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Will an MBA make you truly ‘global’?

As the world tackles the pandemic and its wide-ranging effects, the need for professionals with global sensitivities, abilities and ambitions is more vital than ever. How does an MBA degree equip students to respond to these challenges and continue to make an impact in their careers, on a global stage?

Global communication network concept illustrating video conferencing.

Your new community

Maxine Nwaneri
Maxine Nwaneri (MBA 2007)

If you’ve lived and worked in one culture, especially in a large ‘monoculture’ such as China or Russia, then a business school could be your first experience of living and working with a large group of different nationalities.

For Cambridge MBA alumna Maxine Nwaneri (MBA 2007), it was a shock:

“It took me out of my comfort zone of exposure to mainly two countries – Nigeria and the UK – and plunged me into a rich pool of different perspectives and ways of thinking and seeing the world. At first, I felt uncomfortable, but I soon adapted – we were all in the same situation, after all.”

“The class size at Cambridge is a very powerful advantage in this regard” says Amy Kennedy-George, Head of MBA Programme at Cambridge Judge Business School, “in that you can’t hide among people you feel comfortable with! Classes are streamed, and the streams are changed so that, throughout the year, students will work with each other across the c.200-strong class, and the 40+ nationalities”.

“Students organise cultural events themselves and mix with a wide variety of nationalities through their Cambridge College. Our faculty here is also very international. Then there is the fact that Cambridge’s location, close to some of the major UK airports, makes it a great base from which to take short haul flights at weekends to different countries and gain exposure to many different cultures.”

Amy also highlights the Management Praxis course on the MBA, which is significant enough to span two terms of the Cambridge MBA:

“This course is designed to bring a global community together and help everyone to communicate and work effectively across cultural boundaries, and latterly how to contribute to and lead high performance teams. The first MBA team project, the Cambridge Venture Project, deliberately puts diverse groups together to deliver a project with a real client company. It’s tough, and immediately impresses on students the need to understand different perspectives, to have highly-polished team-working skills, and to open their eyes to new and unexpected approaches.”

Mahesh Sudhakaran
Mahesh Sudhakaran (MBA 2012)

For Mahesh Sudhakaran, Cambridge MBA alumnus and currently Chief Digital Officer for IBM’s Energy business, the global experience on the MBA brought home the similarities, not the differences, between people:

“Common experiences and challenges are the best way to form a bond and doing this with over 40 nationalities making mistakes and learning together, it is a priceless gift of the MBA. We MBA students discovered we had similar hopes, ambitions, fears and expectations – we were more similar than dissimilar. This realisation was my biggest learning – and I’m eternally thankful to my cohort for that.”

Opportunities to explore

There are numerous opportunities within the Cambridge MBA to tailor the direction of your own studies and experiences – such as through team projects like the Global Consulting ProjectSpecial Interest Groups and treks. It’s all designed to give the students the optimum chance to experience life and work in as many global communities and settings as possible.

At Cambridge, the extra-curricular activities are strong too, with student-led activities to drive initiatives and seek collaborations.

“The students form Special Interest Groups and can direct them as they want to. This makes it very dynamic and interesting as the SIGs are different every year depending on who is in that year’s cohort.” Says Cecile Gani in the Careers team.

“Some are geographically, and some sector focused. We have groups concentrating on Africa, Asia, the Middle East, China and Japan. The Africa group holds a flagship conference in Cambridge each year, playing host to a wide community with interest in African government and companies.”

“Student treks are also a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the business reality and culture of a new region, to understand the trends for growth in that market,” says Sadia Cuthbert, Head of Business Development at Cambridge Judge. “There are usually several treks per year to places like Silicon Valley, the Middle East, China, Africa, Japan, Israel (currently not possible physically due to COVID travel restrictions of course) and students organise themselves to visit places of interest. They visit companies, meet alumni, and research employment opportunities. These ‘on-the-ground’ engagements in regional industry hot-spots are a vital part of their global education.”

Launchpad to a global future

Maxine says the experiences she took part in could not have prepared her better when it came to setting up her venture:

“It has made me so much more audacious. Where before I might have felt intimidated in certain situations, now I will get on a plane anywhere and feel I can talk to anyone. My immediate business goal is to help at least 1000 women on each continent overcome the struggle to find work life balance as they start and grow their families, and the MBA set me up brilliantly to do this fearlessly. I emerged from it a real citizen of the world with friends everywhere. There were over 55 nationalities at my wedding which says it all about the reach of my post-MBA circle!”

Mahesh credits his Cambridge experience with kickstarting the global career he dreamt of when he started his education in his home country of India:

“I wanted a truly global job post MBA and Cambridge gave me the skills – hard and soft – to achieve that. With IBM I have had the opportunity to live and work in the UK, China and the US, as well as the opportunity to travel to over 20 countries. Anywhere I have moved globally with my job, Cambridge alumni have helped me settle in, build networks that have helped me locally and navigate the culture. Alumni in China especially went out of their way to ensure I understood the culture and were literally on call to help whenever I needed them.”

Pieter Daneel, who came to the MBA from his family diamond manufacturing business in South Africa, reflects:

“What attracted me to Cambridge for an MBA was largely the opportunity for global networking.

“The experience has transformed me into a global citizen, and I feel that I have the tools and connections to conquer future business opportunities. My network in Africa and South Africa is vast and strong, but the MBA has broadened my horizons through working with and learning from 41 other countries. That is not something you can achieve through an MBA back home.”

And global experiences with COVID-19 restrictions?

The current circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic have not hindered the global outreach nor experience of the current Cambridge MBA class: practical, collaborative learning has never been more important as the world adapts to new challenges and seeks fast solutions. As the crisis peaked in April the Cambridge MBA class of 2019/20 formed 43 teams each working remotely with a global client on a ‘live’ consulting project – the Global Consulting Project (GCP).

While the circumstances for the 2020 GCP precluded global travel, normally a part of the experience for most students, the sector range and global diversity of projects and companies was no less varied: from WWF, the United Nations, and the World Health Organization to financial giants BlackRock and the London Stock Exchange. Students undertook the project in the same way, meeting online instead.

Sweta Adatia, Cambridge MBA alumna and one GCP team member, described the experience as; “An amazing journey. The team was just the right mix of motivation, talent, and skill required for the project. Five team members aligned on three different time zones working in perfect co-ordination”.

And the Cambridge network continues to thrive – University of Cambridge social clubs organised around nationalities, interests or hobbies have shifted either online or adjusted to do in-person socially distanced or outdoors meet ups.

The need for global collaboration has been brought to the top of the agenda across the world as we struggle for control of COVID-19 and its effects across society, business and government. The right MBA programme can certainly accelerate a transition into a new, more global career and lifestyle, and Cambridge MBA alumni continue to forge new paths around the world.