When Amanda Shih, MBA ’21, set out to showcase the diversity of students in the HEC Paris MBA, she’d never written a profile before. But the biochemistry and microbiology undergraduate had spent two years traveling the world. “Everywhere I go, I meet people who are so amazing,” she says. “Every country has its unique history and culture and something that makes its people so proud. That’s the spirit I wanted to capture in my stories about my classmates.”
Her social media posts, written in the style of the Humans of New York series, became some of the HEC Paris MBA’s most liked Instagram posts of 2020. They also earned her kudos from her classmates, who named her “social media queen” at their November awards ceremony.
With the Class of 2021’s graduation taking place this week, we wanted to once again shine the spotlight on Amanda and her classmates.
Danilo Fraga, Mexican, S19 intake
“My father worked as a land reform officer in Brazil. He helped the farmers with no land acquire their own so they could prosper. I think that’s why I have found myself always wanting to help and give back to society. After six years of studying at the Universidade Federal da Bahia, I became a medical doctor and decided to work in a low-income, rural area. It was at that point in my life that I realized I wanted to focus on children’s health care. A year later, I moved to Sao Paulo for a three-year specialization in pediatrics.
Working as a pediatrician was very rewarding, but it was very localized. I wanted to expand beyond my local area. I realized that for this, I needed a better understanding of businesss and how medical providers are able reach children around the world. I remembered my exchange experiences in Strasbourg, France, and in Mexico City, and I missed being in an environment where I am surrounded by different cultures and ethnicities. I chose the HEC Paris MBA because it is ranked as one of the best business schools in the world and for its diversity.
I will always be a doctor; I will always be a pediatrician. In my last term, I took the Inclusive and Social Business certificate. And with an MBA degree from HEC Paris, I can do so much more in the future!”
Boutaina Sefiani, Moroccan, S19 intake
Boutaina is a civil engineer, who worked in three different countries prior to doing her MBA: Morocco, Qatar and the UK. One of her proudest professional achievements was managing the construction of the biggest wind farm in North Africa. Resilient and always seeking new challenges, she is currently completing her MBA at HEC Paris with her partner and their two children. She is involved in the HEC Paris MBA Energy Club (she’s the Club’s former president and is currently advisor to it). To say she’s busy is an understatement, but Boutaina and her husband, Youssef, make it work.
“Over the years, Youssef and I had worked in different countries and lived apart, sometimes for months on end, if not longer. I joined him in Qatar, then we moved to the UK, and now we are in France, pursuing our MBA together, enjoying our family and student life.
“It’s definitely not easy raising two children while being full-time students. But getting the MBA degree has always been one of our common goals, and we wanted to achieve that goal together. The COVID-19 lockdown, especially during the weeks of our final exams, made things even harder. But with communication, organization, and adaptability, we made it through. The school helped too, giving us the flexibility to take our finals at different times.
Looking back, my lesson is simply this: “Never find reasons to say that you cannot do something. Do it, and you will find a way to make it work!”
Andrew Hsueh, Taiwanese, J20 intake
Andrew Hsueh was a Special Agent of the Taiwanese Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau (sort of like the FBI of Taiwan) focusing on economic crime and corruption.
“No one in my family worked in the justice system, but my sister and I both went into it. She is a judge of the Taipei District Court and I was a special agent of the Investigation Bureau. We both wanted to be able to help others by solving individual and societal problems through the law.
The laws and regulations are supposed to protect and defend civilians. But they are black and white and look at only the facts. However, people often act in an ambiguous, gray area. So consequently, they sometimes end up protecting the offenders, or those who were victimized because of their greed. But how do you define greed?
Throughout my career as a special agent, I observed the dynamics amongst all stakeholders from different backgrounds and social classes, and I saw the limitation of the judicial system. Very often it was a chain of wrong decisions that started years ago led to the final catastrophe of an organization. I realized, in order to solve many of the economic crimes and corruption, it must start from the decision making and from within a company as well – its culture, its vision and goals.
I came to HEC Paris MBA to learn more about business operations and understand the ecosystem thoroughly. Instead of solving the problem with legal services when it’s too late, I want to get into management consulting to help firms make the right decision and prevent them from going to the wrong way. In a sense, try to continue the shift away from ‘profits only’ to a shared sense of responsibility within business. HEC Paris seemed like the perfect place to start – at the heart of Europe, a leader in developing top quality managers and with a strong aim to make a positive impact on society.
My wife and I just welcomed our second daughter, born 9 months after the lockdown. Having two daughters has deepened my driver that not only do I want to bring the positive impacts to the society but also be a father figure that will make my daughters proud, because every single decision I make, regardless how trivial it may be, is going to affect their future.”
Gina Abdelsalam, French and Egyptian, S19 intake
Gina is a nuclear engineer who is passionate about nuclear science. She was born and raised in Togo, and she attended high school in Egypt before moving to France. She is currently interning at PwC with the company’s global consulting advisory services. There she’s regularly praised for being true to the HEC motto “learn to dare” for questioning the status quo, even with her superiors.
“Back when I was in high school, I read an article on the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject. I was so fascinated by the amount of power that can be produced by such small subatomic scales. Right then, I was determined to become a nuclear scientist. After completing high school in Egypt, I moved to France by myself for a 2-year intensive preparatory program. The goal was entry into an engineering school. It was long hours of classes and homework every day for 2 years. At the end, I was admitted to one of the best universities in France to study nuclear engineering.
“After my internship at Framatome (formerly AREVA NP), I was accepted into a PhD program. But at the same time, I was offered the opportunity to work at EDF (Électricité de France) in the R&D department, where the majority of my coworkers held PhDs. I decided to accept the job at EDF, figuring that I could always earn a PhD later in my career. Two years later, EDF acquired Framatome. I didn’t really understand the changes happening at that time. But now that I have taken the Merger and Acquisition Strategy class at HEC, I can reflect back on that experience. I now understand the challenges these two great companies faced during their merger much better than I did before.
“Nuclear power is traditionally a geographically limited industry, but now I’m seeing that nuclear industries are expanding across international borders. When I heard the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in the UAE — the first of its kind in the Arab world — started operations last August, I was so excited. I think I will always want to be part of the nuclear power industry. With my MBA, I’m hoping to work internationally on the strategic and business side of this industry.”
Emric Navarre, American, S19 intake
Most students only know Emric from the way he led the class through the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. He is otherwise a private, quiet person. In fact, a classmate who sat next to Emric for a whole term came across his LinkedIn profile a year later; she sarcastically joked that she had sat next to a different Emric. She had no idea that he was an aviator, a former military officer in American Special Operations, and a satellite operator and GPS Modernization and Training Director for the US Space Program.
When he’s asked if there’s anything else about him that might be interesting, he simply answered: “I favor the color green. I like to listen to K-pop; I prefer to watch comedies. I can hold my own at Mario Kart and am a Pokémon Master. And I think there are things that need to be taken seriously, but for everything else there’s sarcasm.”
There’s so much more that he’s left unsaid. Emric also has done humanitarian work, helping children gain access to education by tutoring them for school entrance exams. He also recently created a new association: the HEC Handicap & Disability Association.
“I had the privilege to work with some amazing people who were disabled and had been through some very tough times. But they came to work every day and generally were even more driven than most. There’s a profound misunderstanding about what disability means and how prevalent disabilities can be. In fact, we have classmates who are disabled, but most people would never know it.
“A lot of HEC’s clubs focus on expanding personal opportunities. There are clubs that talk about diversity: Women in Leadership, LGBTQ and a few others. But nothing about disability, which affects about 37 percent of the world. Only about 1 percent of the population needs a wheelchair, but I think that’s what most people associate with the word ‘disability’.
“As a result, I thought this was a good opportunity to create a school-wide association–not just within the MBA–and offer a new perspective for classmates. There’s a lot of talk and excitement about business impact so hopefully this can start a conversation, offer new information and increase inclusivity.
“In the end, Soline Toussaint (a Grand Ecole student) and I talked with the school, created the student association and here we are. The pandemic is making things more complicated, but hopefully there are students willing to get involved and make a lasting change.”
To meet more of the HEC Paris MBA students in the Class of 2021, watch their student-made videos from when they first started the MBA program. Presenting our September 2019 intake and our January 2020 intake!
Text by Amanda Shih, MBA '21
Amanda Shih came to HEC Paris MBA with more than 7 year's experience in the Gaming Industry. She started as a Project Manager at Playdom, and then became a Game Services Analyst for The Walt Disney Company. There, she developed and executed marketing plans and live contests for several top gaming communities (seven million social-media followers). She later joined Party House in Taiwan as a Producer, managing an 18-person cross-functional team and overseeing everything from market research to UI/UX design. Just prior to the MBA, she oversaw operations for the opening of a restaurant in San Francisco. During her time at the HEC Paris MBA, Amanda held the role of Social Media Coordinator for the MBA’s Ambassador program, was an Advisor to the Impact Club, and took part in The Executive Committee and the Creative Destruction Lab-Paris. Her specialization is in Entrepreneurship Deeptech. She also earned an Inclusive & Social Business (ISB) Certificate.