Throughout my life, a common thread has guided me: the pursuit of diverse experiences and ensuring the inclusion of perspectives at the table. I am a first-generation Vietnamese American who grew up in Texas, attended Wharton for my undergraduate degree, and pursued a career at Capital One in Virginia. As I now pursue an Executive MBA at Kellogg on the Miami campus, I recognize I have been fortunate to foster connections with folks from a variety of backgrounds. Being an effective leader entails understanding that individuals come from all walks of life—requiring flexibility in management, communication approach, and expectations. My career and EMBA journey have provided me with opportunities to not only learn more about myself as a leader, but also to uplift the voices of others.
OVERCOMING IMPOSTOR SYNDROME AS AN ASIAN-AMERICAN WOMAN IN FINANCE
As I considered what I wanted to do with my career, I had originally written off Capital One as an employer. Surely, it was just another firm in the financial services industry. At Wharton, many of my friends were going into finance, and it had never seemed like the right fit for me. I was also afraid to admit that, to some degree, I had written myself off. Finance seemed like it was reserved for the best-of-the-best, and I didn’t think I was talented enough.
My perception of finance has changed drastically over the years. What I used to perceive as an exclusive club is an inclusive place where I have been able to thrive – as an Asian-American woman, and as a trusted colleague. During Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, I reflected on how my cultural background has influenced my success.
Early in my career, I felt out of my depth. I hesitated to express my opinions or assert myself in conversations, thinking that those around me had all the answers while I was in the dark. I confided in my manager, who shared a similar background as an Asian American, about my discomfort in voicing my ideas or needs. His response was direct and impactful: “You need to get over that.” He urged me to embrace the importance of speaking my mind. Even if I was wrong, it wasn’t a bad thing as mistakes were the best way to learn and grow.
In the finance field, women, particularly Asian-American women, may feel intimidated and withhold valuable contributions. However, my time at Capital One showed me the immense value of ideas, emphasizing that hoarding them is counterproductive. Sharing ideas is the key to unlocking real value for the business and customers we serve. For professionals like me, it’s crucial to embrace speaking up, vulnerability, and sharing ideas, even if mistakes are made. Simultaneously, those in positions of power must actively seek overlooked voices, including women and Asian Americans, fostering an inclusive environment that amplifies diverse perspectives.
THE POWER OF MENTORSHIP
Navigating corporate environments as an Asian-American professional can feel isolating, but finding mentorship and relatability can be transformative. At Capital One, I have been fortunate over the years to have formal and informal mentors who help me along my journey.
With formal mentors, I have found that being upfront about what I am looking to get out of the interaction has been helpful. It’s useful to come to each session with case studies from my own life to discuss in order to discover new strategies and frameworks to see the world through. But I’ve also found that informal mentors have been just as valuable to expose me to new ideas I would not have considered.
With one of my mentors at Capital One who shares my Asian-American background, I often did not come to meetings with a specific issue to solve. We would often just meet to discuss recent top-of-mind experiences or struggles that I had not yet fully processed. I discovered that we had many shared experiences, and as someone who had walked on the path before me, her resilience and success helped me understand my own journey. This experience highlighted the importance of validating others’ experiences and providing support and reassurance to others wherever they are in their journey. Because of this, I am committed to building inclusive networks that empower individuals from diverse backgrounds to thrive in their careers.
These eye-opening lessons from mentors have played an important role in my promotion to Director and simultaneously ignited a desire to advance my leadership skills through an EMBA.
ROUNDING OUT MY LEADERSHIP SKILLSET THROUGH A KELLOGG EMBA
In this new phase of my career as a Business Director, my focus shifted more towards agenda setting, collaborating with other leaders, and being a leader of leaders myself. I sought to hone specific skills like strategic thinking and influence, which ultimately led me to choose Kellogg. The school is renowned not only for its analytical rigor, but also for its general management curriculum which equips students with those valuable “soft skills.”
Kellogg has paid off in more ways than I can count, but I will list a few of the most memorable lessons here:
1. Learning how to develop a decision framework and pressure test assumptions – Decision frameworks are implicit in much of what we do at Capital One. However, the Marketing and Brand classes I took with Professor Alex Chernev helped me develop my own decision framework—one that I now use to as a template to coach my Capital One team on developing their own frameworks to conduct robust analysis.
Professor Chernev had a unique teaching style. Every class was a pressure cooker where he would call on students to substantiate their answer to the case and have them question whether their logic truly was bulletproof. I now channel my inner Chernev to build stronger business recommendations at Capital One. His class taught me the value of knowing what your major assumptions are, how to question or validate them, and identifying key risks and failure points. We also learned how to articulate each of these points clearly and under pressure. My favorite Chernev quote is: “It doesn’t matter what grade I give you. Life will grade you!”
2. Discovering Who I am as a leader – The EMBA curriculum kicks off with some challenging exercises led by Michelle Buck to embrace your own story and learn to be vulnerable in front of your cohort. I was very uncomfortable in these exercises, as it generally takes me a little bit longer to open up to others in my personal and professional life. However, after many cohort tears were shed, we all felt much closer to one another. I felt a stronger sense of how I ended up as the person I am today. This has also helped me learn to share my personal experiences with others in a way that puts others at ease and brings me closer with my co-workers. Alongside career coaching sessions with my career coach, Michele Mesnik, the sessions have given me revelations about who I am, what I value, and what value I bring to the world.
3. Recognizing the importance of a global lens — When considering EMBA programs, I’d strongly encourage prospective students to consider which campuses might broaden your network the most and open you up to new perspectives. The opportunity to broaden my network, especially in the vibrant business hub of Miami, was an enticing prospect that aligned perfectly with my goals. While I learned so much from my professors, I learned even more when my classmate Ivan would compare his experiences in doing business in the Dominican Republic versus in the US. I also learned from my classmate Lucas on challenges in the retail and wine industries. Hearing from my classmates has helped make certain business concepts more tangible and has taught me to think more like a business owner for my team within Capital One. The campus location in Miami has strengthened my connections to the international community, especially in Latin America, and allowed me to look at many aspects through a global lens.
WHY DIVERSE REPRESENTATION MATTERS AT THE ROUND TABLE
As an ambassador of my EMBA cohort, I’ve been entrusted with the responsibility of synthesizing feedback from students with insights from administrators to advance the program experience. This role highlights the importance of recognizing cultural blind spots that can impede effective learning. We receive valuable student feedback through cohort surveys, but some of the most meaningful suggestions come from anecdotes shared during breaks or meals spent chatting with peers.
One notable example was when some students provided feedback that some case studies being used in class were presented through a very Western- or U.S.-focused lens. These cases may not be as applicable to a business leader from a developing country. We encouraged classmates who had valuable experiences from different backgrounds to speak up in class so we could learn about some of these major differences. By learning about and embracing different backgrounds in the program, we’re able to enrich our collective understanding of what it means to operate as a global leader.
My journey has taught me the significance of inviting diverse perspectives to the table. It is through a more inclusive approach that we foster the best ideas, and ultimately, success. With the transformative experience offered by EMBA at Kellogg, I’m excited to continue honing my leadership skills and building a more inclusive future in the global business landscape.
Bio: Anh Tran a second-year student in the Kellogg EMBA program on the Miami campus. She is currently a Business Director at Capital One in Northern Virginia where she has built a career over the last eight years. When she is not studying for classes or building relationships with other Kellogg alumni, she enjoys mentoring junior analysts and spending time with her boyfriend and dog.
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