2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Karim Awad, INSEAD

Karim Awad


Age: 40

“Open, curious, and willing to seize the initiative whilst appreciating that life is a shared journey.”

Hometown: London, United Kingdom

Family Members: My lovely girlfriend and our little dog, Kimi

Fun fact about yourself: Earlier in my career, I was asked to present at an industry conference before 1,000 delegates. Being mortified by public-speaking, I took it upon myself to gain practice beforehand by organizing and teaching a 6-week beginner’s course in Argentine Tango single-handedly. I figured that if I could do that, then nothing would phase me – thankfully that worked out!

Undergraduate School and Degree: MA Economics, University of Cambridge; MSc Business Analytics, Imperial College London

Where are you currently working? Baring Private Equity Asia, Vice President

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I’ve previously rowed and played rugby, whilst in my spare-time used to be a fundraiser in persuading corporates to make donations for good causes.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m proud of supporting my classmates at different junctures through the programme. This varies from jointly running a pre-course tutorial on our Pricing and Markets module to helping those less familiar with the curriculum prepare. This included supporting classmates if they wanted to bounce-ideas around on the programme and beyond. You appreciate the value of an EMBA is not what you can extract, but what you’re prepared to give to the programme – it is then what people share with you that makes the experience enriching.  

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I’m proud of succeeding in a mid-career pivot from previously being a commodities banker, to moving into private equity as an industry generalist focused on data science and digital applications in Asia. Achieving both a role change and developing a career in Asia unilaterally, having come from Europe, has felt like significant accomplishments given the difficulties associated with each in isolation.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I’ve enjoyed the classes run by all our Professors, but will highlight three in particular. Professor Henrik Bresman’s course on Leading People and Organisations was enlightening in helping to create change within organisations. Professor Klaus Wertenbroch’s assembled an absorbing programme on Marketing, articulating and scaling-up a go-to-market plan. Whilst Professor Michael Witt held a stimulating course on International Political Analysis, illustrating structures to contextualise how different actors can impact policy that affect firm profitability.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? INSEAD has an excellent reputation, but I found I really identified with the values of its alumni, especially their humbleness and willingness to support each other.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? My biggest lesson was appreciating how driving change and achieving success is a team-sport, rather than resting on individual ingenuity. As we work with our Portfolio companies to create value, this goes beyond mandating our c-suite with targets. Instead, it requires working with middle management, bringing different teams together, and aligning their interests whilst ensuring there is accountability. This often means listening and seeking to harmonise views, to convey a sense of collective ownership.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? This requires being quite disciplined and thinking ahead to prepare for different things likely to emerge at work or personally, whilst depending on the support of colleagues and loved ones. The latter is important, as they’re being asked to carry an added burden upon their shoulders, to support your EMBA journey.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? This may seem counter-intuitive given the substantial expense of an EMBA, but I’d ask what you’re prepared to give to the programme vs take. Ultimately the characteristics that have helped each of us achieve success may not help with the next step-up in our career journey. By being prepared to invest time in others, you’ll be surprised by how much you learn, both professionally and personally.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That it’s quite difficult to readjust to studying having spent several years working. As with everything in life, it’s all about mindset, commitment, and perseverance.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Being based outside of Singapore, I had to take several modules remotely, owing to varying travel restrictions. In hindsight, spending more time on campus with people would have been ideal.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? There are too many to list! There are so many uplifting stories – people who have overcome hardships, others who have achieved a lot within a short period of time. It’s been a privilege to share this EMBA journey with them.

I would like to pay special tribute to our Leadership Development Programme group: my classmates Dennis Check, Rena Dharmawan, Kedar Guttikar, and Lukas Krattinger – along with our coach, Paul Tran. Witnessing their strengths and characters in motion over the programme, has been a source of inspiration in striving to self-improve.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I wanted a programme that would bring together a diverse range of senior executives, from whom I could exchange ideas and learn from. I felt this format was most suited compared to the alternatives.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? This is to be the best I can be in helping my team be successful. As a former rugby coach once told us, ‘It doesn’t matter whether we win or lose, but leave the field knowing there is nothing more you could have done or given. Wherever my career takes me, for better or worse, I hope to reflect on it fulfilled that nothing was left in reserve.

What made Karim such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

“I teach International Political Analysis, an intensive course designed to help executives navigate the political environment. Karim contributed stimulating insights to our class discussions, leveraging his experience operating in different Asian markets. His perspectives made him a great asset to have in class, and I am sure he will do very well in his continued professional development.”

Professor Michael Witt

“INSEAD’s Leadership Development Programme is a cornerstone of the EMBA experience in equipping executives to become more circumspect leaders. Karim embarked on a journey of transformational discovery to expand his self and social awareness to become a leader with authenticity. Sharing his candour whilst always remaining positive, he supported the change both he and his classmates wished to achieve. This has provided an environment that has made it a pleasure to work with him”

Paul Tran, INSEAD Executive Coach


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