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I say this cautiously but Americans can be very Americentric.
I know I used to be, even though I am the child of an immigrant. Moving to Denmark was a big part of learning how disadvantageous it is to think that the US is at the centre of the universe, but the MBA programme at Copenhagen Business School was international and intimate.
We were 37 people of 19 nationalities; the small group meant you got to know people instead of just occasionally getting to meet them, as you might in a larger programme.
As I learnt how to engage with people from different cultures I realised there is a separation between someone’s personality and that “something” they bring to the table which is cultural. It may sound dramatic but that was life-changing for me.
I used to be an opera singer. For about 10 years I did gig work — operas, recitals, weddings and other parties — but I also taught voice practice. Then about four years ago I started to reflect on what it was I wanted out of music.
I had just graduated from my masters in voice and opera at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College and I was starting to audition for roles that would build me towards being a professional opera singer.
I asked myself why I was doing it because it is not an easy industry: you need to be sure of what you want. However trite it might sound, the answer was that I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to make people feel better through music.
There is a lot to be said about performance and what it can do for people but I decided that what I wanted was, in a way, a little grander than that. As an opera singer, one of the things you notice is funding, or the lack of it — where is the money coming from when you try to get operas off the ground? If you are not at the Met in New York, it is a challenge. So I thought that maybe business was the missing link in what I was trying to do and that was my transition into the business side.
I was attracted to MBAs that focused on entrepreneurship and leadership because I knew those skills would eventually be important to me.
It came down to a choice between Stern in New York and Copenhagen Business School (CBS), as both share a focus on social entrepreneurship and responsibility.
In the end I thought I would learn more by not only switching industry but also country. Moving abroad proved to be one of the most important aspects of my MBA.
The style of teaching and taking exams is different in Denmark compared with what I was used to. In the US you learn a lot of material, memorise it and regurgitate it during a test.
At CBS many exams are oral and you are given access to key theories and models you studied during the course. You are given a prompt by a professor and a non-partial third party and have to develop an argument and defend your position. The point of the exercise is not to memorise theories but to analyse and interpret them to work with your logic. The style fosters individual thinking.
When I graduated from my MBA I was keen to get a bit of experience outside music, something I believe would benefit many musicians.
I am currently in Singapore, as a graduate trainee with Jabra, the Danish headset company. My rotation here on the regional marketing desk ends in December and then I will go back to headquarters in Copenhagen.
It has been interesting to learn how much my experience can be used in a corporate setting. Being a performer allows me to be calm and adapt quickly. I am also in full control of my voice and can alter pitch, tempo, volume and emotion to communicate better.
I keep the dream of creating my own company on the table. Exactly what I want to do with it keeps morphing but the primary idea is for a combination of a music school for at-risk youth and a for-profit production studio that sells original advert music.
The reason I did the MBA was to gain the skills to create something that could be profitable, which to me means sustainable. It would be my goal to create something that can do good but also be sustainable so it can last.
As told to Patricia Nilsson
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