I believe that the diversity of backgrounds and ideas ultimately leads to a richer learning environment.
Kevin Diehn

Kevin Diehn

kevin
Nationality: American Year Graduated: 2020 Current Role: INSEAD MBA '20J Student

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far.

Passionate from a young age about how science becomes technology and products, I’ve had the opportunity to invent and commercialise products in two different industries and develop them each into sustainable companies.

At Grip Boost Inc., we created a patented thin-film polymer grip gel to enhance the grip of athletic gloves for football, baseball, and golf. By raising seed funding and developing a strategic partnership with Lizard Skins, a leader in athletic grip products, we have sold over $1.5M of our products online and in over 200 retail stores across the world and helped tens of thousands of athletes perform at their highest potential.

In addition, as a strategic consultant for a start-up pharmaceutical cold-chain shipping company, I created and developed a chemical sensor technology to prevent temperature excursions for fragile pharmaceutical products during shipping. After developing a manufacturing process and rigorously validating the product, we scaled production and quality management via a partner company in Mexico. At present, sales continue to grow and their re-usable sensor is used by the majority of the top 50 pharma companies in the world every day.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? 

As Grip Boost has continued to grow, we have been able to achieve the volumes and scale to outsource a number of our day-to-day activities to partners. As I look forward to the next steps in my career, an INSEAD MBA will enable me to grow as a leader by surrounding myself with highly-talented people who will themselves be future leaders at top companies across the world. Over the next decade of my career, I hope to enhance the global impact of my career, and there is no better place to do that than at INSEAD.

What other MBA programmes did you apply to? 

In addition to INSEAD, I applied to and was accepted with a scholarship to UVA Darden. The Darden school community was incredibly welcoming and made my decision a difficult one.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? 

Initially, I used a combination of the school’s websites and Poets & Quants to learn generally about the schools and their recent headlines. As I continued the process, I spent more and more time on Poets & Quants for its highly valuable and spot-on information, specifically about the types of students one can find at each school through their “Meet the Class of” series.

In my case, I was seeking schools that had a strong academic rigor to challenge myself to grow intellectually as a business person. In particular, I sought a school that uses the “case method” as this style strongly aligns with how I learned day-to-day in the start-up world. Then, with shortlist in hand, I found it best to reach out to current and former students to hear their take on the school. These interactions will tell you what you need to know very quickly: Did they respond promptly; Were they enthusiastic about their alma mater; Where did their MBA take their career, etc.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? 

Inspirational. The diverse experiences of my classmates and their willingness to share them provides nearly limitless opportunities to learn about a new problem, a new industry, or a new country through the lens of a brilliant mind. All you need to do is ask.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this programme for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? 

The key factor that drew me to INSEAD was the opportunity to surround myself with highly-talented people in an unfamiliar environment in which no one background or culture is in the majority. At INSEAD, I believe that the diversity of backgrounds and ideas ultimately leads to a richer learning environment. Along with my classmates, I will grow as a person and leader by taking in a wide range of viewpoints with an open mind before determining one’s own values and beliefs.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? 

Improv comedy. Through improv comedy with my classmates, I’m excited to learn and to practice the skills to intently listen to people around you before speaking and to remain open to building on their ideas, no matter how crazy they may seem at first. In addition to sharing lots of laughs, these skills will continue to serve us in the long term, by enhancing our ability to operate on teams and to more effectively solve some of the world’s toughest problems regardless of where we end up at after INSEAD.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process?

“A lot of MBA students dream of doing a start-up, so why not just start another company instead of getting an MBA?”  Over the course of my start-up experience, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to invent and develop two technologies from idea to prototype to a commercially viable product. Still, as an engineer-turned-entrepreneur, the tools that I have learned on the job were primarily those that were needed directly for my company; with a formal business education, I will expand my skills to a greater toolset for working with people from a wide variety of backgrounds in a wider variety of roles. Such skills will be useful in developing the strategic partnerships that can be the key to launching new ideas and new products to the next level regardless of the size and type of organisation.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? 

A key defining moment for me was submitting the final report for the Engineers Without Borders project for which I served as a project leader for 18 months at the University of Maryland. Engineers Without Borders is a student-driven organisation that finds, designs, and implements engineering projects in communities across the world. Up until I applied to the project, I had never led any teams, spoken a word of French, or thought I would travel to Africa.

Just a year later, I had led a team of 25-30 students in weekly design meetings and traveled with a team of eight people to implement our solar-powered lighting systems for rural maternal health clinics in Dissin, Burkina Faso. Applying for the project leader position and leading the project all the way to completion showed me the power of putting one’s self into new and challenging circumstances to find your limits. In this case, the limits were much higher than I had thought. The quiet, inexperienced engineering student I had been now spoke with confidence to a room full of people and had international project management experience.

This experience has continued to inspire me at my later decision points, such as when I decided to pursue a start-up with two friends from the University of Maryland and again as I applied to INSEAD to get my MBA across the world. In my time at INSEAD and beyond, I hope to continue to choose the path that feels just a bit out of reach to again feel that sense of growth.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? 

In ten years, I hope to find myself reflecting on a decade that built upon my entrepreneurial background with a global MBA from INSEAD, placed me into a globally-minded company with a passion for innovation, and fostered a global perspective on how to implement change and new ideas. Toward this end, I see myself working to foster innovation be it at a company or my own start-up.

As a broader life goal, I am also interested in how start-ups and entrepreneurship can provide economic opportunity in communities in need of a boost. Having grown up in Baltimore, Maryland, I have seen a thriving entrepreneurship scene that has been a boon for the city’s economic future. Having lived in Lusaka, Zambia over the past year, I saw first-hand some communities that would benefit tremendously from a thriving entrepreneurial community but lacks some key elements. As I grow in my career, I hope to bring my career experiences to the table to make entrepreneurship more accessible for underserved communities across the world, both in the U.S. and in emerging markets.

 

This interview was originally published on Poets&Quants Meet INSEAD's MBA Class of 2020