What drives you? As part of our #DrivenToSucceed campaign, we asked this question of our followers. Past HBX CORe participant Emily Ashtiani shared her personal story highlighting the transformative power of education.
We awoke in the middle of the night to the roar of thunder. After touching my face and feeling the water, I turned to my mom and little brother on the bed we shared.
“The roof is leaking again.”
It was pouring rain that night and the ceiling had given way.
“Go back to sleep. It’s a school night,” my mom said. So, I turned over and drifted back to sleep.
I grew up in a shipping container on the island of Guam. My mom, an immigrant from Palau, was a flight attendant, and my dad, an Iranian immigrant, was a mechanic. We lived a simple life, and looking back, I never understood how they managed to put me through private school. Today, I see that education was revered above all else and they were determined to provide me with opportunities they did not have.
We moved to the US when I was ten years old. As they built a new business and a new life for our family, their work ethic continued to inspire me. I knew, just as they did, that I would have to work hard for what I wanted, but in a country that welcomed our enterprise.
Fast forward to today. I am joining a specialized group within Deloitte Consulting that helps shape technology strategy in mergers and acquisitions. HBX helped me get there.
I studied economics at George Mason University in Virginia. I thoroughly enjoyed my classes at GMU, but wanted more—I knew that to be successful I'd need to learn from the world too. This meant taking advantage of GMU's flexible schedule and accepting an internship at a local credit union. After my first year at the credit union, I was promoted to a full-time analyst, typically a position requiring a bachelor's degree, and became the youngest analyst in company's history. This meant undertaking a full schedule of night classes so I could work full-time during the week.
My work at the credit union inspired me to get closer to the action and sparked my passion for finance. I hoped the tools I was learning in my economics classes at GMU would prove useful in my career, but knew how competitive full-time opportunities in finance could be. If I wanted to enter the finance world, I knew I had to take a risk—so I did.
I left my salaried job at the credit union, right before I was to receive a promotion, and started an internship in private equity. I also decided to enroll in HBX CORe at the suggestion of a friend who had an incredible experience in the program. CORe was another risk, another thing to manage to juggle during an already busy final semester, but I knew that I wanted to experience something new and challenging, and would be forced out of my comfort zone.
HBX helped me rebrand myself. The four-month program exposed me to the fundamentals of business through three courses: Business Analytics, Financial Accounting, and Economics for Managers. We learned by analyzing case studies, which were a refreshing approach for me. I was able to take the concepts I’d learned and use them to improve our family business, explain what were once hard-to-grasp concepts to my peers, and excel in my final undergraduate semester by referencing HBX case studies to support points I made in presentations and classwork.
As I worked together with my CORe cohort online, I met people from places as near as Connecticut and as far as India and Italy. Our group was supportive and close-knit – like family. I would never have believed we would form such strong connections online, but many of us organized in-person meet ups to collaborate and study for the final exam—and a group of us will also be attending the second annual HBX ConneXt event in Boston this May!
I came into HBX with a desire to solidify what I had learned through my undergraduate economics degree. However, I left with much more. I now possess a refined understanding of critical business concepts that has proved useful at my private equity internship and will continue to help me as I transition into my new role at Deloitte.
When I received the offer from Deloitte, I realized that HBX helped me use my life experiences, work accomplishments, and undergraduate knowledge to become an independent woman, offering my skills to both my clients and my family. Today, I am able to help them make impactful managerial decisions for their small businesses, and, moreover, understand the global economy through differing lenses and perspectives.
I'm a first-generation American with years of sleepless nights and hard work under my belt. I have earned my place the hard way, as my parents did, in a country that took us with open arms. I am not a stranger in a strange land as they were, but opportunities are what we make of them. In the future, I plan to make it possible for immigrants and future generations to have the chance to succeed in a welcoming country. And I hope that I can start by inspiring people simply with my story.
About the Author
Emily Ashtiani is a recent Economics graduate from George Mason University. She has a broad range of experience in banking technology and most recently completed a Private Equity internship covering the manufacturing and telecom sectors. She will be joining Deloitte Consulting in a technology and strategy role and is always looking for social impact opportunities.