2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: John Lee, Cambridge Judge

John Lee

Cambridge Judge Business School

Age: 35

Compassionate. Social. Determined. Thoughtful. Positive. Aussie. Korean.”

Hometown: Sydney, Australia

Family Members: My parents and my younger sister currently reside in Sydney.

Fun fact about yourself: I was part of a choir that performed at the Sydney Opera House.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Commerce (UNSW) and Graduate Diploma in Law (ULaw).

Where are you currently working? I lead Business Development for the London Stock Exchange Group Accelerator. As part of a corporate accelerator, we look at new and emerging technologies in financial services that we validate and incubate, working with our customers and markets. It’s amazing to be part of a dedicated, agile team that offers new insights and opportunities for wider organisations.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Most recently, I’ve been associated with a charity called ‘Age UK’, which is one of the UK’s leading charities dedicated to helping elderly people in local communities. Being away from my family in Australia and Korea, I could relate to the challenges of being alone during the global pandemic and the importance of mental health. Last year opened my eyes to the need to stand up for those who often don’t have the support and care during the most difficult times.

During my Executive MBA, I was the class representative for my cohort. Being part of a diverse cohort with varying experiences and expectations, I had the privilege to help my fellow classmates, both individually and collectively, during a difficult time.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My cohort was impacted directly by the global pandemic. As a group, we shifted to a digital and blended learning experience for the Executive MBA. It was an extraordinary time to be learning together and interacting with classmates. Perhaps slightly unique to previous cohorts, being able to support one another through assignments and lectures during this unprecedented time is something I am proud of doing.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Having worked in sales and relationship management, I am proud of the long-term relationships I have established throughout my career. This applies both to clients that I continue to collaborate with today and with colleagues with whom I have developed into personal friendships. I also continue to mentor individuals through various networks, and it is fantastic to reflect on how we have grown together.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? To learn from all the leading academics and thought leaders at CJBS has been a privilege. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed learning from Professor Kamal Munir and Professor Shaz Ansari. Their approach to teaching Strategic Management was positive and engaging, full of charisma and energy. Kamal and Shaz wanted to give us the tools to take back into the real world, and how we perceive strategy.

Why did you choose this schools executive MBA program? At the time, I was looking at several business schools and quite far along my conversations. A colleague from work, who is also an alumnus from CJBS, shared his experiences and took me up to Cambridge, where I had the opportunity to see the business school and the university town in person. It was immense. The excitement of being present at such a historic and prestigious university was very special, and one I will never forget. I also had the opportunity to speak with Professor Othman Cole, who is inspiring but maintains great humility. However, it was meeting my potential cohort members which tipped the scales. Being invited to an ‘Experience Weekend’, I had the chance to meet with other candidates to share experiences and connect with individuals. It was the thought of being part of a cohort with such diverse, driven, and successful individuals which ultimately helped me to choose Judge.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? ‘Connection’ and ‘empathy’ is everything. As individuals and as a cohort, we faced so many challenges and adversities during the pandemic. Many of us were affected in different ways, personally and professionally. But what makes a great leader is the ability to find meaning in what we do and how we do it. And this can be achieved through the connections with those around us.

Especially now, moving to a virtual office environment, it is crucial to make connections with your colleagues and clients. Being able to build relationships remotely requires far more empathy and understanding than before. Taking the time to understand individual motives and considering different perceptions can foster deeper connections and help us become stronger, honest leaders.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? During the Executive MBA, I had embarked on a big career change, moving from sales into strategy and innovation. As much as I was excited by my Executive MBA journey and the new role, the challenge was enormous, coupled with the situation of COVID-19.

Being away from family, it was so important to have a strong support network and be able to lean into the connections I had built: working with talented colleagues from all over the world. My circle included my classmates that were sharing this journey; my friends who pulled me up during difficult periods; and my current manager, someone I admire and continue to learn from, completely supported me. I was fortunate and grateful to have such connections with supportive individuals that helped me find a balance and to push through.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? It really is about the people you share the experiences with. Don’t be afraid to open up; be courageous and vulnerable. Being able to connect with talented individuals in your cohort will help you become a more confident and empathetic person and leader. There is so much to learn from others but also that those people want to learn from you too.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? After working for many years, academic learning is hard. Reading a textbook and writing an exam is daunting. Of course, you must put in the hours, but you pick up this up very quickly — faster than you could imagine. You’re going through this journey with your classmates and somehow you’re able to pick up the pen and smash out a corporate finance essay. I miss it already!

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not being able to spend more time together in person. Global lockdowns and travel restrictions prevented us from spending time together at Cambridge. I would have loved to have immersed myself more in Cambridge, with the university and with my college, together with my classmates. However, as a group we’ve managed to forge long lasting relationships and we are looking forward to being together as a group again.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Irina Predescu, who was the other class representative for our cohort. Irina is a strong, talented person who is always willing to learn and to collaborate with others. But what I admired most about Irina is the ability to see things on a human level. Irina knows how to remain grounded but also selflessly offers everyone support.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? It was being on a program with like-minded individuals at similar, yet diverse stages in their professional and personal lives. Whilst we did move to a blended learning approach due to COVID-19, the experiences and learnings shared is unique.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I’m passionate about social causes and particularly in education and closing the attainability gap. Whether that’s continuing in the corporate accelerator function or moving to a separate accelerator or VC, I aspire to be leading an organisation which can help grow businesses that have a positive social impact.

What made John such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

“John has been a tremendous asset to his Cambridge Executive MBA cohort. During the COVID-19 pandemic, John’s role as a class representative proved invaluable as he acted as a conduit between the class and School. His clear communications, enthusiastic contributions in both in-person and digital classrooms and consistently strong academic performance have made him a tremendous asset to his cohort. John has been an outstanding participant and collaborative team member during his time at Cambridge, and will surely thrive in future endeavours.”

Dr Khal Soufani
Faculty (Professor level) in Management Practice
Director of the Executive MBA Programme
Director of the Circular Economy Centre