Connie has a BSc in Finance and International Management from Yonsei University in Korea and has previously worked in investment banking, with roles at Credit Suisse and HSBC. Immediately after graduating from the MBA in 2011, she founded luxury jewellery brand Astrid & Miyu, which is stocked by stores such as Fenwick, TOPSHOP and House of Fraser, as well as online.
I’d been working for five years as an associate and an analyst in investment banking, in Seoul and then in Hong Kong, and wanted a career change. When I applied for the MBA at London Business School I had a five- to 10-year plan, hoping to follow my passion and find a role in a luxury fashion conglomerate and then, perhaps, to set up my own business. To do this, coming from the world of finance, I knew I needed to improve my general management skills and to learn from different disciplines. Both of these aspects are at the heart of the MBA, and the flexibility of its courses and its practical teaching style really appealed to me.
I was born in Seoul and raised in Washington D.C. and Seattle, so I have close connections to the US. American friends recommended business schools there, but it was a very personal decision for me to apply to LBS. Location was crucial. I’d stayed in London as part of my training at Credit Suisse and HSBC in 2004 and 2007 and I loved the buzz and cosmopolitan atmosphere. It was also important to me, with my interest in fashion, to be in a major city where all the main luxury brands are found.
The diversity of London Business School attracted me, too. My classmates came from all corners of the world. Fashion is an international business, with influences from around the globe and I was excited to gain inspiration and energy from the different industries and cultures represented by my peers. This was important to me not only because I grew up in a multi-cultural environment, but also because I knew I wanted to set up and lead a global business.
I was a member of the Retail and Luxury Industries club, which was not only great socially, with lots of events and talks, but also extremely helpful on a practical level. It was through the club that I found my first internship having made contact with the CEO of LVMH Asia Pacific when he came to do a talk. I ended up doing two internships with LVMH, working in luxury branding firstly for Moët Hennessy Asia Pacific and then for Thomas Pink in London. What I learnt from this, not least when it came to marketing strategy, was invaluable when I came to establish my own jewellery brand, Astrid & Miyu, soon after graduation.
The student network was fantastic from the start. One classmate, who had previously worked at LVMH, generously shared insights and advice before I applied for my internships there, which helped enormously. The alumni network is excellent, too. I’ve reached out to people in different fields and everyone’s been very willing to share. When I started Astrid & Miyu I had help from an alumnus with experience in online luxury retail. His entrepreneurial perspectives and generosity were invaluable.
The skills I’d acquired in investment banking were very finance-focused and technical and when starting your own business you have to understand every aspect of the startup, not just the money side. The MBA gave me a strong grounding in organisational behaviour, marketing and entrepreneurship. The Discovery Project was a real highlight – it taught me so many things. Our study group came first in our stream for our product idea, a black cab service app that worked on exactly the same model that Hailo later went on to launch. We had, in fact, considered taking our idea further, but in the end I decided to stay focused on fashion. I learned so much from the process, about how to identify your customer, conduct market research and create a feasible financial model. Another class, Paths to Power, focused on how to use influence to become an effective leader and is imprinted in my memory. It was fascinating to analyse how to build influence and use it well – which is essential when starting a new business.
I brainstormed business ideas while on the MBA, thought about options, looked at competitors, but I didn’t expect to start up so soon. Being surrounded by people who were willing to take risks, talking about starting businesses or having done so already gave me a lot of confidence and motivation. I’d had my five- to 10-year plan, but with so much support and inspiration, and with such an effective range of technical skills, the MBA ended up being a fast track for me.
I got going on Astrid & Miyu immediately upon graduation, and everything is going fantastically. The brand has been featured in all major UK fashion publications – including Grazia, Vogue, InStyle and Marie Claire – and we are currently stocked in select Fenwick and House of Fraser stores, as well as high-end independent boutiques around the UK. A recent successful pop-up in London’s TOPSHOP brought in many new customers and drove a lot of people to the website, which was excellent for brand awareness. I’m aiming to expand internationally next year, and planning to launch a standalone store in London the year after. In 2014, I was voted as “One to Watch” by Management Today, and I was the Smarta100 winner in the Female Entrepreneur category. The MBA has more than repaid the time and money I invested; I can’t recommend it highly enough.