2019 Best EMBAs: Yasmin L’Estrange, Columbia Business School

Yasmin L’Estrange

Columbia Business School

“Tall Australian deeply passionate about people, her family and friends, served with a coffee and some sparkle!”

Age: 33

Hometown: Sydney, Australia

Family Members: Gregory L’Estrange (Father) and Peggy L’Estrange (Mother)

Fun fact about yourself: I was a member of the Australian Rowing Team in 2006, racing in the green and gold in Lithuania and Scotland.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Bachelor of Science (Psychology) – University of Sydney, Australia
  • Graduate Diploma of Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations – University of Sydney, Australia

Where are you currently working? Senior Vice President, Senior HR Advisor – Banking, Capital Markets & Advisory, at Citigroup, New York.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Cluster Representative, Class of 2019
  • EMBA Advisory Board Member to the MBA Graduate Business Association
  • Prior to Columbia, I received a University Blue from Sydney University for my achievements in Rowing (Crew) and served in a voluntary capacity to progress sport at the University across numerous roles, including Senate Delegate to the Sports Board, Student Sports Board Member and Captain of Boats.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? In my final term, I tackled Entrepreneurial Finance, renowned for being a tough, challenging and intensive week-long course. The curriculum of the course is academically and physically demanding; we slept very little during the course. Multiple assignments were due each day and a final due prior to the last day. It was mentally and physically exhausting. However, it represented the most satisfaction I have gained from a single subject in my MBA.

It was a fitting way to show my courage and my strength in finance. I was particularly proud that prior to commencing at Columbia, I would not have stepped up to take this course. Columbia creates an environment that allows you to find what you succeed in and encourages you to push outside of your comfort zones. This course showed me how far I had come both academically and personally to challenge myself to do such a tough course.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Moving to New York City and succeeding in my career industry transition to one of the top global banks in Human Resources has by far and large been my proudest professional career achievement. I transitioned in 2015, from Telecommunications to Finance, taking on the Corporate and Investment Banking client group, a radically different and challenging group than I was used to with a global presence. To my surprise – and I still pinch myself today – it has been a demanding 3 ½ years and I completely enjoy my new client group and I have not looked back since.

Changing countries, company cultures, and industry has been some of the most challenging but rewarding professional development I have encountered in my career. I cannot encourage enough moving, exploring, and placing yourself in situations that you are uncomfortable, as the reward (at least for me) surpasses your wildest expectations.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? There are so many fabulous MBA professors who have changed the course of my life and my thoughts during my time at Columbia. However, there is one that truly stands head and shoulders, maybe literally, above the crowd, Paul Johnson.

Paul’s passion for his students and his subject matter, Value Investing, is the first thing that strikes you in his classroom. At the same time, the subtlety of his teaching is more psychological, more personally educating than you realize. His class, Seminar in Value Investing, expanded my mind and the realms of possibility of my own ability. I am truly grateful to have taken his courses at Columbia Business School. He has changed the way I approach a problem, find a solution, and has made me curious, about everything! Most importantly, he let us know that teaching can come with a side of humor.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite course was Corporate Finance. I commenced this course genuinely worried about how I would fare in it! I left the course, thanks to Professor Donna Hitscherich, confident and open to the possibility of a career that involved finance. The biggest insight was not in the curriculum, but I learned that if you follow the process – if you put in the work and you have confidence in yourself – you will be able to achieve something you once thought impossible. After Corporate Finance, my elective selection changed to be finance focused and it sparked a lifelong interest in finance, particularly in Mergers & Acquisitions.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Having just moved to New York in 2015, I was not in a rush to leave New York! I was very loyal to my previous alma mater, University of Sydney, having studied two degrees there and represented them competitively in rowing.

When I stepped onto the Columbia campus, I felt the same attachment to the school I had with Sydney and most importantly the Saturday schedule worked with my work schedule. Columbia gives you the opportunity to sit in a few classes prior to applying and I had taken some full-time shadow classes in 2015, but quickly decided that the full-time program was not for me.

In early 2017, I learned more about the Columbia Executive Program through some strong encouragement of a longtime friend, Lomond Davis. When it came to applying, I only applied to Columbia, reasoning that if I didn’t get in, it wasn’t meant to be! We both were accepted and will graduate together in May 2019.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The community. My classmates are some of the most interesting and inspiring people that I have ever met. Learning with and from them has been the most enjoyable and fulfilling part of my business school experience.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Just try, give it a go. Columbia gave me the confidence to try new things and think differently. I stretched myself to take the courses that were far from my day to day human resources job. The best part of the executive program is that every Monday morning, I walked into work with a new toolkit of thoughts from my Saturday classes, and it surprised me how I could apply even remotely distant ideas in to my work.

As an Investment & Corporate Banking Human Resource Business Partner, I could and can discuss meaningful financial issues and contribute to the overall discussions about our people in a far more powerful way today than I was prior to the MBA. This is something I know my client group values and has improved my relationship and cut through with them significantly.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? As the quote goes, if you want something done, give it to a busy person. Honestly that is every Executive MBA candidate; however my 2018-year end compensation process was not your typical EMBA juggling act.

The year-end processes in human resources are some of the most critical periods of time, especially as a Banking HR Business Partner. In 2018, I was covering for a colleague who was on parental leave, assuming part of her duties, juggling schoolwork, and helping to onboard and train two new team members. At the same time, I overloaded on my EMBA studies, and I completed Entrepreneurial Finance block (intensive) week right in the middle of it. Surprisingly, it was my most successful term at school by way of grades and my most fulfilling and successful year-end in my career culminating in being promoted to the role of Senior Vice President in January 2019.

The key to my juggling success was communication. First, my team and manager were very supportive to make it work as best we could, but we did have to compromise! Second, during every available moment, I was either working or studying. Last, but most important, my classmates helped me make sure I kept it all in perspective and had some fun too!

My family, provided much needed support via Facetime; I’m probably lucky they lived 16,000 kilometers away during this period!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Just apply. It is not going to be easy, none of the great achievements are, but it is the best decision that I have ever made, and I’d make it again.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? “You won’t do anything but study.”

Not true, partially true, but you learn to make it work for you. In my experience, I became very good at prioritizing, not procrastinating and choosing how I wanted to spend my time.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Honestly, I don’t think I have one. I embraced my experience at Columbia and leave with no regrets.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? As cliché as it sounds, I admire all my Executive MBA classmates. We all have juggled our professional, personal and school commitments at the same time supporting each other.

A special mention does however need to go to my longtime friend, Lomond Davis, who encouraged me to apply and encouraged me throughout the course to push myself, challenge myself, and take on the tough courses, much to my strong protestations along the way. For that and his own personal academic success in the Executive MBA, I completely admire his unwavering personal drive and his commitment to driving everyone around him to be the best possible version of themselves.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized how many more opportunities and richer professional and personal life I could achieve with an MBA than without it.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I am passionate about people and their ability to deliver business results. I am ultimately striving to become a COO or be an advisor to early-stage entrepreneurs on their people who will drive their businesses to be successful standout companies.

I find the integration of cultures and the development of cultures and people based on business decision-making to be a driving force in the mark I would like to leave at the end of my career.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? She brought us together.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? After spending two years of Saturday’s at Columbia, it is unsurprising that at the top of my bucket list at the moment is travel. A few that have been on my list since I was a teenager are below; hopefully, I will get to tick some of them off soon.

  • See the Northern Lights
  • Ride the Trans-Siberian Railway

What made Yasmin such an invaluable addition to the class of 2019?

“Yasmine served as class representative for her class and was also elected by classmates to serve their interests on the EMBA Advisory Board to the full-time MBA Executive Committee. She was selected by an overwhelming majority of her classmates to receive the Distinguished Service Award at her upcoming graduation (this is confidential since the award is presented on graduation day in May.)

Quotes from her classmates include:

  • “A real leader, full-hearted dedication to the class experience. Willing to do that which others cannot, setting an example of what it means to be a good citizen.”
  • “Heart and Soul of our class.”
  • “She has done a great job making everyone feel included into the community. The “inclusive” feeling is the most important (not just throwing fun events, etc.), and she has demonstrated that. Thank you, Yas!”
  • “Yasmin was involved in so many aspects of bringing in the class together — not only socially, but also academically. I really view her as the default leader and the go-to person –somewhat like the “mom” of the class – in ensuring everyone had a happy, positive experience, always on top of addressing issues and acting as our “voice” and representation. I don’t know how she did it with a full-time job and workload as well! Very, very impressive!”

Kelley Martin Blanco ‘02
Associate Dean and Dean of Students
Executive MBA Programs

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF THE BEST & BRIGHTEST EXECUTIVE MBAs OF 2019 or RANKING THE BEST EMBA PROGRAMS IN THE U.S.