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Level up fast and smart with SMU’s MBA

When a plum promotion arises at work, younger professionals may feel unequipped to put their hands up compared to more senior colleagues  – but not David Zeng.

The 37-year-old was a year into his role as regional lead of financial planning and analysis at pharmaceuticals giant Mundipharma when the position of finance head for its Thai outpost came up. Zeng threw his hat in the ring, despite competition from a more experienced candidate.

“As the role needed someone with a good business acumen, I was considered over that person due to the interpersonal and storytelling skills I've picked up in my MBA,” he says. “If not, I would definitely have been passed over.”

Storytelling is one of several critical leadership skills honed at the full-time MBA programme run by Singapore Management University (SMU), which Zeng strategically selected to realise long-term ambitions of being a sought-after chief financial officer.

“I need to have management experiences – which I am currently accumulating – and opportunities through networking with MBA alumni, not to mention a good understanding of how the business works, organisational behaviour, and storytelling,” he says.

Such skills are either built up over years at work, or via an MBA. “SMU was a natural choice; I love the practical classes and how they encourage you to speak up,” Zeng adds. “There is a lot of sharing of personal experiences, good practices, and conflict resolution. A class without such interaction would just be an undergraduate study of business.”

David Zeng - Regional Lead of Financial Planning and Analysis at Mundipharma 

Designed for practicality

Zeng is among many in SMU’s MBA cohort who have rapidly realised career goals after graduating. Eighty percent of graduates are employed in 6 months, often in leadership positions.

Chinkita Chugh Gupta landed an account strategist role at dream employer Google soon after her part-time MBA sharpened a longtime interest in digital marketing. The 27-year-old, who has clocked stints at Microsoft and PayPal, initially applied for the course to expand her skillsets when Covid-19 put a stop to overseas travel.

The short duration was also a draw: a full-time MBA can be completed in 10-15 months, and 15-18 months for the part-time option.

Modules in digital marketing strategy, research and analytics, strategic foresight and the business value of digital disruption quickly positioned her as a top candidate.

“At the time I was working with different internal stakeholders leading a case study to bring in more clients, and the knowledge I brought back was tremendous,” Chinkita says. “SMU has a very practical approach, a lot of role-play, case studies, and industry speakers. You learn how different industries and companies have grown, and new things they’re trying out.”

Other in-demand MBA modules include data science, which confers a working knowledge of basic R and Python programming. Meanwhile, Zeng benefitted from real world knowledge gleaned from modules such as leading digital transformation, organisational behaviour, and entrepreneurship.

Ninety percent of the coursework came from projects and class participation,” he says. “You see how the theory works in the face of realism, and pick up good tips.”

In particular, the digital transformation module equipped him with insights to tackle digitisation of healthcare to improve margins and efficiency. In the course, teams brainstorm ways to digitise a manual business and develop a minimum viable product.

Zeng and his team took things one step further by attempting to launch their business, a wine distribution service for events. But they sold nothing in the first two months, despite plying sales techniques and social media marketing.

“This was interesting, because we thought going digital could make our products known, which turned out not to be the case,” he recounts. “In the end, by applying specific target marketing on alumni networks, we recovered our initial investment – and even tripled it.”

Though the arrival of Covid-19 heralded the end of that venture, the journey was invaluable. By making complicated scenarios easy for audiences to understand, Zeng honed his flair for storytelling, and gained experience growing bottom lines and driving the business. These are areas in which successful CFOs must develop a track record, which he continues to hone on his way to the top.

Chinkita Chugh Gupta - Account Strategist at Google

A transformative experience

Ranked 10th among universities in Asia and 51st worldwide in the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2022, the SMU MBA attracts a diverse and influential cohort that candidates can tap into for opportunities, new connections and broader horizons.

Chinkita, who wants to attain a leadership position in tech, benefitted from incisive advice classmates provided on skills needed to climb quickly, such as empathy, communication, and problem-solving.

Meanwhile, opportunities to grow a business or penetrate a desired industry are among the benefits Zeng sees, which are conferred by strong connections. “MBAs are all about networking. Networking can lead you to unknown opportunities and benefits,” he says. “The SMU Alumni network is vast and well established, with many in banking and finance, entrepreneurship and wealth management.”

At the end of the day, both graduates say, these intangibles are what those selecting an MBA should prioritise – citing soft skills learned, new friendships built, and insights gained from classmates’ sharing across industries, all of which the course is designed to amplify.

“Hard skills like business operations should be secondary on your list,” advises Zeng. “SMU lets you fast track your learning, and in no time, you’ll be back in the workforce.”

“It broadened my knowledge and gave me ideas I had not thought of before,” adds Chinkita. “It’s a transformative experience.”

AUTHORSingapore Management University Singapore Management University

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