Real Humans of IESE’s MBA Class of 2021
Yuka Ato, IESE MBA Class of 2021
Hometown: Tokyo, Japan
Undergraduate Institution and Major: International Christian University (Japan). I majored in International development studies.
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry):
I worked for 7 years in a Japanese manufacturing company. Working from the headquarters in Tokyo, I supported and managed the overseas subsidiaries in Europe, Middle East, and Africa, which were responsible for selling our products in these areas. My work was broad, ranging from logistics, marketing, to budget planning. My responsibility throughout my work was to be the ‘bridge’ between the overseas subsidiaries and the Japanese headquarters with the goal to expand overseas sales together as a group.
Why business school? Why now?
I loved my work, especially because I enjoyed working together with everyone in the overseas subsidiaries. I had a passion to make an impact within my company so that we could build a stronger organization and increase overseas sales. But there were times when I felt that I lacked the business skills, especially the leadership and the decision-making skills, that are crucial to make any positive impacts to an organization.
I felt that in order to gain these skills, I would need to ‘get out of my comfort zone’ by placing myself in a ‘challenging’ environment where I would need to work with international students and focus on learning about business from a different, broader perspective.
I felt that the MBA will be the perfect way to gain these skills. The timing was the best for me because my company offered to sponsor me for the MBA.
Why IESE? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
1) International Environment + Diversity: Being in an international, diverse environment was one of the most important factors that I took into account in choosing a business school. Having lived in Australia, Nepal, USA, and of course Japan, and having worked with colleagues from multiple countries, I have developed a strong passion to learn from different values and perspectives. Students from IESE come from various countries and backgrounds, and I felt this was the precise environment that would enable me to learn and enjoy my MBA the most.
2) Case-study focus: When I visited the IESE campus, I was able to attend one of the case-study classes. I realized that the case-study method allows you to not only learn about multiple industries and strategies, but it is a very effective way to develop your decision-making skills. I feel that if you always work on the cases thinking as if you were the CEO it would train yourself to think and make decisions from multiple perspectives.
3) 2-year curriculum: I felt that IESE’s curriculum, where the first year is focused on intense studies to acquire specific skills, and the second year is used flexibly to advance the skills learnt in the first year, would be the best way to fully acquire all the skills I wanted to gain. I was also interested to attend the practical Africa overseas module in the second year, as I am very interested to learn and build more networks in Africa.
4) IESE’s people, community and values: I have met many people from IESE last year – from alumni and current students to the admissions team when I visited campus. I always felt that there was a very warm, welcoming, collaborative atmosphere amongst the people in IESE, and I strongly felt that I wanted to join this community. I was also touched by how the school values strongly on how to make positive impacts to the society as a whole.
For me, the school atmosphere, values, and people were very important factors to consider in my school selection. This is based on my experience on how I focused too much on rankings and school curricula when I had to choose a university for my exchange program in the USA.
Even though I enjoyed my school life there, there were times when I felt I did not fully fit in the community. Since I have spent quite a lot of my time to learn about IESE and I know how welcoming the community is, I am confident that I will fully enjoy my time in IESE.
What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2021?
Throughout my life of living abroad, attending international schools, and working with Japanese and international colleagues, I have learned how to respect and understand diverse, international perspectives.
Also, throughout my experience of working in a manufacturing company, I have had experience leading and managing multiple departments to aim for the same goals. Since IESE values teamwork and IESE teams are diverse, I believe I will be an excellent mediator/facilitator within these teams.
Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application?
I know how to play the Japanese drums! I was in the Taiko club during university and I have practiced intensively during the 4 years. My favourite piece depicted the challenges and struggles in life— it is really amazing how you can express many emotions and stories with the drum’s strong beats, sounds, and movements. The sound of Japanese drums has something strong and special that can bring you energy, and whenever I feel down, I always cheer myself up by listening to the sounds of the Japanese drums!
Post-MBA career interests?
As I am company-sponsored, I will go back to my previous company. I am willing to use the skills and networks I gain throughout the MBA in building a stronger organization, and to increase overseas sales in my company. But of course, since the MBA is a perfect opportunity to learn about different careers and industries, I am willing to explore other opportunities as well.
Advice to current prospective applicants:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
Visit campus, attend classes, and meet current students/graduates/people from admissions as much as you can. Whenever I had business travels to Europe, I always tried to squeeze time into my schedule to visit campus and meet current students.
I also attended many events in Tokyo, including coffee chats, information sessions, and classes. I think it was very worth the time and effort; the more you learn about the schools and the MBA programs themselves, the more you will have a clearer picture of what you want to get out of the MBA and which school will be best for you.
Obviously, visiting campus is not a compulsory part of the admission. Considering busy work schedules, it is not something that everyone can do. If this is the case, I would recommend talking to a few people from school via Skype and investing your time to learn more about what the school can offer to you.
–One thing you would change or do differently?
Start my MBA preparations earlier. Considering that I had less than 6 months to prepare everything from TOEFL/GMAT to essay/interviews with a full-time job, my schedule was hectic. If I had started my preparations earlier, I would not have had to put as much stress on myself.
–Part you would have skipped if you could―and what helped you get through it?
Balancing the full-time job, which often included business travels abroad, and MBA applications was a tough experience. I remember working on my GMATs in the airport after business travels, and how I spent many hours on the plane working on my essays. There were many days where I was exhausted from work, but I had to push myself to put time into my MBA applications. I had days when I asked myself, “Why am I putting myself through all this stress? Why can’t I just forget this MBA process?”
There were 2 things that made me overcome these difficulties:
1) My parents, friends and my managers at work who always strongly encouraged me throughout.
2) Deliberately changing my mindset to stop worrying. There was one time when I realized that it is actually a waste of time worrying that you may not be accepted. I realized, “It is the ‘schools’ that decide whether you will be accepted and not yourself or anyone else. Then why bother to be worried and why not invest your time trying to work your very best?”
My advice will be to have family and friends you can rely on for encouragement; to never give up and to strongly believe you can go through the MBA process, no matter how busy you may be!
What is your initial impression of IESE’s students/culture/community?
I am very impressed by how diverse and international the IESE community is. Most of all, I am impressed by how we seem to be so tightly connected like a ‘family.’ There is a strong, collaborative spirit in IESE, where every individual is welcomed and respected.
Just a few days ago, a few of our classmates organized a big picnic, where 250 first-year students gathered together. I literally spent 4 hours just talking to as many students as possible. The time passed by incredibly fast because all the conversations were just so interesting! It was not just the work experiences of everyone, but their life stories. It was clear these were special people who have worked so hard to overcome challenges and are willing to seek out more challenges.
I was equally impressed by how willing everyone was to share and listen to one other’s experiences. I feel very happy and honored to be a member of this IESE family.
One thing you have learned about IESE that has surprised you?
I was surprised by the effort and support IESE provided us, particularly the Japanese IESE office, in my case, even before the MBA program began. From welcome parties hosted by the alumni to periodic career/MBA advice emails, I felt less anxious about the MBA journey and very welcomed into the community.
Thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
Since I have not been in a ‘school’ environment for the last 7 years, I think it will be very difficult for me to be in a rigorous, ‘study-focus’ environment as IESE! I am a bit scared by the aspect of having to prepare 3 cases a day in addition to attending all the interesting events and clubs held on campus. But I will hopefully find my way and strive to make the most of my time at IESE!
Thing you are most excited about in your first year?
Learning with my new classmates who come from such diverse backgrounds will definitely be a highlight of my first year: But I am very excited about the entire MBA journey.
From the MBA studies in school to adjusting to a completely new life and culture, I am sure that everything will be a big challenge for me. But I feel this challenging experience is precisely what makes the experience so special and exciting.
I am excited to imagine how this new MBA journey will shape me in 2 years’ time!