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Busting the MBA myth: why ‘diversity’ is the buzz word for business schools

3 November 2015

The article at a glance

Think you don’t fit the right “profile”? Reckon business school isn’t for you? Think again. The MBA stereotype, placing MBAs in the …

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Think you don’t fit the right “profile”? Reckon business school isn’t for you? Think again.

The MBA stereotype, placing MBAs in the realm of a few professions only, is out of date. For the incoming Class of 2015, b-school is about gearing up to the cutting-edge of knowledge and experience to set up new businesses, lead from the front in the C-Suite and perhaps even change the world. And no wonder – they come from all academic, cultural, social and professional backgrounds.

“Getting the right mix of experiences in the class is our top priority”, says Conrad Chua, Head of MBA Admissions at Cambridge Judge Business School. “To be in project teams with people from all over the world, to hear examples from the world of Chinese real estate, for example, or the German high-tech sector, is so valuable. It’s a completely different MBA experience than going into class surrounded by hundreds of people just like you. And in a class our size, students get a chance to really interact with each and every peer. We actively seek out candidates from all sectors, with scholarships on offer for beyond profit professionals for example, or people from the culture or media sectors.”

So at Cambridge in the class of 157 this year, you’ll get a broad mix of people. Here we meet three students who have just begun their Cambridge MBA at Cambridge Judge Business School – each of whom has taken a very different route to get here.

Ian Nagle, 26 – Dublin, Ireland

Ian Nagle
Ian Nagle, MBA 2015

Ian played professional rugby for one of the best teams in Europe, Irish side Munster. But at the height of a career which saw him named man of the match in the team’s historic 2010 win against Australia and tipped to represent Ireland in this year’s World Cup, he suddenly, at the age of 25, quit the game to do an MBA at Cambridge Judge Business School.

Why did you give up rugby to do an MBA?

A lot of people have asked me that question! A few reasons, but mainly that the timing was right. That sounds strange, for the age that I am and the position I was in, but I felt that I’d come to a crossroads. Over the previous few years I had several injuries, one of which resulted in a shoulder reconstruction, so my body was telling me that I needed a break. I was in and out of squads and I could see the benefit of resting out of the game for a period of time. Several clubs made very good offers, so it was a tough decision not to continue playing.

However, I have always had a very keen interest in business – my first degree is in commerce, and I’ve always wanted to create my own company. There’s also a lot of crossover between business and professional sport in terms of management and leadership. There’s an incredible network associated with sport and rugby in particular, one that can offer huge support for a future start-up. Hopefully I can connect the learnings of an MBA with the resources available through the sporting network.

Why did you come to Cambridge?

I looked at a few business schools but Cambridge just kept being the one to beat. There are so many strands to it – the programme itself and the projects, the chances to learn within a company and, more than anything, the fantastic opportunity to network in the colleges, the clubs, and the wider business community. I also like the idea that it’s a one-year course versus the typical two year American programmes.

What excites you most about the year ahead?

The opportunity to interact and work with such a variety of people. The MBA appeals to individuals from completely different backgrounds, so it will be very interesting to learn and share ideas with those coming from varying perspectives and experiences.

How do you think your MBA will help you?

I want to put a business plan together for an idea that I have around food and sport. That was another reason for taking time out when I did- because I feel there’s an opportunity there that could be taken soon. I also want to build my understanding on some of the fundamentals required in business such as finance, accounting and data analysis. I’m aware that a lot of people tend to change direction during an MBA, but if that happens, great – if I do, then hopefully it’s because the new direction is even better.

Can you see yourself playing professional rugby again?

There’s definitely a part of me that wants to compete at that level again, and there’s a finite period of when you can physically do that. I don’t think that a career in professional sport and launching a start-up need to be mutually exclusive. Being involved with a professional team can open several doors, and potentially getting some high profile players involved can provide a great launch pad to get started. Whatever happens, I can see myself always involved in the game somehow. In the meantime though, I am hugely excited about starting the MBA and learning as much as possible. I’m under no illusions about the demands of the work but I’ve spoken to several alumni who tell me this will be an incredible year.

Rierens Loupatty, 24 – Jakarta, Indonesia

Rierens Loupatty, MBA 2015
Rierens Loupatty, MBA 2015

Rierens has spent his career to date rising through the ranks at HSBC, where he is currently relationship manager at the company’s commercial banking arm in Jakarta, where he has managed middle market corporate clients with a turnover of up to US$250m.

What made you want to do an MBA?

Quite simply, I thought it was time to go and get more education. There is so much knowledge to be gained and I wanted to take the opportunity to embrace it.

How has your background helped you prepare?

I grew up in Indonesia but left for Australia, completing my degree in banking and corporate finance at Monash University, before returning to Jakarta on HSBC’s graduate programme, where I moved up the ranks to relationship manager. It was interesting and challenging work but it threw up lots of questions for me. For example, at HSBC I worked with private equity companies developing technology products and became fascinated with how these firms, and venture capitalists, help business. Some of the companies I was working with had great knowledge of their product but not necessarily the finance skills to go with it. I wanted to learn more about the fundamentals of business.

What appealed to you about Cambridge?

As well as the core business skills I am interested in innovation, and excited by science-based knowledge. Silicon Fen is amazing – nowhere else in Europe has such a high concentration of innovative technology firms – and with the proximity to the venture capitalists. It is all in one place. What a great opportunity to see it all work together. You can’t get that anywhere other than Cambridge.

What are you particularly looking forward to?

The diversity of the students. I can’t imagine any other business school in the world has such a diversity of culture and personal and professional experience. I know that 95 per cent of Cambridge’s MBA students are from outside the UK – what a fantastic mix of backgrounds. I’m excited to hear from these fellow students about their different industries, learning about fields of which I have absolutely no knowledge. And I’m looking forward to sharing my knowledge, too – hopefully my experience of finance in developing nations can contribute to the knowledge of others.

What about the programme?

There is such a high concentration of world-leading firms in Silicon Fen that I’m really looking forward to the Cambridge Venture Project. But the Global Consulting Project looks excellent and I’m already hoping to do my GCP in Brazil or the US. Not many business schools can offer that! As much as that I’m also just enjoying living in Cambridge – an amazing hub of knowledge contained in a small, green space.

Holly Engelbrecht – Cape Town, South Africa

Holly Engelbrecht, MBA 2015
Holly Engelbrecht, MBA 2015

Holly’s sales career at Norwegian media intelligence group Meltwater has taken her over the last five years from sales consultant to managing director for the company’s Toronto operation and latterly MD of Meltwater’s client acquisition in Singapore.

Why do you think an MBA is right for you?

On paper, my early background isn’t particularly business focused – I got a BA in film and media, created audio books and hosted my own show on student radio! But my parents were both entrepreneurs so I have always had a very healthy interest in business – I did my Master’s in enterprise business, learning about corporate finance and marketing. My career at Meltwater has been in sales with some very exciting clients – helping names such as eBay and KPMG understand social and digital media – and it gave me valuable experience of managing team members from young people to others ten years my senior. But I felt I needed something more. I realised I was craving more intellectual stimulation and the chance to make an impact across a whole business. That’s why I’m doing the MBA.

Why did you choose Cambridge?

Cambridge stole my heart! I wanted to study in Britain because although my family’s roots are in the UK I’d never lived or worked here. A friend of mine who is studying at Cambridge raved about the lectures, the student atmosphere, the buzz, so I was very keen to check it out. But the whole application process was just so perfect and made personal to me – and I’m sure everyone else who applied got exactly the same individual treatment. When I came for interview, there was already individual careers advice. There are so many opportunities for practical experience, tailored to whatever you want to do. I came away thinking the possibilities really were endless – it was really inspirational.

What are you looking forward to?

I’m excited about the people – very excited. It’s clear a lot of care goes into the selection of each person. I like the idea you engage with every level of the faculty, that your college is full of so many different, vibrant people. The programme will be wonderful, of course, but I’m also looking forward to soaking up Cambridge’s history, the ancient colleges, the societies, the Cambridge Union.

How will an MBA help you?

I have loved working at Meltwater and it is with a heavy heart that I move on. But I know that with an MBA I can begin a consulting career and work consistently with people who are truly at the top of their field, and at the top of their game. I want to speak to people who have a real impact on their business, to put briefs to the company’s management and know that I’m helping to shape the direction in which that company will go. That is so exciting.

Having said that, I’m keeping an open mind. The Cambridge MBA brings so many opportunities to work with the very best companies, both during the programme and afterwards, I’m here to learn as much as I can from the programme – from the people and from the fantastic Cambridge community – and see where I go from there!