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Siobhan Sweeney is an MBA student at Cambridge Judge Business School, where she co-founded a new Women’s Leadership Initiative, which promotes gender equality in business globally, and won the Cambridge-McKinsey Risk Prize 2015 for her research paper recommending the appointment of one Contrarian Director to every public company board, to protect and encourage independent thinking and questioning by senior management.

A native of Australia, Ms Sweeney has represented her country in alpine skiing competitions and studied for degrees in economics and law at Monash University and the University of Melbourne respectively. She also spent time representing death-row inmates for the Texas Defender Service before joining Australian law firm King & Wood Mallesons and working for a steel company.

1. Why did you choose to study for an MBA?

I have always enjoyed thinking strategically and innovatively in relation to challenging problems facing global businesses. While I gained strong analytical skills from my legal and economics background, I wanted to equip myself with broader finance and business skills.

The decision to embark on an MBA seemed risky at the time given it required me to step out of my known career path and enter the unknown. However, it has proved one of the most valuable decisions of my career and has provided me with much more than I had expected in terms of knowledge, practical experience and a close network of trusted advisers and collaborators.

2. What have you enjoyed the most?

Debating controversial world issues over dinner with a truly international cohort, while wearing traditional gowns. It was an honour to be nominated by my fellow students for ‘making an impact’ during the year.

3. What did you find the most difficult?

Choosing. Cambridge is a place packed with incredible opportunities – from lectures on quantum physics to social ontology, as well as a vibrant art and music scene. For example, sometimes it requires choosing between a Cambridge Union debate, listening to King’s College Choir or watching the fireworks while punting on the River Cam.

4. What was the best piece of advice given to you?

One of my most memorable lessons was from my mentor Dame Sandra Dawson, who is the KPMG Professor Emeritus of Management Studies: “In order to make positive changes to an organisation, you must understand the world through the eyes of others,” she said.

5. Who is your ideal professor?

John Forbes Nash (1928 – 2015) to hear his application of game theory and Nash Equilibria to the challenges of the modern economy.

6. What is your favourite business book?

The Art of War, an ancient Chinese military treatise by Sun Tzu, which was recommended to me by Allegre Hadida, senior lecturer in strategy at Judge.

One of my favourite quotes from the book is: “In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity”. It means a lot to me because I have found my strengths are most valued in difficult situations.

7. Which business deals do you wish you could have been a part of?

It would have been fascinating to work on the Greek bailout negotiations (for either side). This is particularly interesting to me due to the huge role strategy, politics and history played in these negotiations as well as the huge potential impact they have on Greece and the European Union.

8. What are your top tips for networking?

To get the most out of it, it is important to be open-minded and welcome input and critical advice.

Being part of Judge and the wider University of Cambridge networks has proved extraordinarily valuable. The Global Consulting Project, Cambridge Venture Projects and MBA Leadership Series were great ways to connect with leaders in the business world.

9. Which websites would you recommend?

Twitter is great for receiving obscure but relevant information updates and keeping connections active in a less formal environment. LinkedIn is basically mandatory.

10. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?

I have always felt my voice is respected, including within male-dominated environments. I think the world is changing and diversity is becoming valued. The most important thing is to stay true to your values and natural style regardless of the environment.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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