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Having lived across Germany, France, England, Ireland and the US exploring a number of impact-focused career paths, Gina Mirow decided to study an MBA to develop her financial toolkit and gain more exposure to the private sector. After quickly gaining confidence in a number of key areas, she is now looking forward to her plans for the next term – and beyond.
I’m half German, half Liechtensteiner by background, but I moved around a lot throughout my school years. I ended up studying Philosophy and Psychology at Trinity College Dublin, including a year studying abroad at UC Berkeley, where I lived in a social justice themed co-op. Immediately after my undergraduate degree, with my interest in people, I thought I’d be a psychologist, and started working in counselling. I found the work fulfilling, but also realised that I was also interested in working on problems at a more systemic level. I realised that finance forms the bedrock of any system, and that led me to move into impact investing.
I started work in public private partnerships, bringing together stakeholders from the social, pubic and private sectors to work on innovative social interventions. I did that for a couple of years and really enjoyed the more analytical work and seeing the impact that the deals had on organisations, people and policies. But I felt like the solutions to some of the bigger problems that we face, such as economic inequality and climate change, needed to come from the private sector. With that in mind, I moved into a family office, making deals into socially and environmentally purposeful businesses.
I enjoyed the work, but I decided to do an MBA because it gave me the opportunity to do two things. On the one hand, I could grow a set of skills that I hadn’t been formally educated in. I’d worked in finance roles, but everything I’d learned had been on the job, and I really wanted to sit down and learn the fundamentals of accounting, economics and finance. On the other hand, I wanted to gain more exposure to the private sector at a greater scale.
When I was choosing which school to go to, London Business School stood out for the solid internship opportunities it offered; as a career switcher, it was important for me to have that time with a dedicated internship. I also knew the School had a very good reputation for finance, and looking through the courses, I was attracted to a number of the finance-focussed ones.
It wouldn’t have been possible for me to do the MBA without the SARI Foundation Trust Scholarship, so finding out I’d been awarded was amazing. As someone who is a little bit less represented in the MBA, in terms of being both a queer woman and someone who came from the social sector, having that validation from the School that my background was valued and my potential recognised, gave me a sense of belonging and confidence from the get-go.
The SARI scholars community is small but growing, and has been a great resource for me since joining the MBA. By some coincidence many of the scholars are interested in using finance as a tool for change at scale, so it’s been great to have a group of alumni to look up to and draw on for support. When I first joined LBS I didn’t know anyone in investment banking at all, so it’s been really helpful to be able to write to them and say, ‘where do I even start, how do I approach this?’
From a content perspective, the first term of the programme is really intense, but I fully immersed myself and have come out of it feeling more confident in exactly the areas I wanted to feel confident in; corporate finance and accounting. I’ve already learned a huge amount, so that was a big tick.
I also really loved the macroeconomics classes; once a week, we’d get together for three hours to talk about any interesting topic in the economy at that point. Having the opportunity to discuss things I’d read about in the news within a classroom context, with people who have lots of very different experiences across different sectors and industries, guided by someone who really knows what they’re talking about, makes for really interesting and insightful conversation. I feel like I’ve really grown in terms of being able to articulate my understanding of major trends that are currently shaping the global economy.
There’s also a real ‘yes’ attitude on the MBA; whatever you want to do, you’ll probably find someone who wants to do it with you, and I think that’s brilliant. For example, in my first few weeks I heard about a cycling trip to Paris. I was then chatting with four people in my stream and we all decided to sign up, even though we hardly knew each other. That’s really fun and quite unique, as people often don’t have the time or the flexibility to do that during their ‘normal’ working lives.
When you join the MBA, people always talk about the triangle of priorities: socialising, career and academics, and it’s a challenge to do all three well. Last term my focus was very much on career and academics, so this term I want to spend a little more time on the social side. I’d like to do a few more rides with the cycling club and go on a couple of treks to get to know more of my classmates. I’d like to build on the skills that I learned last term in preparation for an internship, so for my electives, I’ve chosen to focus on finance and accounting.
I’m head of speaker events in the Finance Club, and I’d like to set up some events with a greater focus on diversity in finance. The club is mainly there to help people get into investment banking, and a lot of the investment banking recruitment is based on networking and reaching out to people. My realisation is that if you’re a woman, if you’re queer, and if you’re not white, a lot of the time, you don’t have as much of a network in banks, so it makes it a lot harder to get your foot in the door. By creating mentorship opportunities, or panel discussions with minorities in banking to speak with potential recruits, I hope I can help to level the playing field a bit.
My advice for people is two-fold (in complete honesty, one piece of advice is from Savio Kwan MSc09 (1976), my scholarship donor, but it rings very true, so I will share it here):
First, be very clear on why you want to do the MBA, and how it will help you further your career. Speak with people who have done an MBA to get a sense of what you will really learn, and what career opportunities are likely to open up for you afterwards (as well as finding out what career switches are more challenging or unrealistic).
Second, Savio Kwan MSc09 (1976) wisely recommended that we spend as much time thinking about what we can give to the MBA as we do thinking about what the MBA can give us, which resonates with me. The magic of the MBA really develops as a product of the experiences, initiatives, and culture that its students cultivate. So before joining the MBA, reflect on what you will uniquely contribute, be it a collaborative way of working, an ability to organise the best events, or raising the profile of an underrepresented community.
Finally, two years seems like a long time, but it goes so, so quickly. If you want to go into investment banking or consulting, then from day one you’re hitting the ground running. So the clearer you can be about what you’re trying to do and what your goals are, the more you maximise your chances of getting there.
If all goes according to plan, after the MBA I will be applying the skills I learned through finance and accounting classes to making financial deals at scale. I want to learn about the key driving forces that shape our economy, and how to thrive within a large institution. My long-term goal is to set up an impact-focused investment firm once I understand how to make impact investing work at scale.
Gina Mirow is a recipient of the SARI Foundation Trust Scholarship.