2024 Best & Brightest MBA: Farisha Ishak, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Farisha Ishak

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

“Dedicated advocate leveraging my platform for the advancement, empowerment and equity of minorities and women.”

Hometown: Singapore

Fun fact about yourself: I am the first woman to have won a national English singing competition in Singapore (The Final 1), winning a grand cash prize and a three-year record deal. I pursued a career in the Singapore media industry for over seven years. I released an album, recorded nine original songs, performed at national events, acted on local dramas, and hosted live events. One of my most memorable experiences was singing the national anthem at the 2016 Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix.

I am an active community youth leader recognized by the Singapore government, and one of the special opportunities I received was to interview the Mufti of Singapore on “Adab and Advocacy,” exploring advocacy etiquette in Islamic teachings.

Undergraduate School and Degree: National University of Singapore, BA (Hons) in global studies

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

Where did you intern during the summer of 2023? Haleon in Warren, New Jersey

Where will you be working after graduation: Haleon, Associate Brand Manager

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • President, Carolina Women in Business (CWIB)
  • Founder and Co-President, Muslims at UNC Kenan-Flagler
  • VP of Allyship, Carolina Disability Alliance
  • Project Leader and STAR Ambassador, STAR Program
  • Consultant, Business Communications Center
  • Merit Fellowship and COIL Graduate Fellowship
  • First-year liaison – CWIB and Net Impact Club

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my tenure as president of Carolina Women in Business (CWIB), where I worked with an incredible team of women who were all passionate about advocating for women in business. At UNC Kenan-Flagler, CWIB is the largest MBA student-run club with a mission to build community and to provide resources to support women pursuing their MBAs. With the executive team, we organized events and initiatives throughout the year centered on professional development, community, and allyship, which culminated in our annual CWIB Conference. At this conference, we successfully brought together women and men across multiple programs at UNC Kenan-Flagler and the University under the conference theme “Together We Rise.” Our focus was to lean on our community at UNC Kenan-Flagler and beyond as we drive our mission to advance women in business, raising everyone up as we go along. The event was both emotionally impactful and left attendees with actionable steps to take with them and remains one of my proudest contributions at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, I developed a new executive education program focused on sustainable development in Asia for the UN System Staff College. This project came at a time of significant challenge – in the midst of COVID-19 and with our team being short-staffed. Despite these obstacles and my junior position, I was entrusted with the responsibility of managing this important four-month program. My work involved designing an innovative curriculum and collaborating closely with faculty members to deliver this program to a diverse group of 40 senior leaders from NGOs, government agencies, and businesses across the globe. A key achievement in this role was my focus on integrating the perspectives of minority women and youth into the curriculum. This was a personal milestone for me, having actively leveraged my platform in the media to advocate for minority, women, and youth representation and development in Singapore. I was grateful to contribute towards setting a new precedent in how we should center the voices of women and youth as we think about sustainable development. The program was a success, and continued to run even after my departure, a testament to the lasting impact it had on the client and participants.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose UNC Kenan-Flagler because of the small class size. As someone from the public sector pivoting into the business world, I anticipated having to learn A LOT. There were so many resources available, and I always had access to them. Additionally, I remembered learning about the Carolina Way and how supportive the community at UNC Kenan-Flagler is. This was a big consideration for me because I knew I wanted to lean on a strong support network as I’m navigating this chapter of my life. It just felt right when I was considering where I was at that time, and where I wanted to be. Having gone through the MBA, I can 100% attest to this being a huge reason for why I will always advocate for an MBA at UNC Kenan-Flagler. Going into business, especially as a woman, your community and network will be one of your strongest pillars of support. UNC Kenan-Flagler provided me with so many opportunities to build my network and my brand, both of which I will be taking with me long into my career as a future business leader.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I feel so lucky to learn from amazing and accomplished faculty at the school, so this was tough! My favorite MBA professor would have to be Professor Arvind Malhotra! I took Managing Innovation with him and really enjoyed the diverse set of case studies we discussed in class. He was very intentional about how he structured his classes and is a skilled facilitator, always ensuring everyone’s contribution was heard. Additionally, he is thoughtful in his interactions with students. In our MBA program, our courses are just under three months, but he effortlessly builds meaningful relationships with many students, and remains a supportive resource for us well beyond the course.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? Another tough one! My favorite course would have to be the Sustainability and Social Enterprise Global Immersion Elective (GIE) to South Korea taught by Professor Olga Hawn last summer! Coming from Singapore and having a policy background, I have always been intrigued by the interplay between the private, public, and social sectors in South Korea. During the GIE, we learned about how businesses implemented sustainability – from adopting more sustainable practices in their offices to establishing private foundations for their social impact initiatives. Additionally, I enjoyed the balance between company visits and cultural excursions, where we got to explore Korea’s rich cultural heritage and incredible food scene! Coincidentally, my birthday fell on the day we were out on a yacht in Busan, so I got to celebrate it with my classmates in the most memorable way – fireworks out on the water after sunset!

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite MBA event would have to be Around the World! The event is an opportunity for students to showcase and celebrate their cultures and traditions, and beautifully displays our community’s rich diversity. I learned how to make Mango Lassi, devoured a Peruvian dessert, learned a traditional Arab dance (“Dabke”), and watched an African fashion show. I remember being in complete awe of our diversity! This year was the first time we got to host it since COVID, so the organizers did a fantastic job making it an impactful event.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I think one thing I would do differently is to try and be involved in pre-MBA programming as soon as possible. There are conferences, recruiting opportunities and a ton of resources available even before the MBA starts and I wish I had leveraged them more. I think all of this to say, I would change very little, and am instead wanting to stay in the program as long as I can!

What is the biggest myth about your school? Prior to starting the semester, I was worried about UNC Kenan-Flagler not being globally diverse enough, and this was a big consideration for me coming from Singapore. But I couldn’t be more wrong! UNC Kenan-Flagler not only had a diverse student, faculty, and staff population, the MBA program offered many opportunities for global exposure through both classes on-campus and in electives that take students to countries around the world!

What did you love most about your business school’s town?  Chapel Hill is so beautiful. I grew up watching Hollywood movies and had dreamed of stepping onto a quintessential college campus. My first day walking around UNC’s main campus felt exactly like that dream, with the gorgeous brick buildings and luscious greenery. I enjoyed strolling through the quad on a beautiful summer day, surrounded by students lounging on the grass with live music playing in the background. It really did feel like I was on a movie set!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Choosing just one classmate from UNC Kenan-Flagler is incredibly tough, given the outstanding individuals I’ve encountered here. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share about Connor Cooke. Connor, who also happens to be my husband, is the MBA classmate I admire most. I recognize that I might be a little biased, but I am confident speaking on behalf of many other classmates when I say his grit, generosity, kindness and love for UNC are qualities that truly embody the Carolina spirit.

Connor cares deeply about the UNC Kenan-Flagler community and has been a pillar of support for many of our classmates through his service in various club leadership roles such as the Consulting Club, Net Impact, Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Club, and other key student organizations. Connor played a pivotal role in supporting second-years re-recruit for opportunities in consulting during an extremely tough recruiting cycle. He worked long hours to coordinate resources and spend time with those who needed extra support, on top of balancing classes and other club responsibilities. His effort in organizing the Net Impact conference, with thoughtful details like eco-friendly aluminum water bottles, perfectly exemplifies his blend of practical leadership and deep care for our community. Being a double Tar Heel, Connor’s pride for UNC is infectious! He is a big reason for why I decided to do my MBA at Chapel Hill and has been instrumental in reminding everyone about how it’s always a GDTBATH!

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

Start a social enterprise that creates opportunities for women and minorities from Southeast Asia living in the U.S. to launch their own ventures and build generational wealth.

Release an album on my own where I could have complete creative control over my songs and do a mini tour around Asia and the U.S.

What made Farisha Ishak such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2024?

“Ever so rarely, along comes someone who makes a place much better than before. Farisha is that rare person. She has made UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School a better place with many big and small things she has done and continues to do both inside a classroom and, more importantly, outside it as well.

To encourage her fellow students to gain practical experiences while at school, she has been an ambassador for our STAR program in which student teams work on projects for various companies. As a consultant for the Business Communications Center, especially in a year that has been tough for those seeking employment, she has not only helped students from undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate programs prepare for their job search and interviews. Going beyond, she has been counseling them personally by empathizing with their situations and advising them on how to cope with the challenges of job search and how to leverage the school’s network to enhance their outreach. She also is spearheading the effort to establish a club for Muslims in the Business School. This highlights her continuing efforts to increase inclusivity and belonging for her peers.

Farisha has devoted a large portion of her time to doing everything she can to develop future women leaders. As the leader of the Carolina Women in Business initiative, she helped organize a major conference and ensured that the student body had a chance to lead from role models and those who had successfully navigated their life journey after school.

Inside the classroom, Farisha is a thoughtful and respectful contributor. She always brought in rich perspectives while also allowing others to add their perspectives. She led by her example in ensuring that her peers were included in discussions. One thing that personally stood out to me was Farisha’s effort to get peers and faculty to write good luck cards for a classmate who was taking a leave of absence to prepare for a future career. This impactful gesture is very representative of how Farisha always and every day makes an effort to care for her peers and make their lives better.

She is indeed one of the best and brightest MBAs. It has been my pleasure to get to know Farisha and see all the wonderful things she is doing going way beyond and making continuing efforts to leave her mark in the short time she has been here.”

Arv Malhotra
H. Allen Andrew Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship

“Farisha Ishak exemplifies what it means to live the Carolina Way.

She works incredibly hard. She is not only dedicated to her academic pursuits and experiential learning opportunities, but she also pours herself into fostering a collaborative, supportive community among her fellow MBA candidates. As president of Carolina Women in Business (CWIB), she provided the overall vision while empowering her fellow leaders to own their areas of work. This has led to both more successful outcomes and more satisfying efforts amongst CWIB members.

Farisha works smart. She looks for ways to bring disparate ideas together for the betterment of students, faculty, and staff. Through her own involvement in the STAR (Student Teams Achieving Results) course, she brought together CWIB and the 100 Women initiative to participate in STAR’s “Developing Female Leaders” workshop through intentional outreach. Her intentional approach results in more resources and participation, leaving UNC Kenan-Flagler stronger than when she found it.

Finally, Farisha works together. She takes the time to develop thoughtful relationships with her peers, faculty, staff and alumni. She constantly seeks out ways to help and encourage others. Her optimism and joy leave everyone she meets in a better place. Farisha brings together diverse stakeholders to tackle tough questions, which often result in stronger bonds. Two years is not enough time to fully realize Farisha’s potential, but her mark is forever made at UNC Kenan-Flagler.”

Katie Masood
Director of Development, UNC Kenan-Flagler


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