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Eisha Armstrong is an MBA graduate of Harvard Business School. She now advises chief financial officers on talent, overhead cost management and investor relations at global advisory company CEB. She also sits on the steering committee of CEB’s women’s affinity group.
Ms Armstrong joined the Advisory Board Company shortly after graduating from the University of Kansas — where she studied economics and women’s studies — and stayed with the spin-off that is now CEB. After four years there, she was sponsored by the company to study for an MBA.
1. Why did you choose to study for an MBA?
My father is an economist, which led to my early interest in economics. Fortunately, the research and writing experience I gained while earning my economics and women’s studies degrees was what first qualified me to join CEB as a researcher. I decided to return to school and pursue an MBA because I wanted to learn how to run a business and learn the fundamentals of marketing, strategy, operations and finance.
2. What is your favourite memory of business school?
In my second year, I travelled to Japan to learn more about Japanese companies and culture. It was a fascinating experience and it taught me the importance of taking a more global approach to doing business.
3. What did you find the most difficult?
Business school had an almost endless menu of ways to spend time — from speakers, to professional clubs, to social gatherings, not to mention studying. The most difficult part for me was making choices about how to spend my time. It was important for me to have a clear sense of what I wanted to get out of business school to make sure I used that precious time wisely.
4. What were the gender dynamics like?
About one-third of my classmates were women, which was pretty standard at the time and not a source of concern for me. The diversity I really valued was the geographic diversity. Students represented countries from all over the world in my class, making business school a much richer experience for me. This too has helped to build my skills interacting with colleagues and customers from many different countries and cultures.
5. What was your biggest lesson learnt?
That the most important thing a leader can do is build a great team. Since graduating, I’ve seen how true this is. The best strategy or new product idea means little if there is not a well-functioning team to execute it. A leader certainly brings strengths to the table, but one person is rarely entirely responsible for the success of a new idea.
6. What advice would you give to women graduating this year from business school?
My advice for women (and men) above all else is be collaborative. Today’s business environment features more complex organisations and a faster speed of decision-making than ever before. This puts a premium on what CEB calls network leadership.
Network leaders are highly collaborative. By spending time learning from peers and looking for opportunities to connect people with one another, [they] are able to see success.
7. How do you deal with male dominated environments?
Confidence makes a big difference. I’m often the only woman in a meeting, but over time I have learnt not to let it bother me because I know my experience and insights are valuable. I may be the only woman, but few people know more about my business and areas of expertise than I do.
I am also actively working to improve the gender balance in my field. I sit on the leadership council for CEB’s affinity group dedicated to the professional development, impact, retention and attraction of women.
8. What is your favourite business book?
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. This book challenges the conventional wisdom that a week is not enough time to be professionally successful and do other things that matter in life:
“Looking at life in 168-hour blocks is a useful paradigm shift because — unlike the occasionally crunched workday — well-planned blocks of 168 hours are big enough to accommodate full-time work, intense involvement with your family, rejuvenating leisure time, adequate sleep and anything else that actually matters.”
9. Which websites / apps would you recommend for businesswomen?
LinkedIn — I use it to stay in touch with CEB members and former colleagues, filter content and make new connections. Flipboard, which aggregates news and other content for me to stay abreast of all of the subjects that I track for work. And Amazon Prime, which is critical to effectively managing my time and minimising the time I spend running errands.
10. What are your top tips for networking?
Don’t network for the sake of networking. You build a valuable network over time by forming meaningful connections with people who have shared business challenges or interests, staying in touch with them, and connecting others as appropriate. [Signing up to] local alumni organisations and serving on boards of charitable organisations and amateur sports groups have helped me meet new people, but the primary purpose for my involvement in them was never networking.