Interview with St Mary’s Alumnus on Being Accepted into Harvard Business School
Alumnus of International Business Management PGCert at St Mary’s University, Twickenhamm, Ali-Reza Panjwani has been accepted onto the prestigious PLD (EMBA) Programme at Harvard Business School after he was recently listed on the Forbes ’30 Under 30’ list for Finance.
We caught up with Ali-Reza to discuss his achievements since finishing his postgraduate course at St Mary's and his plans for the future.
How did it feel to be on the Forbes ’30 Under 30’ list in 2018?
I still recall the morning when the news broke – an ordinary day for me, getting ready for work and suddenly my phone started blowing up (more than usual!). I actually thought something was wrong at home, so I was a little worried at first! But soon that worry turned into ecstasy – there I was, recognised by Forbes – a surreal feeling, truly.
The very first emotion I had was gratitude towards God, as my faith continues to play a huge part in my life. This was followed by thoughts of my parents and their sacrifices, struggles and unwavering support for me and my siblings.
It would be remiss of me to not dedicate this award to them – they inspired, empowered, and believed in me and their guidance has been instrumental for me in my journey. I must thank my siblings too for moulding me and pushing me to be better – I was fortunate to have them to look up to during my teenage years.
I have been fortunate to have had great colleagues, mentors, and managers throughout my journey, and each of them has impacted me more than they’ll know. I hope that they share pride in reading this, knowing that this wouldn’t have been possible without their significant contribution and mentorship.
Congratulations on your place at Harvard Business School, what are you most looking forward to on the course?
I am really looking forward to sharing the classroom with incredible minds and hoping to soak in as much as I can. The ‘Harvard Experience’ is special, and it should serve as a springboard for the next chapter in my career.
It’s clearly a renowned institution and I am grateful for the opportunity to hopefully contribute to its long-standing history. Finally, I look forward to representing my family and my community in the best light, during my time at Harvard Business School.
What would you say was the most important thing you learned from your internship in 2014?
My very first internship in Finance – I remember it like it was yesterday! It proved to be the best foundation for me to be successful in the industry. It was fast-paced, intense and rewarding, all at the same time.
However, the most important aspect was the people I was surrounded by, as I learnt something different from each individual. I took time to understand their career journeys and ultimately shadowed their strengths so that I could adopt best practices.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed on an internship but just keep learning something new every day and eventually you will start to tally up the small wins. Concentrate on yourself and don’t worry too much about the other interns – everyone has their own story to write.
If it wasn’t for my first internship at JPMorgan Chase and Co (JPMC), I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today. I developed a very close relationship with the team and learnt some very important dos and don’ts that still serve me well today, seven years later!
What are your aspirations for the future?
Serving others runs deep in my family’s history and I would love to give back to other young graduates and professionals. I feel like I owe it to the next generation, as we’ve all needed help (and still do) in our careers.
I’ve been the beneficiary of some incredible mentors and if I am able to serve in a similar capacity, to help guide, mentor, or influence someone’s career, it would be a deeply rewarding experience.
Additionally, having been recently appointed as a Global Diversity and Inclusion Ambassador at JPMC, I am passionate about advocating for minorities and championing equal opportunity for everyone, regardless of race and gender. The diversity of ideas, skills and talent is simply the only way forward in today’s world.
How does life in New York differ from your upbringing in Essex?
It’s certainly different! I grew up in a fairly small town in the suburbs and although it was the best childhood, I’m not sure anything can compare to New York, eh?
My upbringing did however play a huge part in shaping my character, and in the values I have adopted today. My grandparents, who never got to see me in New York, taught me incredible life lessons and their many stories helped me understand the importance of always doing right by others.
Being thrust into life in the big Apple five years ago, I noticed a certain chaotic beauty to the city. You can catch yourself watching thousands of people, all heading in their own direction, writing their own story, and painting their own picture, as they all navigate through the roller-coaster of life. The opportunities, the energy, the buzz of the city is truly unique – but the city also has a steely resilience that mirrors my upbringing.
The determination and perseverance is clear for everyone to see, from the market merchants to the street sellers, and the wall street financiers, to the construction workers, there’s a community spirit that everyone contributes to.
The New York fabric is unmatched – it’s inclusive, dynamic, and relentless, and this ultimately makes every day remarkably different but more importantly makes every person feel like they’re their own superhero, minus the capes and costumes! A city of magic, heart and grit, all superpowers in their own right.
How did you find your time at St Mary’s?
I completed my Postgraduate Certificate, through the Mountbatten Institute, which involved an international internship in New York, as well as a PGCert in International Business, at St Mary's. It was an extremely rewarding experience and allowed me to home in on an area that already interested me.
With the world becoming increasingly globalised, I felt like this was the perfect opportunity to live, work and study abroad, whilst also developing my passion for the international marketplace through the syllabus at St Mary's.
What advice would you give students with aspirations for a career in finance?
In terms of core competencies, that’s where the industry has remained true. Continue to train your minds to problem-solve, generate ideas and be a strong communicator that is adept at presenting complex concepts in a simple manner. In addition to this, however, it is important you stay on top of market trends, at both the macro and micro level, as the industry continues to shift rapidly.
A career in finance ten years ago is very different to a career in finance today. It is so much more than just numbers and quantitative solutions!
The industry is investing massively in technology and data science, and revamping efforts to globalise services in countries that may not have had economic importance or potential a generation ago (think India or China, for example). So, align your skills with where the industry is heading, to ensure you evolve with the competition.
What advice do you have for current or prospective students considering St Mary’s?
Believe that you are a difference-maker. The company you keep is extremely important. Surround yourself with inspiring individuals – this will naturally elevate your mindset. Utilize the university’s support system – join up to business resource groups, societies, and networking circles. You may not think it then, but the minute you enter St Mary’s, your career starts on the very first day.
The university is incredibly diverse, so meet people, embrace different cultures, build life-long relationships. Stay engaged in your lectures, seek advice from your professors. Your network should be growing exponentially as each academic year passes.
You’ll never have this much ‘time’ again in your career, use it wisely. Build ideas with your peers, stay on top of market trends, and don’t feel obliged to go out every night – it’s overrated!