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Real Humans of the IESE MBA Class of 2024

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Qianmai Ji (Magnolia), IESE MBA Class of 2024

Age: 28 
Hometown: Xi’an, China 
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Beijing Foreign Studies University, English 
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Multinational Development Bank (4 years), Digital  Transformation Consulting (2 years) 

Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now? 
During the past few years, I’ve been pursuing career transitions and realized a few career jumps, from  English-major graduate to Finance professional and then to Consultant for Digital transformation.  

Working in Digital Consulting for just two years, my exposure has been extended to a variety of industries.  However, I also experienced frustration which motivated me to pursue continuous professional improvement. Career transition is never easy, and being a consultant requires me to have well-rounded skills, business insights, strong communication and presentation capabilities, etc. I believe MBA is the best platform to combine problem-solving/analytical skills and management thinking, giving me a formidable advantage in my future career.  

Why did you choose IESE? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend? 
I’ve kept in touch with IESE’s Greater China Recruiter and several IESE alumni since 2019. They are always full of ebullient energy and passionate ethos (just like the city of Barcelona- I LOVE it), and no lack of professionalism. 

I determined to apply for IESE not only because it is a top-ranking MBA school from which I could gain a  promising future career, but also because it provides the most rigorous academics- 600+ case studies in the two-year program, which will shape me with the most solid business acumen and spark more potential in myself to think about the real-life business challenges; the most diversified student base will broaden my horizons to other cultures and industries by interacting with people from 60+ countries, and the life-long alumni network will be an invaluable asset throughout my career. 

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2024? 
Starting my career in a new-born Multinational Development Bank (MDB) since its launch, I engaged in a  great deal of funding and investment work to create my addition to fill in the infrastructure gap in Asia. I  intend to share my knowledge and work experience with my peers, in terms of MDB’s vision, mission, growth trajectory, and implemented projects. I also envision myself as a bridge connecting the IESE  community and the MDB world by hosting guest speeches and career preparation sessions.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that didn’t get included on your application: 
In 2014, my father’s sudden death took away my carefree life. I remained for a long period of time plunged in thought, reflecting on the value of life. The length of life cannot be predicted, while the width of life could be expanded by one’s own. 

Instead of letting sorrow swallow me, I decided to live life to its fullest with courage and independence. I  named myself “Magnolia” since then, in Chinese pronounced as “Mulan”, the name of a legendary female warrior in history who replaced her aging father to join the army and earn glory for her family. My father’s life ended, but I believe he could get vicarious comfort from my life explorations. 

Post-MBA career interests: 
Right after my MBA, I wish to join a tier-one consulting firm, as a consultant, to provide tailored solutions for business challenges to organizations and facilitate their journey in Digital Transformation.  

From my experience, the biggest barricade of digital transformation for Chinese corporates is not the technology itself, but the challenges in management, business model, and mindset for digitalization. To effectively remove the barricade and realize sustainable growth require a joint effort encompassing front-end Operations, Human  Resource, Marketing, Supply Chain, and even more.  

I believe IESE would equip me with comprehensive management thinking and skillset to facilitate my career leap in digital consulting.  

Advice for Current Prospective Applicants: 
–What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
Start early and prepare strategically!  

MBA application is a long journey, including standardized tests (GMAT/GRE, IELTS/TOEFL), 3-4 essay questions, referring letters, CVs, and interviews (IESE requires an additional assessment session called  “Assessment Day” to evaluate applicants’ overall capabilities in real business case discussions). Each part mentioned above is time-consuming. I suggest prospective applicants start the process as early as possible and prepare strategically with priorities!  

Most applicants believe the GRE/GMAT is the most important part in the evaluation process. It is indeed important, but the MBA committee evaluates applicants much more beyond the scores. In my essay, I  demonstrated more evidence of my logical and analytical skills (certificates, work experience, competitions,  etc.), which are much stronger than the score reflected. 

Besides, I think applicants need to convey a CONSISTENT message in all the materials to tell “who you are.” Through all the materials I submitted, I shaped myself as an independent and brave woman warrior, with courage to smash all the challenges, with passion to create values beyond, and with strong responsibilities to my family, work, and society. 

–What is one thing you would change or do differently? 
Last year, I traveled the most and worked on multiple challenging consulting projects which occupied all my

free time. I tried very hard to study for the GMAT, but the preparation work lasted a long time before finally attending the exams. During the preparation, I was under great pressure and hesitated whether it was the right time for me to apply for MBA considering the promising job promotions in the next year. 

If went back to last year, I would ask for a one-month leave from my work to focus on getting the GMAT  score as soon as possible; and I would consult with more MBA alumni/MBA ambassadors to make up my mind quicker regarding the application. 

–What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
I would not apply to too many schools. Most of the applicants, like me, wanted to diversify their application portfolio with a higher rate of security to be admitted (at least by one school). But as I said, an MBA application is a long journey and takes time. Applicants need to know which schools they really want to go to and not apply for those that others think are good for them. Last year I applied to many schools and got pretty good numbers of offers, but I realized I wasted much of my time on those I don’t like even though I got offers from them. 

What is your initial impression of the IESE students/culture/community? 
Right after the first day of Orientation, I called my family with huge excitement, telling them I made the best choice of coming to IESE. I feel at home! The inclusive, collaborative, and united atmosphere of the school has been established by generations of multicultural MBA students. People here are humble and friendly but diversified with excellent expertise and strong work experience. 

What is one thing you have learned about IESE that has surprised you? 
Before coming to IESE, I had already heard from second-year students that IESE has rigorous academics requiring students to study intensively throughout the two years. I knew I needed to work very hard, but the actual workload still surprised me when I embarked on my own MBA journey at IESE. Starting from the daily group discussions at 8:15 am, followed by two classes in the morning and one in the afternoon, students usually finished their classes on campus at 3:15 pm, but we still have to prepare for the next day’s three cases (10-20  pages each) and join career tracks’ training sessions. The daily schedule is super tight for everyone, but the concrete knowledge base and sharp business acumen would be the rewards to each of us. 

What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year? 
I am anxious about balancing my study, networking, and sleep, which is called the “Impossible Triangle for MBA”. I have to decide my priorities and sacrifice one part of the “triangle” because of the limited time every day. 

What is one thing you are most excited about in your first year? 
I am very excited about exploring more possibilities for myself. IESE provides three main career tracks for  MBA students- Consulting, Finance and Diversified Industries, with lots of back-to-back info sessions, training, career tours, etc. As I have Finance and Consulting background, with both analytical and interpersonal skills, I am now excited to see which company I will finally have the blessings to land to. And I am also interested in the leadership development programs (LDP) in diversified industries, which is a new world for me to explore. 

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.