Women at Business School – Natalia Obolensky
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Natalia Obolensky is co-founder of BBureau, a hair and beauty company that she co-founded with Leisha Olandj during their MBA at Insead in France. It aims to bring wellbeing services into the workplace to save employees time, money and stress.
Ms Obolensky has worked in microfinance for American International Group, the insurance company, and as an associate consultant for Bain & Company. She co-founded BBureau in 2013 and is now based in the UK.
In her spare time, she enjoys hosting dinner parties, practising yoga and running in Hyde Park, London.
1. Why did you choose to do an MBA?
I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and thought that an MBA would help me build the professional network and round out my business skills to enable me to succeed. Luckily, I was right. I doubt Leisha and I would have taken the plunge and committed to BBureau if it wasn’t for the support from our professors and peers. We were able to get good advice on all aspects of the business from our professors, especially Karan Girotra who is now an executive director of BBureau, and to test different services on students in our pop-up spa on campus.
2. What would you do if you were dean of a business school for the day?
I would make sure that the school was focusing on its alumni relations and networking. Making it easy to stay involved with your classmates and expand your network with other classes is hugely important.
3. What academic achievement are you most proud of?
I am most proud of having had my senior thesis published at Brown University. I wrote about the norms of international assassination and their role in the war on terror. Given that I was living in the US at the time (2007), debating whether or not the US should be allowed to kill Osama bin Laden legally or not, was a political subject that, at best, wouldn’t make you popular at dinner parties and, at worst, could destroy relationships. It was a touchy subject but one that I found endlessly fascinating. When it was then published in the Brown Policy Review, I was thrilled to feel that my point of view and arguments would be properly heard.
4. Who are your business influences?
Without a doubt, my father is my biggest influence in business. When I was living in New York, we would occasionally meet for a sushi lunch near his office and talk about business. There are three main lessons I learnt from him. First is the importance of fairness. Being fair earns you respect. Respect then earns you loyalty. And loyalty then earns you hard work from your team and contracts from your clients. Second, he taught me to never underestimate the personal side of business. Meeting up in person, even if it requires hours on a plane, may not always be a deal maker – but not showing up in person is inevitably a deal breaker. Lastly, he tried to teach me to be a bit less gullible – I’m still working on this lesson!
5. What advice would you give to women in business education?
Focus on what you really love. And if you don’t know what this is yet, then experiment until you find it.
6. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
Acknowledge, and move on. There are differences between men and women in business – just as there are differences between cultures and characters, but none of these should affect your business if you understand those differences and have confidence in your product or service.
7. Who is your ideal professor?
Anyone with real, hardcore experience. In international relations, I always loved the professors who were active advisers to the government or had direct experience in the subjects that they were teaching. If I could pick any class to take at the moment, it would be Madeleine Albright’s class on American national security at Georgetown University. She must have such an interesting perspective on the current international political climate.
8. What is the last book you read?
The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks. In addition to being the last book I’ve read, it’s also one that I enjoyed immensely. Mr Brooks looks at life, relationships and situations and explains the physiological side of decisions or feelings. It’s essentially about the impact of your subconscious on your life – which you are completely unaware of. I found it explained a lot of what we refer to as a “gut feeling”.
9. What is your favourite business book?
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Fantastic advice for entrepreneurs – particularly those who are natural perfectionists.
10. Have you been to any seminars that have helped you in your career?
The ones that I have found the most helpful for entrepreneurship are those where the speakers are really ready to answer the tougher questions, like “Should I give up my job to start this company?”, or “Should I take out a loan against my mortgage to finance my business?” There are lots of courses and lecturers who can take you through how to start a business, but I’ve found the most useful ones are really honest about whether you should start a business.