2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Bassem Boustany, Columbia Business School

Bassem Boustany

Columbia Business School

“Multidisciplinary, adaptable, well-traveled, sharp-minded, dog lover, intentionally foolish at times.”

Age: 38

Hometown: Beirut, Lebanon

Family Members: Eldest of three siblings + Ash (dog)

Fun fact about yourself: I slowly made my peace with the inability of many to pronounce my name correctly; I stopped correcting long ago.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • ESIB-Universite Saint Joseph: B.E. Electromechanical Engineering, Major in Biomedical
  • CFA Charterholder and FRM Certification

Where are you currently working? National Bank of Kuwait – Head of International Corporate and Real Estate

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles:

  • Community: Co-Founder of CDLL, a non-profit organization operating in Lebanon since 2004, running programs against drug-use and supporting a rehabilitation center.
  • School Awards: Honors with Distinction (Columbia), Academic Excellence Award (Columbia and London Business School)
  • School Extracurricular: Despite year-round frequent business travels, I still greatly enjoy traveling whenever possible, with destinations typically geared towards trekking, motorcycling, or exploring nature and new places.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Being nominated to be the graduation speaker by my cohort, a set of people I highly admire and look up to. This was not only a confirmation of my aspiration for them to allow me to speak on behalf of them but also a representation of the trust and close friendships we built over the past two years. My cohort provides me today with strong essential support whenever needed.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I had a fairly fast-tracked career in various roles within my bank throughout the past 15 years, consistently being the youngest among peers. I never felt particularly proud as these are often the result of tenacity, hard work, focus, and some luck. Perhaps the closest credit I can attribute to myself lies in my current position, leading various teams across three continents. Being able to bridge and align people with various backgrounds, mindsets, cultures, under a coherent single strategy is probably one of the successes I will remember, and often valued by my executives.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Tough one, but I would pick Professor Jay Dahya – Corporate Finance. I chose him not only for his academic excellence in delivering a relatively often-perceived difficult topic but also for his invaluable ability and efforts made to build true relationships with us. Our experience with Jay lasts well beyond the classes, with life lessons that will not need a refresher down the road.

What was the biggest lesson you learned in business school? Don’t be afraid to ask for help or for opinions. Challenge others and be willing to be challenged. Most of the life learnings came from the interactions between students, professors, professionals, and the wider network – not from a specific content or topic. This mindset of openness and humility is a great enabler for building on others’ experiences and skills, especially when surrounded by a very diverse set of experienced and friendly people. This is a mindset I carry with me at work, and it enables the same benefits within the professional context.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I have applied only to the Global EMBA Americas & Europe, joint program by Columbia Business School and London Business School as it fit perfectly my intended objectives back then: globally-focused, diversity of students and professors, flexible format, and multiple locations, all under the flags of 2 of the top global business schools. This has been easily one of the key successful decisions I have ever made, given its tremendous subsequent impact on life and one of the people around me.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? If I have to single out one aspect, it would be the relationships. The format of the program allowed fast and efficient venues to build extremely strong bonds among students, professors, and program teams. Living practically together for 25% of the time in a highly challenging environment allowed us to flesh out our true selves quickly. Building deep relationships in such short timeframes happen very rarely, and typically in crises or volatile environments… or in Executive MBAs.

One particular related period that marked me is when a large group of my classes visited Lebanon, leading to two normally separate personal universes to finally collide together.

What was your biggest regret about business school? EMBAs are not particularly the best or most efficient conduit to get to a single specific target. For example, if you’re looking for a specific academic learning, get a specialized in-depth course or program. If you’re looking for fun only, take a sabbatical or hit that bar. If your aim is only building networking, attend all events.

However, Executive MBAs truly excel in providing a combination of all such benefits in a single condensed format. If your objectives or future are gearing towards multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural, and global aspects, EMBAs will be highly valuable in providing you with the relevant cross-functional skills and networks. It takes a bit of a leap of faith given the massive personal and financial investments, but in the context of a long journey, this would be one of its highlights and the catalyst for options.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? The program allowed me to confirm at least twice that the earth is indeed round (looking at you, flat-Earthers!).The rotating block-week format of the program between London and New York, coupled with my work global coverage and other personal events made this itinerary in April last year:

  • Dubai (elective in LBS)
  • 1-night round trip to Paris
  • EMBA trip to Azerbaijan for F1 Grand Prix
  • Business Trip Shanghai and Singapore
  • Fly to New York over the Pacific via Taiwan to attend an elective in Columbia
  • Wedding in Mexico
  • Over the Atlantic to attend a School event in LBS, some business, and finish that pending group project
  • Personal visit Beirut to relax in the mountains before going back to the starting point in Kuwait

 Imagine doing this trip across different activities, weathers, time zones, and on a single suitcase. This itinerary is one of several that many of us happily did (some even with families). Great memories. Emptier pockets. No regrets.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school?

Myth: MBA students are mostly elitists who are arrogant selfish people.

Reality: Surprisingly, the large majority are probably the kindest, most helpful, and truly selfless friends you will ever make, despite all the successes and impressive backgrounds many have on their resumes.

What was your biggest regret in business school? No regrets.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Too many options to single out. Out of my equal admiration for many, I will skip this question.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that I needed to prepare myself for the next phase in my professional career.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Contribute to creating and nurturing socially responsible leaders, as my leaders and mentors set the example and did for me and many others. Pass the bucket.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? The guy who cherishes relationships at all costs and is always driven by hope.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  • Sabbatical year sailing around the world
  • Write a travel book

What made Bassem such an invaluable member of the Class of 2020?

Bassem is highly regarded by his classmates and was selected by them to be class speaker at their graduation ceremony. Quotes from his classmates include:

  • “From the first day of the program to his suggestion that we arrange a session for our last day, Bassem has always been there for all of us. He travels the world to support us, is always there if we need a friend or a last-minute review session, and never fails to lift our spirits with a joke.”
  • “Not only the smartest member of our cohort but also helped all who needed tutoring. He always added to class discussion in a thoughtful manner.”
  • “Bassem was a true leader in the group, sometimes I think he’s the only reason we all passed corporate finance!”
  • “Always willing to assist fellow classmates.”
  • “Leadership, initiative, willingness to share and assist others, not self-promoting, bright.”
  • “Committed to help on academics on several opportunities. “

April Franz

Senior Associate Director, Student Affairs

Executive MBA Programs


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