Akhilla Ashok had always aspired to pursue the different and unconventional in many parts of her life. With a background in global finance, pursuing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) became one of the essential parts of her career trajectory.
“The timing and the right MBA program and University was crucial as there are several top universities across the globe,” she explains. "To me, a more holistic perspective [on leadership] was essential as a future leader aspirant.”
What drew me to the University of Sydney was the MBA program crafted for Leadership and Enterprise - the holistic view that I was looking for.
Fond memories of holidays in Sydney many years ago piqued Akhilla’s interest in Australia, and it was the holistic view on leadership that solidified her decision in the Sydney MBA program.
After a few years of building a career foundation, choosing to go back to university was a natural choice, especially in the journey to define ‘career impact’. Thinking back to her time in the MBA program, Akhilla says “there were multiple aspects of my time studying the MBA which were special.”
The MBA experience was an enriching one for me, both intellectually and emotionally.
“Every professor played an integral role to my MBA journey,” she remembers, speaking to how the student experience resonated with both her professional and personal interests. “The practical application to my learnings were not only limited to class, exams and projects, but also building my leadership capabilities by winning opportunities to lead the University clubs and societies, such as MBA consulting club, Diversity and Inclusion, and the Indian Cultural Society.”
For Akhilla, the similarities and differences between Sydney and India complement each other – both as a student and as a working professional in Australia.
“My experience in Sydney to date can be summed as the 'best of both worlds',” she says. “Similarities spanning from the feeling of belongingness, the fast-paced city life to even the weather made the transition so smooth!”
[In Australia] many people value your identity beyond a student or working professional, which encourages you to extend boundaries and pursue interests beyond education and work that further shapes your personality.
Indeed, this attitude extends to her current role working as a senior management leader at Grant Thornton Australia. “Our team leadership functions on the foundation of working 'with' rather than 'for' one another,” she shares.
When asked how she sustained her curiosity through the MBA and drove the career change in a new country, Akhilla thinks back to a former senior colleague’s advice where ‘aptitude is something you can build and learn anywhere, but it is more of the right attitude you carry.’
“As an individual, I have continued to carry this trait… through curiosity and willingness to learn more and maintaining the right attitude,” she says. “The MBA further solidified this foundation from a leadership standpoint and helped me accelerate to the role of a manager within a short span of time.”
“Whilst I am passionate about the area of sustainability and environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) as a corporate finance professional in the business valuations team,” Akhilla begins. “Alongside ascertaining and evaluating a company's 'value' where I have also had the opportunity to value companies that are actively pursuing steps towards a sustainable future, I have seen myself put in efforts to create 'value' on a team and organisation level too across the hierarchy.”
I am an active member of the workplace communities, such as GEN circle (gender, equity and diversity) and the social impact club. These have contributed to my career progression and impact, making it an integral component of the 'S' within ESG.
When asked on what advice she would give to those thinking about studying an MBA at the University of Sydney, Akhilla is keen to emphasise the importance of coming with an open mind to maximise learning “from the university, program, professors and cohort.”
“The key here is to shift the mindset from focusing on pursuing the MBA as just another master's degree for career progression, to using it as a means to unlock your potential to its peak,” she says.
This MBA is unlike the conventional programs and has a lot to offer to aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs. You learn to embrace the uncertainties, adapt, and mould yourself as a leader through theory and practice within and beyond the MBA program.