MBA success stories: Natasha Lakhani, Imperial College Business School

Natasha Lakhani is an Assistant Director at EY-Parthenon, working in strategy and transactions consulting. She completed her MBA from Imperial College Business School in 2018

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your current role?

I am Natasha Lakhani. I am an Assistant Director at EY-Parthenon, working in strategy and transactions consulting. I joined EY two-and-a-half years ago straight after my MBA.

My current consulting role at EY-Parthenon is focused around supporting large multinational companies strategize, plan for and then operationalise acquisitions and divestiture activities. Our team supports FTSE100 companies amongst others throughout the deal lifecycle. I specialise in supporting clients during the ‘sign to completion’ phase as they prepare for change in ownership, and the first 100 Days of new operations. With no consultancy experience prior to this role, and the term ‘M&A’ seeming terrifying, I was pretty intimidated by this role when I first applied and saw it as a huge personal challenge. When I got the offer and signed the contract, I remember saying out loud ‘wow this is going to be mad’. Almost three years on, I am recently promoted, and reminded daily that we are capable of so much more than we realise, when pushed. (And yes a typical week is mad, but usually a good type of mad.)

Prior to EY-Parthenon I was a finance and treasury professional in the energy sector, working for Royal Dutch Shell for nine years.

I am a member of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth, and more recently was Runner-up in the 2019 ‘Women of the Future Awards’ for category of Rising MBA, which has to be one of my proudest and fondest honours which I owe to my MBA and my Business School, Imperial College Business School.

I am a Fellow and scholarship recipient of the Forté Foundation – a cause which enables more women to pursue MBAs with financial support, and this is something I am passionate about. I want to see more women, and ethnic minority women specifically, be bold enough to prioritise their careers and pursue MBAs knowing that they can make the investment worthwhile alongside the rest of their life ambitions and personal/private responsibilities.

My MBA story is unconventional, and I look forward to sharing it with you honestly here.

Where and when did you achieve your MBA?

I had been vaguely considering to pursue an MBA for probably five years before I finally took the plunge and finally applied. The thought would often appear as a dull hum in my mind and I would imagine how I could make happen practically speaking. I cannot say I was fully convinced that would happen, and like many Indian women in her late 20s (or maybe women in general), I was saving up my money for other future things – namely a future wedding perhaps, future married life, and the kids that don’t exist yet. Investing money on myself and an MBA was something I felt I would do, only if I had all other bases covered.  

In 2017, I was diagnosed with clinical anxiety following a personal loss and a relationship breakdown. While it is not the conventional reasonings many people will give to pursue an MBA, for me it was the perfect storm.  

I was career centric, dived into work and trying to progress further, and always wanted to do an MBA. Finally I no longer had the same burden to save for the future. It was finally time to invest on myself, for myself and for my own future. In March 2017 I took the decision to apply to programmes, I sat the GMAT in May, interviewed and received my offers in June. In August I left Shell after nine years, and in September I started my full-time MBA at Imperial College Business School. Looking back, I am actually grateful that turmoil in my personal life led me to finally pursue my professional goal to achieve an MBA. Do not be fooled to think an MBA has to be part of a slick five-year career year plan blessed by mentors and career advisers. Life happens. We adjust, and we excel in ways we never imagined, with newfound resiliency and firepower.

Why did you choose to do an MBA at Imperial College Business School?

Each Business School is different, each one has a different look, feel and vibe and therefore it is so important to find the one which matches what you are looking for best. What Imperial offers is a hugely entrepreneurial programme, a faculty and MBA curriculum which leverages the university’s wider thought leadership and talent in med-tech, science, innovation, sustainability and clean tech technologies. For me, it felt like a School that could apply business skills to real life projects and upcoming innovation. I was appealed by the practicality of the programme, the staff and alumni I met and the forward-thinking curriculum.

Looking back, I certainly learnt a heap of business skills but equally a huge volume of valuable life-skills and knowledge too.

What was the most interesting thing you learnt from your MBA?

We had the opportunity to initiate and set up our own business ideas as part of the ‘Entrepreneurial Journey’ module on the MBA which ran for 6 months of the 12 month MBA programme. Myself, and 3 of the most talented women I am blessed to know, joined forces to create and pitch our very own business idea and prepared an investor pack. Exposure to the entrepreneurial journey, the ups and downs and coaching from arguably one of the best entrepreneurial faculties in the UK was brilliant. In the future, if/when I am not busy doing M&A deals, I would love to pick this up again and I now have a tool kit and the connections at Imperial Entrepreneurial Lab to kick this off. Whilst entrepreneurship is not something you can learn, I have learnt a lot about the way to go about things, and the tact needed.

Do you think an MBA can be truly transformational?

The thing about an MBA is that the extent of what you get out of it, depends on how much you put it. Fact.

You cannot expect it to solve all your problems, although, from my experience if you throw yourself into it and treat it like a full-time job and then-some and absolutely go for it, it honestly could be the best thing you do for yourself and your future self. For me, it certainly has been the best thing I have done for myself in probably a decade. I feel a lot more confident in my abilities, so much more comfortable with being given challenges I have never had to face and in my consultancy role now, being given client challenges I have not had to work through and lead on before. I know that I will be able to figure it out if I collaborate and problem solve with others, because that is precisely what the MBA year was all about.

In terms of my leadership journey and my own personal journey, the MBA helped me feel so much more confident in myself.  In turn that has made me a more authentic and ‘real’ colleague at work. Every founder, investor, CEO, CFO who we met during the MBA had their own story, unique experiences, cultural inclinations and influences. It really hit home that when I go back to work, I should not try to fit a mould. The MBA exposed me to more fiercely talented women, senior women, Asian leaders and experts in their field and this representation helps me realise my potential too.

In what interesting ways have you taken what you have learnt in your MBA into the organisation for which you work?

As a consultant at EY-Parthenon, one of the biggest skills you need is humility and being conscious that others around you (both team mates and clients), will often know more than you, and quite often have a wealth of knowledge/understanding which you do not have. Yet, you need to find a way to make your own mark and show case your own skills, without coming across as pushy, arrogant or worst case even, self-doubtful.

Working on group assignments in the MBAs in our assigned syndicate groups was a brilliant test run of operating in such a climate. In our syndicate we had 6 strong individuals from every corner of the world, with different levels of experience, variations in age and gender identify and skill-set. We had to find ways to not only work together but deliver the highest quality outputs and leverage each other’s strengths. There were often uncomfortable revelations as well. Realising your own flaws/weaknesses from a new cohort of people is a tough pill to take, but it made me so much more self-aware as I went into Consultancy and operated in project teams. 

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about studying for an MBA?

Automatically having an MBA will not get you anywhere you have not been. If you have ambition, drive and the right motivation for it, you will find yourself loving the experience and in turn getting the maximum return from it – both financially and personally.

There will never be a perfect time to apply, so take the plunge, and realise that you deserve your spot.  

And for the women out there and women of ethic minority, have the courage to go against cultural norms and expectations and prioritise your career, your further education and pave the way for other women like me and you to do the same.

Finally, research your schools. No two are the same, and you need to find the one that is right for you.

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