Asia School of Business

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Why ASB’s MBA Class Of 2020 is More Prepared Than Anyone to Tackle Adversity

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I can’t believe it was nearly two years ago when I showed up at a Class of 2020 Immersion Dinner. It feels simultaneously like just yesterday and a million years ago. The first thing that struck me was how excited every student was to be there. I met people coming from India and Ireland, from Mexico and Malaysia. I met some who had lived abroad for years and others who had never traveled outside of their country before coming to ASB.

But no matter their nationality, industry, race, or religion, all of them had agreed: they may have only been together for a week, but were already best friends for life. I was skeptical. I remember cautioning them, “You’re in the honeymoon period, but just wait three months. You’ll be yelling at the other members of your Action Learning groups about which framework to use soon enough.”

Fortunately, I was largely wrong (though I’m sure some arguments still took place during the projects, it’s inevitable). More than any other class, the Class of 2020 has stuck together through good times and bad, supporting each other with love and compassion. There have been many firsts in the cohort, as well as many initiatives created and organized by the students.

For example, they created the first inter-class groups based on animals, where certain students within each class were classified as “tigers” or “elephants,” as a way of fostering connections within and between cohorts. They also hosted the first-ever Club Fair on the premises of one of the student’s businesses, with more yelling and raucous cheering than I would have expected for presentations about finance and data analytics activities.

They were also the first cohort to attend the China Trek, a week-long immersive journey through the innovation landscape in the country, which resulted in rave reviews. They also, along with the Class of 2021, moved into the newly built residential campus at ASB for the first time. And, unfortunately, current circumstances surrounding the spread of COVID19 forced the Class of 2020 to host the first-ever micro-graduation, a last-minute heroic effort that brought together students, faculty and staff spread out across the globe.

While many of the firsts and changes were exciting, they could also be destabilizing. As someone who graduated with the first MBA cohort at ASB, I know that being the first to do anything is tough. Nothing is well-defined, not all of the details have been filled in. A lot of time is spent orienting and re-orienting (or “immersing,” if you prefer). And, worst case, sometimes new initiatives fail or go badly.

When the structures around you are ever-changing, it helps to look for support in something dependable, an anchor amid the raging sea. For the Class of 2020, you can tell that the anchor for most of the students is their classmates, as well as the broader ASB community. When one student struggles, everyone steps in to help. When there is a systemic problem, everyone steps in to both propose and implement the solution.

And when crises happen, like the one we’re in the midst of now, the students step up to buy supplies, coordinate aid to each other, and organize a graduation in less than 48 hours. With rock-star professors and exciting travel opportunities, sometimes the ASB MBA program can feel like living the dream. But the unique way the program is designed also has inherent challenges.

Getting along in a cohort with 18 nationalities is tough. Juggling coursework, Action Learning projects and the job search, all while taking over a half-dozen flights every semester, is tough. In many ways, it’s a stress-test for one’s ability to handle change and uncertainty. So while I’m proud of the Class of 2020, both for graduating and for their impressive response to the current circumstances, their cheerfulness in the face of adversity, I’m also not surprised.

If anyone were well-equipped to deal with a global pandemic, it is this group of globally-minded, resilient students. The weeks following my own graduation were a flurry of activity. I negotiated and signed a job offer while on vacation with my family, then spent a hectic few weeks securing housing, stocking my apartment, and settling into a strange new routine without my classmates. And I only moved within Kuala Lumpur.

Given what I went through, I can only imagine how unsettled some of our new graduates are currently feeling. Most were forced to leave Malaysia abruptly, while others cannot return to their home countries. Many have taken jobs with start dates that are now uncertain, and for others the job search process has been put on hold indefinitely.

While this class is facing a difficult and unprecedented situation, I have more confidence in them than almost any other group of people to make it through and come out stronger than before. The ASB MBA has given them the tools and experience to prepare them, as well as the interpersonal bonds to support them, through almost anything. And, though they may now be physically separated, I have no doubt that they’ll come out of this together.

PS: If you are reading this and have remote work or full-time positions available, consider hiring one of our Class of 2020 graduates. Reach out to us and we will coordinate introductions to the best-fit graduates.