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Real Humans of the IESE MBA Class of 2023

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iese mba class davidDavid Lew Qingwei, IESE MBA Class of 2023

Age: 30
Hometown: Singapore
Undergraduate Institution and Major: New York University – Stern School of Business, Bachelor of Science in Business (Concentrations in Finance and Business Economics)
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 5 years in investment banking and financial strategy consulting

Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now?
I’ve essentially lived my entire life overseas, having been born in Singapore but growing up in Beijing and Shanghai – I grew up with an excitement for travel, culture, and international experiences. To that end, I ended up spending the last 10 years in New York, 15,000 km from home, where I went to college and worked in investment banking. After several years of investment banking, wanderlust began whispering in my ear again and I developed an interest in growing my experience across the Atlantic in Europe as well as changing up my function. However, I found it pretty challenging to pull the trigger. COVID-19 ended up being exactly the right kind of earth shattering shake-up to make me realize that there’s never a convenient time to move to an entirely new continent, and I began a more serious and earnest search for how I wanted to make the move to Europe happen. A change in both geography and function is hard to pull off organically even when the global economy is firing on all cylinders – it’s another thing entirely when it’s just shaking off the chill from a pandemic that literally brought everyone’s life to a standstill. It was apparent to me that a MBA program would be exactly the right kind of opportunity to expand my network into Europe, explore the roles here that might make sense for me, develop & execute on a strategy to pursue the jobs I was interested in, and hit the ground running.

Why did you choose IESE? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
Two things factored into this decision to attend IESE. Firstly, my conversations with IESE alumni and faculty were riddled with an ethos of “doing well by doing good”. People and businesses cannot thrive in failed societies and the world always needs leaders, operators, and people who believe affirmatively that they have a responsibility to their communities. This is something that IESE excelled at communicating while I was making my decision. It’s ultimately also a perspective that they put into action – whether it’s IESE For Impact Community (a student-led impact venture fund), the IESE Responsible Business Club, or the Doing Good Doing Well Conference, it’s apparent that IESE’s students, alumni, and faculty aren’t just talking the talk, but walking the walk. As with any business school, the idea of profit makes its appearances – but people here also believe that being sensitive to the impact of their profit generating activities is part of a higher calling.

Secondly, I had spent a good amount of time in New York and I was looking for a different experience that would still find me part of a major city. I was looking at a handful of destinations in Europe, but eventually decided that (1) London felt like I would be partially rehashing the experience I had already lived in New York and (2) the suburbs of Paris felt a little further afield from the urban settings that I thrive in. Barcelona seemed a perfect fit in that respect – an urban setting but different, where I would be forced to step out, learn a new language, and connect with people whose experiences were completely unlike my own. And, as with any thriving urban center, Barcelona is filled with its share of excellent eateries, bars, museums, venues, and other places that shout the heart, soul, and aspirations of the people who make this city so amazing.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2023?
Knowing that a lot of people enter IESE’s MBA program with aspirations to transition into investment banking, I’m excited to bring my working knowledge of financial advisory to the table. I believe my experiences will be valuable to my cohort as they formulate their strategies to enter investment banking and I’m thrilled to share the things that worked for me (and didn’t work for me) during my sojourn in the industry.

Separately, I also bring an excitement for food culture. While we learn a lot about a culture by studying its history, art, literature, and music, not everyone in that culture has an opportunity to participate or contribute to these things – but if you’re a part of a culture you absolutely cannot escape its food. A culture’s food tells us so much about their resources, ingenuity, migration, traditions, socioeconomics, trade, and strife. The process of finding local expressions of beloved dishes as well as their contemporary interpretations is an absolute joy (especially in a town as food obsessed as Barcelona).

Tell us a fun fact that didn’t get included on your application:
I had adopted two cats from the same litter during the pandemic while I was still in New York (they’re named Jerry and Elaine – yes, after “Seinfeld”). The most challenging part of making the move to an MBA program in Europe wasn’t researching MBAs, taking the GMAT, interviewing, or figuring out visas / logistics – it was figuring out how to get these two tuxedo cat furballs across the Atlantic!

As a post-script, the anxiety was totally worth it.

Post-MBA career interests:
I’m primarily focused on taking my working knowledge of finance and bringing it to a European growth equity shop (somewhere along the chain from late-stage venture capital to middle market private equity). Given a longstanding interest in food culture and environment, I’m looking towards impact funds that have a focus on making investments into food / agriculture technology (e.g., synthetic meats, vertical farming).

Advice for Current Prospective Applicants:
– What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
Ask, ask, ask a lot of questions to students and alumni. This was especially important during the pandemic when it was significantly more complicated to visit the city and campus. There is nothing more valuable than hearing from the horse’s mouth what the experience of being in a particular MBA program is like. Ultimately, the MBA journey is about what you want to get out of the experience – but you need to get a clear view of what these programs can offer you in the first place before you can take that first step.

– What is one thing you would change or do differently?
Focus less on rankings. Yes, they are helpful for organizing your thoughts and figuring out how employers may view the degree – these things are important. But each school offers very different resources, experiences, environments, and coursework that may be more suitable for one person’s aspirations and less suitable for others. These attributes are very poorly articulated through school rankings.

– What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
The GMAT was surprisingly anxiety inducing for me – it had been some time since I had done any form of standardized testing and, by a stroke of bad luck, I basically had one chance to take the GMAT before submitting my applications, so it felt like I had a lot riding on it. What worked for me was having a very structured approach to studying – i.e., understanding the different subcategories within the Quantitative and Verbal sections, recognizing what question archetypes tended to show up, figuring out the strategy for how to quickly work through that particular question archetype, and knowing when to cut your losses and guess so that you can give the next question a solid shot.

What is your initial impression of the IESE students/culture/community?
As I mentioned previously, the IESE community is a service-oriented one. No where else did I run into people so consistently thoughtful about the impact that they exert upon the world. Truthfully, standard profit generation isn’t rocket science – people have been generating economic margin with little thought for externalities and consequences for millennia.

But generating a profit while empowering women? While transitioning toward renewable energy sources? While uplifting disenfranchised communities? These ideas are part of the new paradigm that we have to be ready to operate in in 2021 and onwards. We now live in a world where mere profit generation isn’t enough justification for a company’s existence and to step away from staid business models while delivering ideas that are simultaneously impactful and financially-viable, you need creative, thoughtful, bold, and mission-driven people to execute on that vision – IESE’s commitment to molding these people was apparent to me from day one.

What is one thing you have learned about IESE that has surprised you?
I thought I had covered all the bases in my research, but it turns out that the school is perched upon a hill. I wasn’t ready for that and it made my daily bicycle commute much more challenging than I anticipated (although definitely excellent incidental exercise!).

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your personal application or admissions process in any way? If so, how?Absolutely – being hunkered down at home in lockdown really made me rethink my priorities and what I wanted to get out of life. I became really focused on two ideas:

(1) There are so many places in the world that I want to explore, but can’t because of the lockdown

(2) Am I leaving a positive impact on the world?

While I had been thinking about moving to Europe for some time, grappling with these thoughts while trapped in my apartment in New York during the lockdown overwhelmingly made me realize that I needed to take action and seize the experiences and outcomes I wanted out of life. Honestly, I probably would never have considered applying for an MBA program at all had the pandemic not turned everyone’s lives upside-down.

What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
Gosh, they’re handing out quite a lot of case studies to work on every day, huh?

What is one thing you are most excited about in your first year?
Exploring all these fabulous tapas bars in my neighborhood while getting to know the excellent folks who have embarked on this adventure with me at IESE!

Posted in: Real Humans of MBA Class of 2023, Real Humans of MBA Students

Schools: IESE

About the Author

Lauren Wakal

Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.

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