From Tech to Start-up, Consulting and Finally, an MBA?!

Writing this on board of GA821 from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta, I am filled with both sadness and excitement. I'm sad that I left the family I built in KL, but excited to go back to school soon.

This post is also intended to help me sort out my thoughts and hopefully help you in one way or another. In the following blog, I'll focus on my career journey and why I opted to do an MBA at INSEAD. 

PS: 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.

Why MBA?

There are three reasons why I wanted to do an MBA.

The first is my childhood experience.

As a kid, I had friends who seemed to travel abroad every single holiday. To be frank, I was jealous every time I saw their Disneyland or aeroplane pictures. My family was modest, and we couldn’t afford to travel abroad. In fact, the first time I went abroad was in 2010, and that was only because my mother went on a business trip to China that I could join. 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 an MBA, but this experience kick-started my ambition to see the world.

The second is my experience of living in Jakarta.

Jakarta is at the center of economic growth of Indonesia. People migrate from villages and small towns to the capital in the hopes of finding fortune. I daresay it’s the “Jakarta Dream”, much like how the Americans have the “American Dream”. A key advantage of being in Jakarta is the availability of good jobs. This is further reinforced with the rise of tech start-ups such as Gojek, Tokopedia, Shopee, Lazada, etc.

But living in Jakarta also came with issues that fueled my desire to move. Two of which are the traffic jams and living costs. Living in the outskirts of the city, It was a one to two-hour driving commute between home and the office. Why not rent a room in the middle of the city? Two reasons. First, because I work in services/consulting. I move around based on where my client is. Second, because rent is expensive with very little facilities.

Another key issue is inclusion. I think that Indonesia is moving towards a more conservative direction and I’m not comfortable with that. Some politicians are making it worse by utilising 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 needed 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 third reason is my career journey.

By the time I had decided to pursue an MBA, I had accumulated about five years' worth of work experience. Upon reflecting on where I wanted to go in the future and my past experiences in tech, start-ups, and consulting, I looked at what kind of work excited me. I get excited working 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. And I dislike it when I don’t have clear goals.

So with that in mind, I asked myself what was next? Essentially, I wanted to lead businesses and transform organisations. To get to that, I needed more experience in strategy development, and execution leadership work. So I needed an MBA. 

Why INSEAD? 

The first thing I checked when looking for the right school were the MBA rankings. Unlike other master degrees, MBAs have so many published rankings with various methodologies. Universities who proclaim "we're a top business school in the world" are in actual fact irrelevant. What's relevant is what other people think about that university, and MBA rankings help you understand what the general view or consensus is about the different schools.

When you check most MBA rankings, it's highly dominated by the US schools, think Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, Booth, Berkeley. But there are several business schools outside the US that consistently rank great, such as INSEAD, LBS and HEC Paris.

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. So, the school I picked needed to have a strong name in those three regions.

And finally, "what industry do I want to get into after the MBA?". As I wanted to go to strategy development and execution leadership, I looked for schools that produced a lot of strategy consultants.

Combining the answer to these three questions, INSEAD became a natural choice for a few things:

  1. It's a highly regarded business school with alumni all around the world.
  2. There are more than 90 nationalities in a class, and there are three campuses (Fontainebleau, Singapore and Abu Dhabi). There’s flexibility in where I want to be based, helping me experience many cultures quickly. Both will help me understand what kind of culture I’m most comfortable in.
  3. It's basically the "consulting school of the world" where many graduates go into strategy consulting.

insead

I managed to visit the Singapore campus and set up time to talk to Aidan from the MBA recruitment and marketing team to understand more about the school and the admissions process.

Aidan shared information about the school’s diversity and passion on inclusion. That was the first thing that resonated with me. After that, we discussed what INSEAD was looking for, and he emphasised the international experience requirement, as well as the need to be open-minded.

We then discussed my career journey, and which parts he thought I needed to emphasise in the application. Finally he shared the results of the programme 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 was the path I needed to take to achieve my goals. Then based on school reputation, geographic location and industry focus, INSEAD was the school of choice for me.