Jessica Smith
Jessica Smith: 'We need more women MBAs to share their stories and career progression while starting/maintaining families'

Jessica Smith is associate director of MBA Admissions and head of career services for Iese Business School in North America. She is based at the Spanish school’s New York campus.

In September 2013, Ms Smith helped launch the first Iese North American Career Expo, which included students from London Business School, HEC Paris and Rotterdam School of Management. The school’s goal is to expand the expo to include a student trek to Silicon Valley to meet entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, start-ups and alumni.

Ms Smith grew up in the US and has an MBA from Iese. During the 2008 financial crisis, she worked for Barclays Wealth Management in London. She has also been a financial analyst for Johnson & Johnson.

1. Why did you choose to do an MBA?

At Johnson & Johnson, I was travelling regularly to various countries which really opened my mind to working overseas. I decided I wanted to study a two-year MBA at a top business school in Europe to have an opportunity post-MBA to work in Europe. I was drawn to Iese because of the alumni I met, the opportunity to learn Spanish and the relationship with Harvard University making the case study method the main teaching method.

2. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

I am most proud of earning the bilingual MBA at Iese as I didn’t speak Spanish before joining the programme. I studied the first year in English while taking Business Spanish classes alongside my MBA classes. In my second year, I was able to write the Business Spanish fluency exam which I passed and was able to take classes in Spanish and English in my second year.

3. Do you use your MBA knowhow?

I use my MBA daily. The benefit of doing a top, international MBA is that you take away not only a strong academic foundation but also the learning you get from being in an extremely international environment (80 per cent of the class is international). So on one hand from an academic standpoint, I use what I learnt in marketing and operations to sell and promote the MBA programme and expand Iese’s brand in North America. On the other hand, I have to use my international strategy classes and international experiences of living/working abroad to build the strategy first for Asia and now for the US and Canada.

4. What do you think is the best way of encouraging more women to enrol into business school?

I think the best way is through example. We need more women MBAs to share their stories and career progression while starting/maintaining families. That’s why organisations like The Forte Foundation are so great, because you can find women you can relate to and use as mentors.

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

My big tip: be present in every way: find a way to speak in every meeting; be aware of your body language: when you are speaking in all male groups, instead of backing up, walk towards them, raise your voice slightly, stand up as straight as possible raising your head slightly. I think body language is so important in how people perceive you especially in male-denominated environments.

6. Who are your business heroes?

I am really impressed by people who sell themselves as brands and then find ways to recreate their image in various ways over decades: Oprah Winfrey, Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum and Beyoncé, for example.

7. What is the worst job you have ever had?

Working in private banking for individuals during a financial crisis was very challenging. The markets were crashing and our clients, similar to other firms, were losing their savings. You didn’t know from one day to the next if your bank would still be standing.

8. What is the last book you read?

The Contented Little Baby Book by Gina Ford – a lifesaving book for mothers. And Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg – a must read for any woman especially if you are juggling work and family.

9. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

Working in recruiting you learn that no matter how many social media exist, nothing takes the place of live networking. For example, in the Iese Barcelona campus, we have had Deloitte and PwC coming on campus for years recruiting for Europe. It was challenging to get our US students into offices in the US from Barcelona. So this past September, we launched the New York Career Expo in Iese New York, where both companies attended along with several others. As a result of that, the students were able to land interviews in the US offices as the local recruiters /businesses were able to experience the high calibre of talent first hand.

10. What inspires you?

Kindness. Sometimes we are so focused on our own situation that we don´t take the time to say thank you, check on our neighbour, or do something nice for a stranger. I am a big believer of random acts of kindness. At a minimum, just say hi to the other person you are sharing the lift with.

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