2023 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Ellen Marston-Darwish, London Business School

Ellen Marston-Darwish

London Business School

Age: 33

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all” – Helen Keller

Hometown: Dubai

Family Members: My incredibly supportive husband

Fun fact about yourself: I compete in open-water swimming. My favorite event was a 5km race in Turkey across the Bosporus Strait, which I swam with my dad. He beat my time, but I’ve since forgiven him!

Undergraduate School and Degree: The American University of Beirut, Bachelor of Business Administration

Where are you currently working? Associate Vice President – Head of Customer Strategy & Operations at Liv. Digital Bank by Emirates NBD

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I work with the Sunflower Foundation, an Australia-based NGO that funds projects in the developing world to further girls’ education. I also mentor female high school students at my alma mater. Most recently, I co-founded a start-up with my brother and a friend, focused on sports-based social networking.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I attended the Entrepreneurship Summer School (ESS), an intensive bootcamp which helps students explore an entrepreneurial idea and “get a feel” for entrepreneurship. Coming from a corporate background, ESS was completely out of my comfort zone. The program culminated in each team pitching their start-up idea to a panel, which is not something I would have imagined myself doing. Needless to say, ESS opened my eyes to a whole new space that I’ve since begun exploring more seriously – and it was a really fun and enjoyable experience.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At the age of 24, I was tasked with turning around an underperforming unit, and given responsibility of a team of people who were much older and more experienced than me. Within two years, the unit had not only undergone a transformation and consistently overperformed against targets, but also expanded 5x in size. I was fortunate to receive outstanding executive support and mentorship which was critical to my success; I feel lucky to have had such an incredible learning experience early in my career.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Jeff Skinner, Teaching Fellow of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, and Executive Director of the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Private Capital, opened my eyes to the world of entrepreneurship. He has the rare ability to deliver structured, practical learning in a hugely fun and engaging way.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? London Business School was my top choice given its strong brand and network, particularly in the Middle East, which is where I’m based. Many of my friends and colleagues attended LBS programs where they had fantastic experiences. As a bonus, LBS has a campus in Dubai, so I was able to attend most of my classes locally while continuing my career uninterrupted.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The executive MBA has made me a more patient leader. Throughout the program, we had regular sessions with our executive coach and conducted personalized assessments to identify and work on our blind spots. I was also inspired by my study group partner Arun who is a neurosurgeon – his ability to cope with stress gave me greater perspective on reacting to difficult situations.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Between classes in London, I had the chance to meet up with family in Lisbon for a long weekend. It wasn’t exactly a “vacation” though, as I had assignments due the following week, and was in the midst of a high-priority project at work. I worked on my assignments in the airport and during flights, spent mornings at the hotel focusing on work, and was able to enjoy family time in the afternoons and evenings. When I landed back at Heathrow the night before class, I found myself at baggage claim finishing off a presentation while on a call with my classmate Shrish, who was transferring flights in Riyadh. It was hectic but it all worked out!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Be very clear on your “Why?” – what your objectives for doing an Executive MBA program are. Make sure the program aligns with these goals. Next, plan for the “How?” – how you will balance the demands of work and family with the Executive MBA. This requires tremendous forethought and sacrifice. It’s also imperative to have support from those around you, at home and at work.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? “Going back to school is really hard.” I must admit, that was true! But thankfully, going back to school was also a lot more fun than I expected, and far more rewarding than my previous schooling experiences. Blending classroom learning with real-world experience made for incredible growth. The program opened my eyes to exciting industry trends that I would never have learned about at work.

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

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My classmate Ketaki Banga is a huge source of inspiration. She has defied others’ expectations at every turn, from choosing an unconventional career path to living on different continents while chasing her dreams. Through hard work and resilience, she has risen to the C-suite as a single mother, and is unapologetically bold, creative, caring and fun to be around.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I wanted an in-class experience and strongly recommend this to anyone exploring MBA programs. 80% of the value and learning comes from interactions with fellow classmates and professors. Plus, you get to make friends for life!

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To build something meaningful that helps people.

What made Ellen such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“I have had the privilege of witnessing Ellen’s exceptional attitude, contribution, energy, and community spirit first-hand during my time as Executive Coach for the EMBA Dubai program. She regularly attended Career Centre workshops, Networking Events and sought 1:1 Executive Coaching sessions where she demonstrated the following attributes:

Open-minded: Ellen is willing to challenge her own beliefs and be open to different approaches & solutions.

Humble: She was not afraid to admit her weaknesses or areas where she could enhance her skills.

Self-aware: Ellen has a good understanding of her strengths, weaknesses, and areas for development. She was always willing to reflect on her actions and take responsibility for her own growth.

Growth oriented: Ellen has genuine desire to learn and improve. She is proactive in seeking opportunities for growth, whether through colleagues, mentorship, or guidance from others.

Accountable: She takes ownership of her career choices and holds herself accountable for implementing feedback, following through on commitments, and continuously working towards her goals.

Positive Mindset: She sees setbacks as learning experiences and maintains an optimistic outlook even in difficult situations.

I envision Ellen having a meteoric rise in her current domain of Digital Banking. She possesses exceptional talent, unwavering drive, and extensive experience, making her a prime candidate for the future position of Chief Operating Officer (COO) in a prominent multinational organization.

We might also see her entrepreneurial spirit shine through, as she has the remarkable ability to identify market opportunities and the tenacity to discover or even create innovative solutions. Either way, I am confident Ellen will make a significant impact on the business world.”

Ki Kuganesan
Director Leadership Programs, Recruitment & Admissions


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