When Aki Nakamura (UCLA – NUS Executive MBA Class of 2007) was reaching the 10-year mark in her marketing and communications career in 2005, she was unsure of what the future had in store for her.
Having worked in Japan throughout her life, she was keen to work in roles with regional responsibility for the Asia Pacific region but did not feel ready to make an immediate jump. She had heard about the UCLA – NUS EMBA programme from a friend and felt that it will help prepare her for the international stage. The value proposition that won her over was that the programme allowed her to work and study at the same time. “12 years ago, MBA programs typically required a full-time commitment of two years. The UCLA – NUS was a life saver since the programme is tailored for busy working professionals and did not require me to quit my job,” she said.
The programme stoked Aki’s entrepreneurial spirit and today, she enjoys starting new businesses from scratch. She has launched two consulting firms in the region. Her most recent venture is a company called ExpertConnect Asia to provide matching services for professionals to firms operating in Southeast Asia.
These professionals are industry experts who can share domain knowledge, insights and perspectives in the region’s markets. The experts include those with experience in leading roles in the public and public sector, as well as academics.
Aki is a “pioneer figure” at NUS Business School as she is the first Japanese graduate of the UCLA – NUS. A member of the MBA Alumni-NUS, she spends her time attending alumni events, sharing her experiences and networking with her peers and students.
Here, Aki shares three takeaways from her EMBA journey that she hopes would be useful for individuals looking to either climb corporate ladders or become entrepreneurs:
1) Find your “edge”
It is important to find out the advantage you have over your peers. Once you realise it, focus on honing it.
One struggle I had during my programme was to identify how I could be a valued participant in my class. My classmates already have experience working in international environments, and some are even senior management.
I analysed my strengths and noticed that my edge lies in networking and business development.
I used my skills to finding corporate partners for project work such as the management practicum module can be challenging. As I was working with Disney Japan then, I leveraged my network to successfully negotiate with the Disney corporate headquarters in Los Angeles to sponsor a management practicum module.
This transformed my classmates’ perceptions towards me, and they acknowledged what I could offer. This helped me find a stronger voice in class and boosted my self-confidence.
2) Be resilient
Focus on what you can control instead of worrying about what you cannot.
The global financial crisis occurred soon after my graduation, stalling my dream of finding work outside of Japan.
Although frustrating, my peers from the EMBA programme – some of whom are now my mentors – encouraged me to keep persevering and not give up. Eventually, I found a position in Singapore, my ideal location, three years later.
In short, always keep going!
3) Network, network, network!
Studying at two top business schools opened many doors. Besides interacting with my peers, I had access to an invaluable and vast alumni network.
I have four rules of networking:
1. Make time for people whom you like
2. Make time for people who make you feel positive, energised and worthy
3. Make time for people to whom you can offer value
4. Pay it forward after you achieve what you want
If you follow these four principles, where you stand next year will certainly be better than where you are now.
For more information on the UCLA – NUS Executive MBA programme, please visit http://ucla.nus.edu/