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Real Humans of Amazon: Anna Barskaya, IMD MBA ’19, Senior Customer Solutions Manager

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When Anna Barskaya needed to sharpen her business acumen to take the next step in her career, the IMD MBA program had the right offerings to propel her to Amazon. In this Real Humans: Alumni, Barskaya digs into why IMD was the right next step for her as well as some lessons from her journey to and through business school. Read on to learn how IMD also prepared her for working in a global industry at the intersection of both tech and finance.

Anna Barskaya, IMD MBA ’19, Senior Customer Solutions Manager at Amazon

Age: 37
Hometown: Moscow, Russia 
Undergraduate Institution and Major: MSc Computer Science
Pre-MBA Work Experience: 10+ years of experience in banking and professional services across 3 geographies: 2009-2011 IT System Analyst – Barclays Russia – Financial Services (2 years); 2011-2015 Business Analyst, Project Manager, Head of IT PMO – KPMG Russia – Audit & Consulting (4 years); 2015-2017 Program & Change Manager – KPMG International – Audit & Consulting (2 years); 2017-2019 CEO Advisor & Business Development Lead – Medivas – Technology startup, audiovisual systems integrator (2 years)
Post-MBA Work Experience: Sr. Customer Solutions Manager / Global Financial Services, Amazon Web Services (AWS), 4 years, Technology

Why did you choose to attend business school?
I reached the point where I accumulated diverse international experience, but felt I was lacking a strong business acumen to be able to make the next step in my career. Coming from a technical background, I was not savvy with subjects like finance, marketing or strategy. So I had two options: either to continue to learn from experience gradually or join an educational program to get knowledge in a concentrated way. The second option looked more appealing as it provided me with an opportunity to not only close knowledge gaps, but also significantly expand my network. The latter was equally important to me as I was considering setting a foot in a new country. 

Why IMD? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
I was 32 at the time of deciding to do an MBA, so I was looking for a school that not only has a strong reputation, but also welcomes more experience candidates. Additionally, proximity to financial institutions was important to me as I was thinking of continuing to pursue my career in that industry. Finally, with a smaller class size compared to other business schools, IMD offered a more individual and personalized approach that I appreciated a lot.

What about your IMD MBA experience prepared you for your current career at Amazon?
Working at AWS I get to work with a lot of talented ‘techies’ and this is a great opportunity for me to bring a different perspective. This is extremely important in my current role as I work with leading global financial institutions talking to executives and other senior decision-makers. Having an MBA does not only help me to talk with them the same language, but also to be able to co-create transformational business cases and help these organizations execute on their strategic agendas. Besides that, doing ICP for a Swiss provider of banking solutions and interviewing market players, I got valuable insights into the financial services industry in Switzerland. Now when I engage with Swiss software vendors serving this industry, I understand better what their end customers want and what they are concerned about. This helps me to earn trust quicker and co-create tailored solutions with my customers.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
I was originally planning to join a bank to drive digital transformation programs. However, having done some research and interviewed a few alumni I soon realized that I might not feel accomplished working in a regulated industry where especially the big players are risk averse and conservative. Additionally, banking corporate culture did not look very appealing to me. I chose AWS for its unique culture of ownership and innovation, and for the opportunity to drive transformation across many organizations. And even though I had not worked extensively with cloud technology before applying to AWS, I realized that cloud offered principally new ways of working driving innovation so it was exciting to become part of this shift.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Have a systematic approach to the job search, know my aspirations and not spread too thin. Network consciously. 

–One thing you would change or do differently as part of the job search?
Be more open to consider alternative routes, to make sure I’m making the right decisions.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
I was surprised that there were no surprises and literally the whole process was standard (Amazon assesses candidates based on the Leadership Principles).

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
Be bold. As most of my classmates, I felt pressured to find a job before graduation. In my case I also wanted to stay in Switzerland, which added even more obstacles to overcome due to the strict Swiss migration law. Doing all that amidst ICP, electives and other extra-curricular activities was not easy. To increase my chances for success while being efficient, I chose to be pragmatic to focus on the opportunities where my profile was objectively a great match. And while I’m happy to have joined AWS after IMD, I am convinced that my MBA could have opened more doors than I was knocking at. In hindsight, I wish I could be reminded not to underestimate MBA learnings, IMD brand and the personal growth that happened thanks to IMD. And that timing matters – few years after graduation employers hire more for experience and less for an MBA diploma. So seize the moment and do not sell yourself short. 

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.