It takes more than a stalwart delivery person and miles of cardboard to keep Amazon running seamlessly. Behind the scenes, people like Tonka Lange, INSEAD MBA ’20J, keep the financial wheels turning. In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, Tonka shares how the the program enhanced her career and what appealed to her most about pursuing financial services at Amazon.
Tonka Lange, INSEAD MBA ’20J, Sr. Financial Analyst at Amazon
Hometown: It’s complicated. And perfectly normal for an INSEAD-er. Home is everywhere. Born in Sofia, Bulgaria. Raised in Moscow, Russia. Educated in London, UK. Married to a German, enjoyed living in 4 different German cities (Bonn, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich). Living in Southeast Asia for more than 6 years now (Singapore & Kuala Lumpur).
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Higher School of Economics, BSc Economics; University of London (LSE), BSc Economics; London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), MSc Management, Governments and Organization
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration (if applicable): INSEAD, 20J, 2020 July
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 8 years across banking – from Sales desk on Structured Products on Equity and Commodity Derivatives at BNP Paribas in London to driving projects for integrating the operations of independent subsidiaries into Goldman Sachs in Germany and managing the liquidity for 13 different currencies across APAC.
Post-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Amazon, Corporate Treasury, Treasury Business Support – APAC region – Senior Financial Analyst. My role is to ensure Amazon businesses have the right banking infrastructure and access to a range of financial products to support the business expansion across all our business lines: AWS, Retail, Brand Cards, Devices, Twitch, etc.
Why did you choose to attend business school?
I contemplated “to do” or “not to do” for the longest time. I had a great educational background even before INSEAD. I had big brands on my CV already. But I lost my drive and motivation.
I needed a career change, a pivot, a fresh start.
I loved the fast-paced environment of my job in banking, but I was completely disconnected with the end goal and result of my job. “Making rich people richer” – didn’t make me happy.
Long-term career opportunities in banking seemed very limited and narrow.
Unfortunately, the more I observed more senior colleagues, the more I saw the limited opportunities on the market they have. Immobility in career trajectory was a norm in the industry. For a curious and dynamic person with broad interests, this was a tragedy. Looking at the big picture and understanding the complexity of the businesses is much more inspiring for me.
I needed to gain back my confidence and authenticity.
I experienced very harsh “cultural shock” moving to Asia with my previous employer. I enjoyed the diversity of thought and people in our European office, but was completely shocked by the absence of it in the Singapore office. In comparison, at my wedding reception with 88 people attending, I had people from 32 nationalities. In my Singapore office, our MD was proudly claiming that in the 800+ office, we have 21 nationalities.
Why INSEAD? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
INSEAD was an obvious choice for me. Business is all about the people and connections between them. Business schools are about the people you gain access to – alumni, classmates, and professors.
Concentration of alumni in the target markets
I am Eastern European, living in Asia. For me, Europe and Asia were the location priorities. In those regions, there is no other business school with such a dense and high caliber alumni community. The top U.S. schools’ alumni associations usually are very small outside the U.S.
Quality of the people on the program – selectiveness of the class
Competition is a driver in capitalist society. I have always been surrounded by smart people who inspire me to be a better version of myself. For me it was essential to attend a very selective program.
Access to top experts in different business fields – the professors
The beauty of coming back to school after years of work experience is that you already have observations and questions, you have experienced challenges and overcome obstacles. I love the scientific approach and tangible data. I do substantial research before making any important decision.
What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
Overcoming the challenges in our study group. My group was one of the few that became famous among my cohort – due to the severity of the conflicts and combination of very strong personalities. For me personally, it was a great learning experience. It was eye opening with regards to others’ perception of me as a leader.
At the end of the day any business is about people and how very different people can get together to achieve a goal. Knowing yourself, understanding how people perceive you, building trust even when you have conflicting interests – all those skills are essential for my day-to-day work. I drive cross-functional projects in very complex and regulated environments. Making tough decisions that will impact the workflow for several teams is constant. I am much better equipped now to stand for myself, put together strong arguments, and listen to conflicting opinions without making it personal.
What was your internship during business school? How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I did an internship with the global startup accelerator Antler in their HQ in Singapore. I had the honor to work alongside the COO and CCO of the company and help support their strategic projects. It was the very needed startup “culture shock” after the highly regulated and compliance driven environment in banking. The freedom, the opportunities to take a lead and make an impact, the flexibility to shape your role and goals – pure pleasure. It inspired me to look for those same features in my post-MBA job.
Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
I fell in love with the culture. I literally have the Amazon Leadership Principles always printed next to my screen. I quote them consciously and unconsciously to justify my argumentation with family and friends. The culture felt like a natural fit for my personality. I can be myself. By the time I finished my last interview, I had no doubts that I wanted to join.
How has COVID impacted your industry/career plans?
COVID lockdowns coincided with the start of my class’s recruitment season. Literally. Obviously, the first things to get cancelled were the high paid MBA graduate positions across almost all industries. For many of my classmates, this was a tragedy and diversion from the initial plan. The mood was very gloomy. Uncertainty was huge.
For me personally, this opened alternative paths to experiment with an early-stage startup. I ended up spending 4-5 months with a very early-stage team, developing an idea along with a very senior experienced founder. It didn’t work as planned. However, I learned an incredible lesson – I do need my opinion to be heard; I need an equal seat at the table, and I need to make a real impact. Overall, I think the impact COVID had on my long-term career was positive, I learned a lot more about myself.
Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Be open minded. Know your own values and priorities. Narrow your list of companies. Reach out to as many current employees of your target companies as you can. Be sincerely curious about the companies and the people. Get to know the culture. Collect insights about different trends and challenges. Ensure there is a good fit between the company culture and your values.
After hours of talking to the people, it becomes obvious if this is a place for you or not. Being authentic in the workplace is essential to feel comfortable, progress and enjoy yourself in the long run. Plus, all the time spent talking to the people is an investment. I gained incredible insights, found new friends, and made my network much stronger.
–One thing you would change or do differently?
I would have spent more time on conversations with my classmates. I could have learned significantly more from my peers’ experience. INSEAD’s program is very short. Every single minute matters.
–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
I was surprised when I started preparing for my interviews that, unlike in banking previously, where it was all technical, the type of interview was behavioral instead. It felt like the team interviewing me really tried to understand who I am and if I could contribute to the culture. Because of that, I had to prepare very differently compared to previous interviews I participated in.
–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
Focus on building deep relationships with your classmates. Spend time getting to know the people. Learn about their experiences and background. INSEAD has very impressive people from all over the world. People with unique backgrounds and histories, with diverse viewpoints and perspectives on the world. Discussions inside and outside class are mind opening.