Meet The NYU Stern EMBA Class Of 2021

Astu Patel

NYU Stern Executive MBA Program

Location New York

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Obsessed with results and bringing calm to the chaos!

Hometown: Scottsdale, Arizona

Fun Fact About Yourself: I went on a two-week-long hiking trip in the Himalayas with my dad when I was 10 years old!

Undergraduate School and Major: Electrical Engineering with a minor in Mathematics from the University of Arizona

Current Employer and Job Title: Product Delivery & Integration Director within the Technology Group at American Express

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Driving change with an external perspective to accelerate positive business results in a challenging and complex ecosystem has been both humbling and rewarding.  American Express is a large company and it competes in a crowded space, which includes nimble fintechs with very targeted and specific agendas.  Reflecting on just this year, my team has introduced an incredible amount of change in how we function, ultimately allowing us to be faster, laser-focused, and remain essential to our customer’s everyday digital lives. It has taken both patience and persistence to understand and challenge the status quo, bring along critical stakeholders and scale our learnings and successes throughout our journey of constant change and evolution. I consider this my biggest accomplishment because of its unique challenges, which led to both results and professional growth opportunities.

Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of the MBA programming that led you to choose this business school – and why was it so important to you? Along with Stern’s academic rigor, IQ+EQ is at the core of Stern’s values. I felt a deep connection to Stern’s impact-oriented approach and application of business leadership to influence those around us.  Stern’s ability to bridge academic excellence with practical applications was very important to me. After all, there is little value to equip yourself with best-in-class education if you can’t extract its full potential.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Even as an undergrad engineering student, I wanted to continue my studies and get my MBA. Life happened, and I waited longer than I wanted.  However, pursuing my MBA at this specific point in my career presents its unique value proposition – I have gained rich experience upon which I can build. The majority of my career has been on the technology side of the equation. To achieve an optimal balance, it is critical to understand the big picture – the entire equation thoroughly. With the way things are trending around us, technology will continue to shape our lives. Without an in-depth understanding of business motivations, I felt like I would be continuing with partial information. I would hit a ceiling in my ability to scale my impact at the pace that I desire. The MBA is my way to enrich my palate to comprehend the core aspects of any complex problem.

What has been your biggest difficulty in incorporating MBA studies into your professional and personal responsibilities? I received concerned looks from family and friends when I declared my interest to pursue an MBA.  They were right in saying that it is going to be “difficult” or “nearly impossible.” Juggling my young family, a demanding job, and a rigorous academic schedule is no joke. However, I was confident I could make room for my studies without impacting core aspects of my responsibilities.

I have two young girls, ages 5 and 8. While they still very much like being around me, they are not as demanding as newborns.  Similar is the circumstances at work.  I feel a lot more at ease than I did a couple of years back. About three years ago, when I got promoted, I uprooted my family from their suburban comfort and moved across the country to New York City. I tirelessly spent the first year building a new team and putting in place effective tools and processes. Having been in the role for two years at the time of my application, I felt assured in my domain knowledge and established team.  I also waited until I had a leader with whom I was able to build mutual trust and felt comfortable taking the required time outside of the office to attend classes.

Lastly, I have become disciplined in how I use my most constrained resource – my time.  I have strategically planned to have everything I need daily within a one-block radius: work, apartment, school and after-school activities for my kids, grocery stores, etc.  I do my best to not overextend myself while building in planned compromises.  This means I will not be able to attend all the happy hours with my classmates because I have a family waiting for me, occasionally miss my daughter’s music performance because I have a final exam to write, and cut short my business trips to be back in NYC to attend class Fridays.  It’s a balancing act and a demanding two years, but very much worth it.

What do you enjoy most about business school so far? Diverse content, viewpoints, and individuals. I feel like my world has suddenly gotten so much broader and I enjoy having dedicated time to soak it all in. From accounting to the P’s of marketing, there is so much to learn. Immersing myself in constructive debates in the classroom and pulling from the wealth of experience and opinions that my cohort has to offer has been an enjoyable growing experience.

What percentage of your program cost is being paid by your employer? American Express does a great job backing employees who are interested in furthering their education with a tuition assistance benefit. I am eligible to request up to $7,500 annually towards tuition related expenses as long as the degree program is relevant to my role and career path.

What is the top item on your career bucket list? I find my inspiration in many great leaders that have broken numerous ceilings. Eventually in my career, as COO, I would like to run an efficient customer-centric company with a strong culture to innately and authentically value each and every one of its colleagues.

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