International College of Economics and Finance

“MBA causes one to learn new things on another cognitive level”

After working for one of the Big Three consulting firms, 2016 MSc graduate of ICEF, Mark Zakhvatkin, did an MBA degree at INSEAD Business School in France. Currently a management consultant in the field of data science, Mark shares how to bond Mathematics and Economics together to form a perfect match, how to choose from the massive amount of MBA programmes, and why it is economic education that paves the way towards a successful career.

“MBA causes one to learn new things on another cognitive level”

– Why do you think people decide, at some point in their careers, that they need to do an MBA?                    

An MBA program provides graduates with more opportunities to expand themselves professionally. While offering an exposure to a new geographical milieu, MBA makes one qualified for more specializations and on average two-times higher compensation. It teaches a wider range of soft skills and overall MBA causes one to learn new things on another cognitive level. I’ve used it not only to improve my leadership qualities but also to get the feel of my specialization on different geographical markets as the demand in specialists in in-depth analysis is known to vary greatly from country to country.

– Why INSEAD France Business School? How does it differ from, say, American MBA schools?

INSEAD currently ranks second among the world’s top ten B-schools, each of which has its own area of specialization. Stanford, for instance, would be the perfect choice for those who want to pursue entrepreneurial careers, Wharton for those who aspire to become top financial specialists, and INSEAD for seekers of top skills in marketing, strategic planning and investment. So, based on the school’s core area, I weeded out those I wasn’t the right fit for and I was left with two options only – Harvard Business School and INSEAD, the latter topping the rankings at the time. I applied both and was admitted to INSEAD.

In Europe, INSEAD MBA diploma is a credential attesting to its holder’s excellence. By the way, INSEAD’s other campus is based in Singapore. In terms of career opportunities in Europe and Asia, INSEAD offers one of the three best, if not the very best MBA degree programme.

– Did your skills and knowledge match the admission requirements all right?    

MBA Admissions rank applicants against four basic criteria:

– Academic achievement, including GMAT/GRE and TOEFL/IELTS. Even though I scored only average in my previous bachelor’s degree from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and my master’s one from ICEF, my GMAT score of 750 appeared satisfactory to the admissions board.

– Work experience. A considerable number of applicants apply MBA after having worked for the Big Three and their consultancy experience is, indeed, an asset.

– Applicant profile. In order to meet their needs of increased diversity, business schools are looking to create pools of candidates with unusual profiles. Me for instance, I major in Physics and Economy, have the experience of working for the Big Three consultancy firm in the field of data science, and the volunteer experience at the Olympics in Sochi. A profile like mine is quite rare and has made me an interesting candidate.

– Application documents. I spent two months preparing my package of application documents (including GMAT and TOEFL). You should make sure you have enough time well in advance to write your motivation essay, which is a very important document in your portfolio.

 – How did you arrive at the decision to channel your math skills into the field of economics? Were there any specific goals you set for yourself?

It was driven mainly by my desire to become a consultant after my master’s studies. Also, I knew that my technical background was a poor help on my chosen career. I didn’t have even the slightest notion of how the world of business operated, nor was I aware of the basic economic terminology. Every time I read The Vedomosti or RBK I had difficulty understanding the message because of my lack of theoretical knowledge of Economics and Finance. And I clearly lacked opportunities to meet people with mindsets other than mine: while studying my math and physics programme I had fellow students who had been filtered through a system of math and physics competitions and constituted a cohort of a special kind.

Also, my soft skills left much to be desired. When you are a physics major, there is one sole mode for you to use to express your statement as true. The very idea of learning how to phase ideas based on the context or how to keep audience attention and sound persuasive seemed all secondary. Keeping in mind that your presentation is expected to produce an emotional effect and psychological impact was something I was not prepared for. So, it became clear to me that I needed practice, particularly given that the art of getting your message across can be perfected endlessly. Understanding economic contexts teaches gives you a more global vision of things – the world in general, business, human relations.

– Math background, in which areas of Economics does it come in handy?          

Consulting as a field that places great value on one’s ability to structure tasks into logical components. This ability appears to occur more often in people with math background. The basic programming skills that go with it come very much in handy when it comes to financial modelling – and more so the nontrivial dependencies that need to be made use of.

Mathematical background proves useful also in bank risk management as this is an area that relates more to applied statistics rather than business-related issues of banking. And, math skills go hand in hand with data science, the latter operating a set of sophisticated concepts that are rooted in the theory of computer science. And even though data science has recently become a lot friendlier to non-math people, these are still math majors who seem to excel in data science field more easily and be truly understanding what they are doing.

And then the IT industry, of course – a common choice among ex tech guys who don’t see themselves working in research. At the same time, borders between industries are becoming increasingly erased. In management consulting, for example, the most captivating tasks are always at the confluence of data science and all other fields that need it.

– What do you think sets ICEF apart from the rest of higher education services providers? How did it benefit you personally?

At ICEF, courses are delivered by lecturers who are practicing experts, which means the training they provide prepares students for corporate jobs much better than any of the theoretical courses. Banking, Private Equity, Investment Analysis are some of the courses that appeared incredibly useful for my understanding of how business world works.

I noted how well-structured the academic process was at ICEF and how efficiently its Office of Studies operated. According to feedback from ICEF students, their voice is being heard. ICEF has formed a close-knit community of alumni who never fail to share vacancy updates. This came as a pleasant surprise to me after my studies at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.  

From experience, if you are a technical major and would like to pursue a career in business rather than academia, ICEF MSc Programme will complement very well your bachelor of technology degree – by giving you profound knowledge of the fundamental laws of economy and business, paving the path for your career in best-performing companies, and, what is more, giving access to these companies through early work experience while you are a student. All this makes ICEF a perfect career springboard for many of its graduates.

Sonya Spielberg, specially for HSE