Before we introduce today’s guest, I want to invite you to our newest webinar, Get Accepted to INSEAD. This is the latest addition to our “Get Accepted to” webinar series and the first time that we are focusing on a school outside the U.S.
If you’re interested in INSEAD, listen on! Today’s guest is Aly Madhavji, a recent INSEAD MBA grad. Aly graduated from University of Toronto in 2012 with a bachelors in commerce and became a consultant for PWC. He was extraordinarily active while in college, and although I’m not going to detail all his activities, you’ll have to trust me that it is an impressive list. After graduating he wrote a book titled Your Guide to Succeed in University, which provides a recent grad’s perspective on how to get the most out of your overall college experience. That was followed by a few other guides for various stripes of graduate students. He worked at PWC until December 2015 and rose to become a Senior Consultant. Next year, he will be a Schwartzman Scholar in Tsinghua University in Beijing. Welcome, Aly!
How did you decide on a career in business? [2:18]
Like many millennials, I went through a difficult decision process! I actually originally wanted to be a fighter pilot, and I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. I ultimately decided it wasn’t for me, and I went to university, where I considered many fields.
What helped me most was having mentors. Conversations with mentors helped me realize that business would be the best springboard for change.
I joined PWC in the insurance practice, then worked there as a consultant. It was an extraordinary opportunity to travel and gain broad experience.
Some people have a more cynical view of business. How would you respond? [4:35]
I definitely see the tension, and I know business isn’t always a positive force! But in my view, business has the ability to help people create jobs for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to provide for their families; it has the ability to challenge the status quo. I see it as a way to work for the betterment of society.
Can you tell me a little about your book? [6:50]
I’ve now written three books. The original was Your Guide to Succeed in University. I’ve now added Your Guide to Get Into Medical School and Your Guide to Succeed After Graduation. I worked with medical doctors and other experts.
It was a blessing to get lucky with this project. It grew out of conversations when I was a student board member at the University of Toronto. In addition to creating reports for uni stakeholders, I was asked to provide a guide for Toronto students. As I worked on that, I realized there was advice I wanted to share more widely. My mentors suggested publishing. I decided to self-publish. And early on, my book was the #1 college book on Amazon and won an international prize.
It’s something I wish I’d had when I was a student.
When I published each book, I made them completely free so students who are on a tight budget can read them.
What’s distinctive about your book? [10:55]
I think the real difference is the fact it comes from a young author providing insights from his own experiences, and that I was willing to share my failures to help people learn. It’s very open and down-to-earth. People can see themselves being able to navigate those situations in the future.
There were three key reasons:
• I wanted time to reflect on my career direction
• I wanted to get a better understanding of my career options
• I wanted a break from my schedule as a consultant to step back, study, meet people, and recharge
Why INSEAD? [14:45]
What really stood out for me was the nearly unmatched diversity of the students. The ability to work in this setting gives an understanding of different cultures and work practices, builds acceptance and understanding, and helps you learn to operate business more effectively.
I wanted to continue to build on my international experience and broaden by horizons.
I’ve spent time on both campuses (more time in Singapore), and I took a course on the Abu Dhabi campus as well. The opportunity to meet business leaders and professors in all three countries is invaluable.
Can you give an example? [18:07]
In Abu Dhabi, we met business leaders but also a security advisor who’d worked in the US and the Middle East. He talked about the political landscape and how it shapes business in the Middle East – how businesses change and continue to change.
What was the hardest part of the INSEAD application process for you? [19:20]
The hardest part is, how do you make your application stand out and show the person behind the paper?
There are two parts to this: how did you get to where you are? And showing your direction from here – how will the institution/credential get you there?
The challenge is to step back and see your story externally, talk to mentors, and then put it on paper. Show what’s really unique about you.
Did you have any challenges with INSEAD’s video? [21:25]
It can be a little awkward at the start to do a video interview. The key is to show your personality as if it was a conversation in person. Focusing on your overall strategy – how the MBA will help you – helps.
I’ve done a lot of these for jobs, too!
What will you miss about INSEAD? [23:00]
Being surrounded by very bright minds who have work/life experience in diverse countries, and being able to grab a coffee, chat, or work through problems with people who have such diverse experiences.
That’s not an environment/level of diversity you encounter very many places or times in your life.
What could be improved at INSEAD? [24:55]
Like any institution, INSEAD runs very well but there are areas where it could improve. The student experience was fantastic! But I wonder if certain course requirements could be improved to account for students’ credentials, though I understand the challenge (with students coming from so many countries).
INSEAD just repeated as FT’s #1 program in the world.
You have accounting designations, experience as a consultant, and an MBA – why are you going for another degree with Schwarzman Scholars? [27:50]
It’s a good question. I wouldn’t have gone back to school for any program except something like this. The caliber of students, the network of leaders investing in the students and program – it’s a unique opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.
People say, “Aren’t you passing up a year of work experience?” I think it’s a springboard to more opportunities. Not to mention, hopefully, learning Mandarin.
What was the most difficult part of the Schwarzman Scholars application? [30:30]
Similar to MBA or other grad applications, the main challenge is really making your story come alive, through the essays and video interview.
The second piece is the in-person process, which also has its own excitement. I went to Bangkok for a panel interview (which was with prominent leaders) and a team building exercise with other finalists. It was an opportunity I really cherished – every candidate I met had an incredible story!
Really focusing on the positive aspects of that (rather than worrying about not getting selected) is hard, but has many benefits.
What are your plans for after your Schwarzman year? [33:45]
I’m still exploring. I’m open to careers in business, especially the social sector side of business. I’m interested in education (particularly higher ed). I’m still exploring the best ways to have an impact. I want to help mentor students and change their trajectories.
Any advice for applicants to INSEAD or Schwarzman Scholars? [35:17]
Reaching out to INSEAD students and Schwarzman Scholars – learn about their experience.
Networking is an important aspect. Build the knowledge to help you stand out.
Do the things you’re passionate about and prepare to tell your story.
Take the leap of faith and apply! A lot of people sell themselves short and don’t apply. Do everything you can to prepare, and make the most of the experiences you have along the way.
• Get Into INSEAD, the International Business School, Talk with Admissions Director Virginie Foujea
• The Schwarzman Scholars Program: Leaders of the Future Unite, Talk with Director Dr. Rob Garris
• Building Your Consulting Career, and a Look Back at a Tuck MBA