2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Jennifer Chung, IESE Business School

Jennifer Chung

IESE Business School

Age: 45

“Independently adaptable, introspectively open-minded, stubbornly deliberate, practical, witty, persistent, resourceful, clever and effervescent.”

Hometown: New York City, New York.

Family Members: Kevin (partner) + the Chung family = Tanya (sister), Namhi (mother) and Choon-Arm (father).

Fun fact about yourself: I once spent an intensive “boot camp” week learning cooking techniques like a professional chef at the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York. I earned knife techniques, professional kitchen protocols, but also how to braise, roast, stew, steam, and fry. I spent the subsequent years perfecting my at-home roasted chicken recipe (mine uses tarragon, citrus fruits, and butter – it’s a family favorite).

Undergraduate School and Degree: Cornell University, Bachelor of Arts and Sciences, Dual major/subjects: Chemistry and Asian Studies; Albany Law School, Juris Doctorate, with honors.

Where are you currently working? Verizon, New Business Incubation, Counsel.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • IESE, GEMBA 2021 class president
  • Cornell University, Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network (CAAAN)
  • Albany Law School, Class of 2001, reunion chair
  • Stuyvesant High School, Class of 1994, reunion chair
  • Manhattan Community Board 12 (former) member (appointed by the Borough President)
  • New York State Bar Association, Young Lawyers Division, NYS representative (former)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am deeply honored that my GEMBA 2021 class elected me to be their Class President. Because our in-person time together was so fragmented between the pandemic and travels, their decision to trust me to represent their interests was based on how we connected through mostly virtual communications and the intensity of the short times we spent in-country together. It foreshadows our future – to maximize all of our moments together. This is not something I take lightly, and I am grateful for the opportunity to showcase everything this cohort has to offer.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am committed to actively growing networks and communities that allow an easy way for new entrants to the profession, particularly law students and new lawyers, to engage with people they might not otherwise come across at this stage in their careers.

Years ago, I started to organize and moderate what are colloquially called “Jennifer-centric networking events,” where everyone’s One Job is to just make new contacts. The House Rules when you get an invite: (1) show up; (2) get a name tag; (3) walk up to someone you don’t know and make contact. If you are not great at #3, I offer the safe space to say, “Hi, I’m [name], how do you know Jennifer.” The first time I did this, I was nervous it would be deemed an arrogant flop, but the reception was incredible and about a dozen events later, I had grown my events from 10 people to almost 100, mostly through word of mouth. After an event, everyone gets a follow-up Thank You with the next set of Rules to cultivate new contacts by (a) connecting on social media; (b) if appropriate, finding time for 1:1 conversation; and (c) trying to create their own -centric event to keep the momentum going. Participants have reported back being able to develop viable business contacts, friendships, mentorships, and even finding jobs through contacts at these events. I am so excited for the next batch of events and look forward to meeting everyone!

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor was Kandarp Mehta, who taught us Negotiations in Dubai. He took a course that could have been easily dismissed by a group of high-level executives as pro forma, and instead made it so transformative. We use language from the class to this very day.

As a lawyer, I’ve taken some type of negotiations course every few years, so I was expecting a typical program of “do this,” and “don’t do this.” Instead, Professor Mehta clearly spent time getting to know who we were as individuals, tailored a program of exercises for us, previewed the psychology of what to expect during a negotiation, and then guided us with compassion and thoughtfulness throughout the program. His post-class feedback was also thorough and helpful, and the combination of it all gave me so many more tools for my negotiations toolkit than I ever expected was possible.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? All the credit goes to IESE’s incredible recruiting and admissions team. I met with Nico Van Den Brink and Julia Poncar at a New York City MBA event. From the first meeting, their warmth and openness about IESE and the GEMBA program left a profound impact that I could not shake. I had spent years thinking about an MBA and was convinced I was going to stay on the east coast. After meeting them and hearing about the benefits of the GEMBA, including engaging with a cohort from around the world to expand my learnings and horizon, I knew I needed to reconsider why I wanted an MBA. After sitting in on an IESE GEMBA class at their New York City campus, reading cases, and listening to the robust analysis and discussions, I knew this was the right place for me. By the time I met with Ermias Mebrate Mengistu from admissions and had a chance to ask a dozen more questions, it was set. IESE´s people-centric philosophy of business management, which is focused on understanding our purpose and role on this planet, really speaks to me. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity at this time and with this cohort.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Organizational culture is everything. How an organization treats its people every day, the manner and frequency with which it chooses to communicate information to team members, and how it incentivizes continuous learning and good community behavior all supports professional growth while challenging personal inertia.

Before I started on the journey, I couldn’t visualize the intersections of an organization’s goals with its people and financial and operational strategies. After studying all these companies around the world, as well as hearing from so many people about what works and what doesn’t, I want to be at a company with a clearly articulated set of values – but one that is willing to make the hard decisions to follow through on those values. Words matters an d our choices matter. Because of the lessons I learned, I know I can hold the people around me to high standards because we are capable of it.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? The IESE GEMBA Class of 2021 experienced a schedule deeply impacted by the covid pandemic, particularly pandemic-related delays and country border closures that initially prevented the school from being able to take us in-country as expected.

After many restarts and delays, by the time Module 4 started, the remaining agenda was expedited to ensure we graduated at a reasonable time. The modules should have been paced with 6 to 8 weeks in between them for projects and down-time, but we ended up with a compressed schedule of about 2 weeks (and at one point 2 hours) in between modules.

With this schedule, along with buying and moving into a new home and onboarding a new job just a couple of months before Module 4 started, I was effectively navigating four major life challenges in the span of a few months all at once, all in New York City, which had been a pandemic hotspot for several months.

I can’t downplay the sheer terror I felt that death was imminent every day for almost 14 months pre-vaccine because of the pandemic. This probably compounded the stress, where I was sleeping about 3 to 4 hours most nights and ending up on high blood pressure medication for about a year. After vaccinations in my community were normalized, the core modules were over, my new job was feeling more comfortable. and my new home was getting lived in. By the end of 2021, even after a bout of COVID, I was sleeping better, and my stress levels were under control. This was always meant to be a process and always a journey. While there were extreme lows, they were balanced by the highs of the program and the incredible non-stop support I had from my family, friends, and colleagues.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Everyone experiences the GEMBA differently, and you may find reactions and perceptions to the exact same real-time experiences to be different from yours. It’s the hallmark of being around people with different lived experiences. We can all live in exactly the same space and intake the same experiences differently. This is why intentional diversity and inclusion initiatives are so critical. Being willing to hear other people’s perspectives for the sole purpose of getting a more full picture of what’s happening in the world is the long lasting value of the GEMBA. Listen more than you speak, and listen to others with the purpose of learning and adding to your repertoire of experiences.

Every team project is a microcosm of a real-life organization. Do not sit on the sidelines and expect to get the same kind of credit for just showing up. At a minimum, respond fully to emails and messages about projects, events, and invitations. Even if the team gets an A on the team project, people will remember if you didn’t contribute, or worse, you were useless and detracted from the goals.  Someone on a project has to manage that team, and if you don’t know who the manager is, then make it you. And if there’s too many people managing, then maybe you need to step back and be ok being a contributor for that project. If this is not something that feels natural to you, there are lots of articles on how to improve contributions in a team dynamic. These are skills that can be learned and honed.  You will spend a lot of time and money to get here; it is worth doing everything you can to improve.

An executive MBA program is a commitment that requires active intentionality from yourself, as well as the people around you. Your world needs to be aware that your time will not be your own for a couple of years, especially since you will be part of MBA teams and you will be expected to participate and engage with your teams in different times zones as well.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? There was a myth that graduate school, as a professional, would be easy and everyone would get an A. Graduate school was, in fact, quite challenging and required a lot of time and effort. Additionally, not everyone got an A because the accreditation process required a bona fide evaluation system.

I acknowledge that grades are important in this limited sense, including to incentivize students to prepare and participate fully for each class. However, grading systems are fraught with human bias, and also led to some toxic internal behaviors to game this system. My competencies and worth were not at all correlated to my grades, and there was tragedy in allowing these grades to be a cipher for our value as a person or as a team member. At the end of the day, no one outside of the program should care about these grades (other than ensuring we learned and graduated).

What was your biggest regret in business school? Given when the pandemic started, I have mild regret that I didn’t start business school a couple of years earlier or later. However, going through the program at the same time as a pandemic probably was its own experience.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Wouter Born. One day during Module 2, he decided he was going to start his own venture capital fund focused on investing in CFO technology startups. Fast forward, he has set up a company in the US, raised well over $10M from investors around the world (including many from the GEMBA 2021 class), and has a solid philosophy and social media following that regularly challenges us to think about our investment and organizational strategies.

Wouter is someone who had a laser sharp vision, executed on that vision with ferocity, and is now focused on that next level momentum. I also appreciate that he’s fully aware of the volume and strength of the voice he has. Even more, he is actively using it to raise awareness around the need to support more women founders, and diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives in the start-up ecosystem. He epitomizes the best parts of organizational culture, challenging himself constantly to be a better team player while offering helpful, compassionate feedback to others to ensure we all grow together.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I wanted to be in a room with other like-minded people on a similar career track, and it wasn’t clear if a part-time or online alternative would guarantee the same cohort, given some of my past experiences in similar programs.  I also found the travel of the GEMBA compelling, and that wouldn’t be possible if this program were online or part-time.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I would like to start my own business. I want to test out the learnings around connecting strategy and people, and create an organization that focuses on what it means to take care of its people as fundamental to the organization’s strategic goals.

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

“What I admire most about Jennifer is her generosity, collaboration and networking skills. She is curious, resourceful and was always available and committed to help out her fellow classmates.

During her studies Jennifer, changed her job from being General Counsel at Accuweather to joining the telecommunication conglomerate Verizon, where she is currently a Counsel at New Business Incubation. She was very active in sharing her GEMBA journey and what she was learning during each of the modules, both at work and as well on Linkedin. This contributed in helping her make the move of changing companies. From speaking to Jennifer, I have been very impressed and happy to hear how proactive she has been with implementing and sharing what she has learned with her boss, co-workers and team, and by doing so making the learning more meaningful.

It is not a surprise that her classmates elected her as their president. Jennifer is a true leader. She is kind and compassionate. She thrives with being with people, and supporting their success. She is also someone who is fun to be around, and a person who makes you feel good about yourself.

We are very lucky to now have Jennifer part of the IESE family.”

Idunn Jónsdóttir
Chief Executive Director at IESE Business School in New York


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