MBA Success Stories: Navya Ekkirala

 After doing an MBA in India, Navya Ekkirala studied for an MBA at HEC Paris to get the experience for a career in international management. Adapting to the French lifestyle, Navya partook in the numerous activities that the School had to offer while learning important skills such as leadership, teamwork and facing her fears

I have had the opportunity to experience two completely different MBA programmes in two different parts of the world.

When I completed my first MBA in my home country of India, I was happy. I’d thoroughly enjoyed the course and had acquired a vast range of technical skills.

Yet it hadn’t given me the boost to an international management career that I’d wanted, so I began to research other Business School programmes outside of India. I discovered that other Business School programmes offered far more than just technical skills; I would learn to work with different cultures in a practical, hands-on way. I’d also be surrounded by people from all over the world.

That’s exactly what I’ve found since starting my MBA at HEC Paris. My cohort is impressively diverse with classmates from Lebanon, US, China, Japan, Mauritius, and 50 other nationalities. An incredible 92% of us are international students so most of us are out of our comfort zones and that’s exactly what I’d wanted.

My husband and I were keen to experience an entirely different culture to our own. We were in love with the idea of learning French and immersing ourselves in the French lifestyle. HEC Paris has helped to make that easier. The School ensures that students’ families are comfortable. Spouses are encouraged to attend language classes. It also helps when many of the students’ spouses have made sacrifices to enable us students to study in France. My husband was one of those who left his mid-management career in India to follow me and my dreams of my Business School journey.

My MBA started with a fantastic integration weekend at one of France’s most luxurious corporate resorts, Les Fontaines, a wooded estate originally owned by the Rothschild family, a wealthy Jewish family. Our entire cohort and many of our partners stayed in the fairy-tale castle, enjoying the indoor pool with thermal baths and wandering tree-lined paths that lead down to the picturesque lake. It was an incredible place to start getting to know my classmates.

Activities revolved around gourmet meals, icebreaking games and even a DJ. A lot  of our time was intentionally left unstructured, which was so relaxing. The weekend provided the best opportunity to connect and enjoy long conversations. I found myself discussing varied issues from complex business topics to girly interests and the world at large. The bonds developed on that weekend have only gotten stronger.

This was the first of a string of events that have made the HEC Paris MBA programme so special. There’s also been the MBA Tournament, an ‘MBA Olympics’ that brings teams from almost 20 Business Schools around Europe together to compete in a variety of sports from rugby and football to ultimate frisbee and chess. It’s hosted every year on our beautiful HEC campus. Not only was I able to represent my School in table tennis, I developed my business skills through heading up the event’s digital marketing strategy and working as part of an effective team.

But what built our cohort’s teamworking skills the most was our trip to St Cyr, a French military academy. We worked together to conquer a series of physical challenges and, when I hit an obstacle that meant facing my fear of heights, everyone was so supportive and patient. It made me realise that sometimes our greatest limits are inside our own heads.

While I’ve faced a number of challenges during the HEC Paris MBA – such as learning the French language – I wouldn’t change a moment of it. Looking back on my first MBA in India, the two programmes are so different.

At HEC Paris, we’re encouraged to experiment and push ourselves academically. It’s a rigorous course with an emphasis on learning and quality research – which is similar in that respect to my first, quite technical MBA – but the MBA at HEC Paris builds on that with an effective determination to develop real leaders.

That’s why the trip to St Cyr and the various projects with which I’ve been involved have been so influential. It’s more than academia, it’s learning how to overcome challenges. When that’s combined with a classroom full of people who are so proactive, competitive and diverse, it’s impossible not to be inspired. You never want to miss the excellent classes, it’s mind-blowing and I’m cherishing my time here. Even during exam season, we are encouraged to destress as the School brings in dogs to pet and play with on campus.

As I look to the future, I’ve realised that among the many networking events that HEC Paris spearheads, Tech-Treks to London and Dublin have provided me with a number of opportunities to meet innovative and path-breaking tech companies. These Tech-Treks allowed me to connect with many pioneering FinTech companies which are in the business of providing innovative financial products to small-medium business owners, and also bond with the founders of other tech companies over coffee. In particular, interactions with CEOs and knowing their struggles motivated us beyond words.

This networking trek helped many students like myself to get our dream internship offers. I was selected to join a FinTech (regulatory tech) company for my summer internship. So far, my experience working in FinTech is very exciting. There is so much to learn and contribute each day at work. All this is possible because of a constant push from HEC Paris to go beyond our comfort zones and explore new and challenging opportunities.

This is exactly what I wanted when I joined my MBA programme at HEC. My peer group, professors and HEC MBA coursework have motivated me to challenge myself and keep moving further away from my comfort zone.

At the moment, I want to give my best to my internship and explore FinTech and RegTech at depth. I’d like to stay in finance, and I’m particularly excited about fintech, but I have many possibilities to explore.