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Aspiring to True Leadership

Educated at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Ecole Centrale de Lyon, Chinese national Jane Sun took an EMBA at Columbia to boost her consulting career


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An interview with Columbia Business School EMBA alumnus Jane Sun:

Why Columbia Business School?

I have accumulated a lot of quantitative knowledge through my previous education and while working as a consultant at Ernst & Young, but I quickly realized that I need to have strong business acumen in order to be a true leader in the consulting business. I wanted to have the business knowledge that would help me understand broader issues facing my clients and to develop soft skills that would help me lead large-scale engagements for clients. I came to business school to close these gaps and accelerate my career progression.

I also have several friends who graduated from the EMBA program at Columbia. I have seen the transformational experience they had through the program, both personally and professionally, and knew I wanted to have a similar experience at Columbia. I believe this will have a lasting impact on me.

What is it like to go to business school in New York City?

The best parts are the resources and access we have at Columbia Business School — guest speakers and adjunct professors who come to school to teach during breaks from their work. They are all industry thought leaders and accomplished practitioners who bring an insider's view into different industries to help students understand the ever-changing business landscape.

Also, being close to the business center is a great advantage for me, professionally. As most of my clients are in the finance and banking industries, staying in New York City and being close to my clients is very important to me. By going to business school in New York City, I can attend client meetings during class breaks or attend evening classes after work. Columbia’s location definitely helps me to manage both school and career.

How do you handle working full-time, going to school, and being a mother?

It's definitely not easy working full-time at Ernst & Young, going to business school, and being a mother of a two-year-old, but it is not as hard as it seems. Like everyone else, I only have 24 hours in a day, so I need to make sure these three things fit in my life. I don’t want to use the word ‘balance’ as that suggests I have to lose one thing in order to gain another. Instead, I consider work, school, and life as three projects that I have to constantly re-prioritize based on each situation. I have to be disciplined but at the same time very flexible to change plans all the time. This approache works well for me. I am on the Dean’s honor list for academic excellence and being viewed as one of best managers in the advisory practice at Ernst & Young.

I have met other moms in the EMBA program who also have young kids. Being able to talk to those who are going through the same challenges and share my concerns is big relief to me. The moral support I get from the community is very important to help me go through this period of my life.

What class are you most excited about, or what class has been most helpful to you in your current work role?

When I came to CBS, I wanted to take a lot of soft-skill courses, so after the core curriculum ended, I took non-technical electives, like Napoleon's Glance with Bill Duggan and Personal Leadership and Success with Hitendra Wadhwa. These courses have given me a new perspective on leadership and success. A true leader has the ability to attract talented people and is able to leverage the team to achieve great things. These new perspectives have greatly helped me with how to lead a team at work and how to become an effective manager.

What's been the most surprising thing about being at CBS?

I have always been amazed by the collective wealth of knowledge and experience we have in the classroom. No matter what topic we are discussing in class, there will always be at least one student in the room who is an expert on the topic. My classmates’ participation in class has greatly contributed to my learning experience at CBS; I am learning not only from the professors but also from my classmates. Also, the commitment from the EMBA students is very impressive. We all have full-time jobs while doing the EMBA program, and yet students always do their readings and are ready to discuss cases in class. Many students have already had great achievements in their professional lives, but they still have the drive to learn more.

What does it mean to you to be part of the Columbia Business School community?

I'm very proud to be part of the CBS community. When I go out, I’m proud to wear my CBS shirt. In New York City, CBS has a very big community and it is easy to connect with others in this community. It has already helped me with building relationships with prospective clients. When people know that I am pursuing my MBA at Columbia, they connect me with alumni they know. The community has opened doors for me both professionally and personally.

Once you have your CBS degree, how will you apply it to your current role and beyond?

I want to apply what I have learned at CBS to become a true leader in the consulting business. Before I came to business school, I thought that leadership meant a leader needs to give instructions for the team to follow. Now I realize being a leader means attracting talented people. Some of those people may be smarter than me, which is actually a good thing. It's more about the ability to attract people who are smart and believe in your vision. A great leader is able to use the knowledge and intelligence of the whole team, instead of just the knowledge of the leader, which is very limited. You want people who are smarter than you in the room.

Columbia Business School is the only Ivy League institution that delivers a learning experience where academic excellence meets real-time exposure to the pulse of business in New York City.

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