Tech > Startup > Consulting > ..MBA?!

Writing this on board of GA821 from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta. I’m filled with both sadness and excitement. I’m sad that I left the family I made in KL, but excited to go back to school soon. This writing is also intended to help me sort out my thoughts and hopefully help you in one way or another. In this post, I’m focusing on the career journey and why I opted to do an MBA at INSEAD. In the next post, I’ll share specifically on the INSEAD application process and preparation advices.

P.S: Please feel free to contact me if you are interested to know more or if you have specific questions that I have yet to address here. Here’s the link to my personal website, but you can also contact me through LinkedIn or Instagram.

You can find Part 2 here. It will cover the INSEAD application process and my preparations.

Why MBA?

There are 3 key reasons of why I wanted to do an MBA.

The first is my childhood experience. When I was a kid, I had friends who seems to travel abroad every single holiday. To be frank, I was jealous every time I saw their Disneyland or plane pictures. My family were modest, and we couldn’t afford to travel abroad. In fact, the first time I went abroad was 2010, and that was because my mother had a business trip to China and I could come with her. I was ecstatic to see another country. I still remember that it was a Singapore Airlines flight, CGK-SIN, followed by SIN-Shanghai. I know that this doesn’t look like it relates directly to MBA, but this experience kickstarted my ambition to see the world.

The second is my experience living in Jakarta. The city is well positioned as the center of economic growth of Indonesia. People migrated from villages and small towns to Jakarta in hope of fortune. I daresay it’s the “Jakarta Dream”, much like how the Americans have “American Dream”. A key advantage of being in Jakarta is availability of good jobs. This is further reinforced with the rise of tech startups such as Gojek, Tokopedia, Shopee, Lazada, etc. But living in Jakarta also has some issues that fueled my desire to move. A key issue is the traffic jam and living cost. I lived at the outskirts of the city and I regularly took 1-2 hours for a one way trip (driving) from my home to office. Why not rent a room in the middle of the city? 2 reasons. First, because I work in Services/Consulting. I move around based on where my client is. Second, because rent is expensive and mostly with no facilities. Another key issue is inclusion. I think that we’re moving to a more conservative direction and I’m not comfortable with that. Some politicians are making it worse by utilizing divisive messages based on race or religion to win elections. This experience encouraged me to look beyond Jakarta in hopes of finding another place to call home. What do I need to do to achieve that? I need to build a strong foundation and network to be able to actually move abroad. Without a solid network, I wouldn’t be able to find a job or do business anywhere.

The last is my career journey. I’ve accumulated about 5 years of work experience and I reflected upon where I want to go in the future. My experience in tech, startup, and consulting showed me what kind of work excites me. I’m excited to work with people to create innovation and transformation. I prefer to forge new ways of working instead of just following the old. I believe open discussions with no hard feelings are extremely important. Finally, I dislike it when I don’t have clear goals. So with those in mind, what’s next? I would like to be a business leader that is known for transforming organizations. To go there, I want more experience in strategy development & execution leadership work. Unfortunately, based on my experience, I don’t have a proven track record yet of strategy development work and I don’t have a lot of leadership experience. And thus I want to improve those skills.

Combining all 3 drivers, my experience in Kuala Lumpur is an indicative sign that I’m going to the right direction. I lived in Kuala Lumpur for roughly 9 months, and worked on a blockchain project for a Resources company. I felt like it was a long holiday. I was able to comfortably live outside of Jakarta, and even though the work was tough, the team was awesome and the work was exciting.

So in conclusion, I assessed that an MBA would help me build skills and network quicker to be able to achieve my goals in the future.

Why INSEAD?

First thing I checked to find the right school for me was MBA rankings. Unlike other masters’ degree, MBA has so many published rankings with various methodology. Universities proclaiming “we’re a top business school in the world” is irrelevant. What’s relevant is what other people think about that university and MBA Rankings helps you understand what’s the general view or consensus about the schools. When you check most MBA Rankings, it’s highly dominated by the US schools, think Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogs, Booth, Berkeley. But there are several business schools outside the US that consistently rank great, such as INSEAD, LBS and HEC Paris.

Then the next question was, “In an ideal world, where everything goes according to plan, where do I want to settle down in the long term?” For me, the answer was Europe/Australia/Canada. Thus, the school I picked need to have a strong name in those 3 regions.

And finally, “what industry do I want to go to after MBA?”. As I wanted to go to strategy development and execution leadership, I looked for schools that produces a lot of strategy consultants.

Combining the answer of the 3 questions, INSEAD becomes a natural choice for a few things:

  • It’s a highly regarded business school with alumni all around the world.
  • There’s more than X nationalities in a class, and there’s 3 campuses (Fontainebleau, Singapore and Abu Dhabi). There’s flexibility of where I want to be based on, and it’ll help me experience many cultures quickly. Both will help me understand what kind of culture I’m most comfortable in.
  • It’s basically the “consulting school of the world” where most graduates go to Strategy Consulting.
INSEAD Singapore Campus

Thankfully, INSEAD has a campus in Singapore. I managed to visit the campus and set up a time to talk to Aidan from the MBA recruitment and marketing team to understand more about the school and the admission process.

Aidan shared to me about the school’s diversity, and the admission director’s (Minh Huy Lai) passion on inclusion. That was the first thing that resonated with me. After that we discussed on what INSEAD is looking for, he emphasized the international experience requirement, and open mindedness requirement. When I say open mindedness, the school will pit you with people from very different culture that without being open minded, you’ll struggle. Then we discussed my career journey, and which parts he thought I need to emphasize in the application. Finally he shared the results of the program for current students and the strength of the INSEAD alumni community. This discussion cemented my decision to apply because I identify with the school’s values and directions for students.

In Summary

Based on my childhood experience, Jakarta experience and career journey, an MBA is a great way to achieve my goals. Then based on school reputation, geographic location and industry focus, INSEAD is the school of choice for me.

Read the part 2 of this post for the application process and preparation advice!

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