) I worked closely with leadership to prioritize transparency, accountability and equity in pay and promotions. We got all staff involved, requesting their input and feedback regularly, and created an amazing inclusive environment where everyone’s voices were heard and truly valued.

By the time I left, I could tell people “got it.” We were so far past the financial and/or moral case for DEI that so many companies require and face. BDJ was part of the Internews DNA. For example, when I started, our leadership didn’t want to celebrate Pride Month (with sound reasoning too; Internews works in over 100 countries, many of which are not LGBTQIA+ friendly and certain staff could suffer very serious consequences just for having their name attached to an event). The next year, the team I led was able to launch a month of programming for Pride with safety plans well thought out. By the time I left, teams didn’t need or even look to me to celebrate Pride Month, they just did it, and even though they led special programming during Pride month, they made actively supporting LGBTQIA+ people part of their whole year and way of work.

What do you hope to do after graduation?

Make an impact! I’m still figuring out the how – maybe by solving companies’ most difficult problems through consulting or leading strategic planning and decision-making through corporate strategy or by joining a company’s leadership development program and being a leader who fosters an inclusive atmosphere where staff can be their authentic selves and do their best work.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Kenan-Flagler’s MBA program?

Take the time to consider what you want out of the MBA experience and why you really want the MBA. (Hint: It shouldn’t be just about money or prestige.) From there, do your own research, talk to students, alumni and staff, then actually visit. UNC has so many opportunities to visit and I took them up on all of them – a campus visit, Diversity Weekend, Leadership Weekend and Experience Weekend. You really get to know what the culture is about, the opportunities available to you and you can build relationships with students and staff. I truly believe that the relationships I built along the way made all the difference not only for gaining admission but also for choosing UNC Kenan-Flagler.

P.S. You don’t have to do them all! I know there are barriers for some with visas and costs, but I know former years had virtual opportunities, too.

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