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“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.” Malcolm Forbes

Who am I? I am confident, an initiator, a problem-solver; I use my communication skills and emotional intelligence to motivate others to attain goals. The constant in my life that has shaped how I act, react, and make decisions – diversity.

I grew up immersed in two cultures with very different traditions. My father’s side of the family is Welsh. On my mother’s side, my great grandfather was the second Prime Minister of my country. We are also diverse in our wide range of talents, from architecture (my dad) to music (my mother is a professional pianist) to wine (my uncle, an INSEAD alumnus, heads a well-known local wine label).

As a child I watched each one’s uniqueness enrich the whole. For example, our extended family, all 40 of us, has a special April tradition; we build a camp in the desert for 8 days, our own Burning Man festival. Each one contributes from his strengths; my father plans the tent construction, my uncle creates a special wine for the occasion, my mother is in charge of music, and as the years have passed I find myself ‘producing’ the event, from arranging food and supplies to creating galabias (long, flowing Arabic robes) with a family logo for us all.

This tradition taught me that finding and utilizing the strengths of each team member not only maximizes productivity, it creates synergy, strengthening the group dynamic and enriching all members of the team through exposure to others’ expertise.  My happiest moments professionally are seeking patterns to structure a team that will cultivate the individual while helping everyone to share the big picture, our mutual goal. That is why I’ve given each salesperson in our store a camera, to view our merchandise and clientele through their own lens and express their personal vision of our brand.

The amazing diversity I’ve experienced in my life has shaped me in other ways as well. At 14, I was accepted to a choir that traveled abroad 3 or 4 times a year to perform in communities around the globe. I loved getting to know people from countries including Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, Peru, Japan, England, Italy, France, and the USA. Moreover, working intensively with our small group of 20 and managing the logistics of travel as a teen gave me problem-solving skills and the ability to forecast long-term consequences, as well as a lesson in how devotion to a goal can motivate a team.

When one of my younger sisters was diagnosed with anorexia, my ability to understand, motivate, and put the strengths of others to good use was truly put to the test. It hit my family so hard that suddenly I found myself in charge. Navigating that challenge was the most difficult and important thing I have ever accomplished, a trial by fire that has given me the strength going forward to take on herculean tasks.

In terms of weaknesses, I know that I can be impatient. Once I ‘get the idea’, I’m ready to move forward and I want everyone around me to be as ready and as enthusiastic as I am. I manage this tendency through awareness and analysis, working to recognize when my impatience is rising, and stopping to consider whether ‘pushing’ will help or hinder the situation. Am I with a client who needs kid gloves? Am I with my employees? I am honored that the excellent teams I have built understand and appreciate my management style, and find my direct approach motivational rather than off-putting. And they freely remind me that my impatience often results from bogging down in detail. Trusting my team to do their best work always solves the problem.

It is very nice meeting with you on my way to Kampala. I have a meeting tomorrow with the largest water company in Uganda. Out of all the sectors that I cover at the World Bank Group, water is the most exciting, due to the inherent challenges and the significant positive social impact that can be made in it. I have managed water purification projects in India, Uganda and Ghana and played a key role in financial engineering and structuring aspects of these projects.

One of the greatest challenges in the sector is limited capital availability, and I intend one day to set up a Private Equity fund focused on Africa and Asia in order to attract private capital to the sector. In order to achieve this long-term goal, I plan to spend 5 to 10 years post-MBA at a leading PE firm, and eventually move into a Director role at a water sector-focused company in Africa. After gaining the skills I need to run an investment fund, I will start working towards launching my own PE fund.

I come from a humble background in Sri Lanka, and if education had not been affordable in my home country, I would not have made it to where I am today. I am grateful to society for that, and feel I owe a whole lot back. I believe that the best way to give back to society is by making people’s lives better. Over the last decade, I have led several programs to bring sustainable development to the community. In these challenging programs, I have managed teams of 10-20 members in design, implementation and fundraising activities, including establishing a scholarship fund for students from low-income families. I also had the privilege to host a weekly live finance TV show on Sri Lanka’s national network, and to found a venture involving polythene recycling to address a growing social issue of waste management in the country.

I am always exploring ways to bring sustainable impact to society, and establishing and managing a water sector-focused PE fund would be my ultimate professional and personal goal.

“This is the local qualifier for the 2013 U.S. Open. On the tee from Johannesburg, South Africa, ____________!” An applause follows the introduction from the patrons gathered around the tee box. My heart is pounding through my chest and my hands continue to perspire rapidly. I tee the ball up, pause for a brief moment, close my eyes and visualize my family. A wave of calmness and confidence sweep through my body as flashbacks of various life moments circle through my brain.

I was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (present day Serbia), a country at the time in late 1988 facing immense political uncertainty. The instability led to many fundamental social rights, such as healthcare, being partially neglected and underfunded. In fact, my mother spent extensive hours in labor with me because of an inadequate number of available physicians at the hospital. A series of complications ensued that ultimately forced the doctors into immediate action in an effort to save both of our lives.  Their actions were thankfully successful, a miracle one could say; however, not without consequence as I was immediately treated for a bodily incision during the birth. My first few moments alive would prove to be a microcosm of my life going forward, one of incredible opportunism and continual perseverance.

Two and a half years later with Yugoslavia on the brink of a civil war, my parents made a brave decision to seek refuge and migrate to South Africa, a country facing its own political uncertainty with the end of the Apartheid regime. South Africa was our only option due to strict visa limitations. We arrived as a family with three suitcases and limited financial resources. I was immediately enrolled in a daycare in which English and Afrikaans were the only spoken languages; I did not speak a word of either language. My father worked nightshifts, while my mother walked five kilometers with me to school every day, before proceeding to work. Our goal as a family for the first decade was simple – survive.

Shortly after my twelfth birthday, my father’s job transferred him to the U.S. for an undefined period of time. Due to the uncertainty around his transfer, my mother and I stayed in South Africa to eliminate any risk of me having to switch schools on multiple occasions. For the next three years, our small family would be separated by 8,500 miles. Growing up as a teenager without a father figure at home was extremely challenging, yet at the same time the circumstances forced me to mature much faster. I quickly recognized the importance of discipline, responsibility and loyalty in my support towards my mother.

However, I was also very fortunate in that I grew up in a young democracy under one of the greatest leaders of our generation, and my hero, Nelson Mandela. I witnessed first-hand the incredible way his leadership transformed our country and provided every South African with hope for a more prosperous future. Mandela’s resilience, passion to serve others and courageous leadership would leave a lasting impact on how I would choose to lead my life going forward. Yet, despite the significant progress in South Africa through the early 2000’s, a substantial percentage of the population continued to face challenges associated with inadequate access to health care. Through volunteer initiatives at health clinics while in high school in Johannesburg, I quickly realized the importance of modern medicine. Health care has always been an instrumental facet of my life.

By the start of my junior year of high school, my mother and I immigrated to the U.S. I was initially very excited to move to America, a place that had always seemed unattainable, and more importantly, I was overjoyed to be reunited with my father. However, reality quickly set in and the first six months would culminate into the most challenging period of my life. I was in a complete state of culture shock! I felt intimidated, overwhelmed and nostalgic, as I craved for the familiarity I left behind in South Africa.  However, I also recognized that a life in America presented me with an opportunity of a lifetime, a blessing, and I simple refused to quit. Instead, I persevered and put forth a deliberate effort towards adapting to my new surroundings. By my senior year, after only 15 months in the U.S., I was selected by classmates as the Homecoming King. I was delighted to have been able to connect with members of a new culture and develop strong friendships in such a short period of time.

I have lived alone in America since the age of seventeen as I progressed through college and the initial years of my professional career, yet throughout I have continued to feel a strong yearning towards South Africa. My entire family is overseas and I still consider South Africa to be home. For now though, my goal is to enhance my formal business training in an environment that promotes diversity, across both work experiences and opinions, and stimulates an inspiring discussion of complex, global business challenges. After attending an information session on August 16th, 2017 and talking to alums, my decision was reaffirmed that Harvard Business School will offer me the fast-paced, dynamic learning environment that I seek and thrive in. The unique case method approach and FIELD immersive learning experience at Harvard Business School both serve as an enriching opportunity to enhance my analytical aptitude and business leadership potential.

The plethora of professional and social clubs offered at Harvard Business School, such as the African Business Club, will allow me to engage actively with classmates, assume leadership positions and contribute to the community. Furthermore, The Africa Business Conference provides a tremendous platform to connect with business leaders passionate about Africa, and I look forward to contributing and addressing topics pertaining to transformation and innovation within health care. From an academic perspective, the Health Care Initiative will also enable me to structure part of my business education to focus on health care disciplines such as strategy, management and operations, while surrounded by classmates who share a similar passion for transforming the industry.

My long-term career goal is a health care entrepreneurial endeavor throughout Africa that revolutionizes access to health services on the continent. Over half the population still lacks adequate access to health care. Millions of Africans continue to suffer from preventable diseases. I refuse to simply accept that such statistics should be the norm. Through improved telemedicine capabilities, partnerships with local governments to develop satellite provider facilities and innovative education, my dream is to drastically improve lives and health care in Africa. The prestigious Harvard Business School brand name and global network, specifically the 452 alums in Johannesburg, will connect me to instrumental leaders who will provide the dynamic support structure necessary as I pursue my goal. My passion and purpose is to make this dream a reality.

I come from a very big family. I have sixteen aunts, fourteen uncles, and one hundred and fifty cousins. Three years ago I decided to capitalize on our family-oriented culture by starting an initiative to promote charity and community involvement among my family members. I worked with my cousins to elect a management committee amongst ourselves to run the program. Every month, the committee collects donations from a hundred of my cousins to purchase food and basic necessities to be distributed to poor local families. In three years, we’ve donated more than $100,000 benefiting 600 families across five cities in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.

When the word started spreading about the program, we were approached by a number of big families in the region to help them implement a similar initiative in their own families. As I hope for the program to continue as a legacy in my family for generations to come, I aspire to turn this simple idea to a sustainable non-profit program that can be easily implemented by families or other groups and expand its impact to the wider society. I therefore hope to take advantage of CBS’ Nonprofit Board Leadership Program to gain the necessary practical training and understand the challenges faced by other non-profits and learn how to strengthen my own program and pass it to the future generations.

Being a daughter of two politicians, I once accompanied my father to the State of the Nation Address delivered by President Zuma in Parliament. When the media approached my father for a comment, he was firm and honest in his response, acknowledging progress made but highlighting the president’s failure to address unemployment. From my father’s example, I learnt how to stand up for what I believe yet also to be attentive to others’ opinions. In one instance, I motivated that my employee be promoted, listened to the challenge from other managers and in rebuttal, shared practical examples of his excellent performance to reach consensus.

I grew immensely when I moved from the small town where I grew up to the bustling city of Johannesburg to study actuarial science. I was intrigued by the idea of building predictive models after an actuary visited my school to talk about the profession, offering bursaries and I promised to also give back. Determined to empower others, while chairing the university Business Society I initiated an entrepreneurship forum for students to share their innovative business ideas. The number of students participating doubled to 300 in a year, and I was delighted when many opened small businesses on campus.

I always wanted to work in a cross-cultural environment and immerse myself in diverse ethnicity. When I relocated to the Old Mutual UK office I realized that the local organisational structure was less hierarchical. As a result, decisions were made faster and change, including products I re-priced, was quickly implemented. I adjusted by proactively engaging on my product ideas to influence change instead of continuously receiving change. This experience gave me insights into change management in an international setting, allowed me to bridge cultural differences and sparked a passion to make a global impact.

During yoga practice I constantly aspired to reach the perfect poses. I was introduced to yoga during a visit to India, when I admired the serenity that surrounded local practitioners. Over time I realized that my relentless aspiration for perfectionism was making it more difficult for me to compromise and settle. I consulted with my yoga teacher who helped me put things into perspective and concentrate on the present. This viewpoint transferred to work, where I was easier on myself when standardizing the profit templates across countries, and accepted that this could not be achieved perfectly given different systems used to generate data.

Passionate to help others, I volunteered in a civil society organisation and launched 15 food gardens, creating incomes for 150 previously unemployed people. Even though I was operating at full capacity, I felt obligated to help another volunteer in distress to source sprinklers for the gardens, and I obtained insufficient seeds to grow the vegetables, delaying the end product. I learnt that even though I constantly strive to please others, I need to define clear boundaries to be effective. For example, during our valuation when deadlines are tight, I politely declined to proof-read a colleague’s report which was a good decision as we met deadlines in the nick of time.

My diverse experiences have shaped my character and aspirations, while my determination to build on my strengths and address my weaknesses serves as a ground for becoming a global leader.

In my childhood, my passions tended to be on the geeky side. They included chess, math, and stamp-collecting (I have one of every stamp printed between 1970 and 1980 in my country), and I believe they sharpened my intellect as well as my autodidact skills. When I turned ten, my father bought me my first computer, and I dove into studying various programming languages, using them to create a gaming website, which ultimately had hundreds of visitors per week. That is probably when the entrepreneurial bug first entered my life, and it’s been with me and growing ever since.

Alongside these more intellectual hobbies, I took up basketball, keen on developing my social and athletic side. Serving as my team’s captain for most of the ten years I played in school, I was privileged to gain invaluable leadership experience at a young age, and experienced the thrill of leading my team to win three championships. Among all the lessons I learned from this sport, I think the most important was the realisation that talent alone will not enable a person to achieve his or her goals. One must also have endurance, dedication, and a firm belief in oneself.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved numbers – from calculating each person’s share of a restaurant bill to analysing football team statistics. Due to this strength, and others, I was selected to serve in an elite intelligence unit. It also helped me to finish university first in my class, despite working over 36 hours per week as an Investment Analyst.

One area I’ve been working to improve this past year is my tendency to be overly impulsive. As an example, I left a coveted position after four years, to join a startup – and then eventually left the startup, when I realized that I prefer to work with startups and not for them. Had I taken the time to truly consider my options, I might have made a wiser choice. I’ve done a good deal of soul searching about this feature, and have been working on making more weighted, informed decisions. At INSEAD, I’m especially eager to take some electives in the Decision Sciences – particularly Management Decision Making, which can help me to examine how to make decisions and avoid common pitfalls – both in business and in my daily life, knowing it will make me a better leader, businessman, and husband.

Finally, I consider one of my greatest strengths to be the ability to go outside my comfort zone. For a long time I wanted to work more internationally, and to have something I could call my own. One of my proudest moments was getting past the fear I felt of entering something risky and unknown, to seize an opportunity and establish my own eCommerce business. Establishing Vinopo has paid off in many ways – not only in business knowledge and success, but also with the knowledge that facing one’s fears can only strengthen oneself.

Hello! Thanks for meeting me here at the Mumbai airport.

My name is _____________. I was born in India, attended college in California, and was recently naturalized as an American citizen. I currently head my family business of industrial logistics in India.

Three years ago, if you would have asked me whether I would think that I would head a 65 person company, I would have answered with a resounding NO!

As a burns victim, I was always more interested in Healthcare. I wanted to help people by becoming a burns specialist surgeon. My journey in business started with what I consider the worst day of my life; the day my father passed away from a heart attack. Only 22 at the time, I had no prior experience in business, yet, the responsibility of running the business came on my shoulders. I also had to take care of my mother and grandmother, so failure was not an option.

In the last three years, I have learned a great deal about running a business; Managing and growing the business has completely altered my career path. As a logistics service provider to healthcare companies, I learned of supply chain costs and the importance of business acumen to optimize operations and decrease costs in healthcare. I realized I could have a much larger impact on the healthcare system as a whole in a business role.

I even got a chance to sharpen my business skills by collaborating with a non-profit organization to set up a school for less privileged children in India. This was an important personal accomplishment for me and I intend to continue this spirit in Pittsburgh.

With the help of an MBA from CMU Tepper and its analytical approach to management, my goal is to fill the gaps in my business knowledge in order to be part of the value-based healthcare shift in American healthcare. I want to help the industry in a healthcare consulting role to provide patients with more value for their money and become more transparent while maintaining healthy margins through efficiency. This is where I believe my passions and skills meet the best.

Harvard U

Harvard University

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