Koo Kah Ming completed her MBA year during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and has since secured a dream role on a corporate training scheme with global logistics multi-national and Fortune 500 company (Top 300, 2021), Expeditors back in her home country of Malaysia. We caught up with her to find out how she managed to maintain her studies and morale through various lockdowns and how she’s getting on now in her new role.
Why did you decide to do an MBA?
My role before starting my MBA was an Air Export Gateways planner for Expeditors. During my time in this role, my view towards the business was that I was siloed with only a small focus on what revolved around my responsibilities, so I decided to pursue an MBA to broaden my horizons and to train me in seeing the bigger picture. Securing the Dean’s Award Scholarship was also an important factor in my decision to pursue my MBA at the University of Essex.
The Essex MBA really helped me see the wider scope in terms of how business operates and how different elements move with and against each other internally and externally in a corporation, and how this would impact my role within that organisation. Overall, it has given me not only a fresh pair of eyes to view the business from different perspectives, I also developed a new set of knowledge and skills to face challenges in the workforce.
You joined us just before the global pandemic hit, how did you find studying abroad in 2020?
Half of my classes were face to face as the first lockdown didn’t hit until mid-way through my second semester, so I still had the opportunity to meet my lecturers and professors and all my class-mates – which was good!
But halfway through, Covid hit. We had to move to online teaching but a good thing at that point was that luckily, we had already met our class so even when we went online it didn’t feel hugely different at first.
I really wanted the classroom experience, which was the main downside of it for me. It made me realise how important it is to be able to communicate your professors and classmates face to face to learn and that is what the whole MBA experience me.
I was living on campus when Covid hit and I count myself very lucky because my next door neighbour in our accommodation was also on the MBA! It was wonderful as we were able to talk to each other about our classes and when restrictions lifted, we were able to meet up so at least I still had somewhat of an international study experience!
Because of various international travel restrictions, I wasn’t able to return to Malaysia until the February after I finished my MBA. I handed in my last assignment in September 2020 and took a part time job while in the UK, I had a lot of time to decide what I wanted to do and what to apply for back home in Malaysia.
When I was selected for the interview process for my Management Traineeship, I did it online and then I got down to the final 12 across South Asia. I was lucky enough to secure the position and I am very thankful for that.
Can you tell us about your favourite modules on the MBA?
My favourite module was Leadership with Professor Elizabeth Kelan. Her classes were very engaging with activities involving leadership conflicts that are prevalent to the workforce and provided some games to work the module material with. That was the kind of experience that I was looking for, something that we could apply in real life and something we could do in a hands-on manner.
Another favourite module was Business Planning led by Professors Nicolas Forsans and Hardy Thomas. The module took the form of a challenging virtual simulation-based learning experience. It was not easy to be so hands-on as a team during the lockdown since it was hard to emulate the level of practice, however, it was also through this experience that I managed to pick up important business acumen and managed remote collaborations that are applicable to my current role.
For my final project I did a consultancy project working with the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust to present research on their fertility satellite clinic. What I proposed to them was a strategic positioning and market competition analysis. It was mostly all secondary research as at the time Covid was pretty bad and I couldn’t visit the hospital.
There are upsides to doing the consultancy project solely online but because I can't be physically there to see how they do things and how they work as a team. It was very difficult to plan and I had to do a lot of my own research from the web. I had to Google who their competitors are, for example. It was quite tough.
How has The Essex MBA impacted you and your career?
It has helped me to polish the skills that I thought I wasn’t very good at, for example I used to not be good at speaking in front of large groups, even a very simple presentation on the MBA would get me very nervous and make me think “what on earth must the professor think about that performance today”. I wouldn't say that I can now present to a group perfectly, but I can now comfortably speak and present in my corporate job. The MBA offered me the opportunity to test and fail instead of failing in real life in my real job.
The MBA really pushed me to always step out of my comfort zone. Besides public speaking I was also able to gain networking skills. I learnt how to speak to new people and not be afraid to approach them and work as a team. I now feel confident approaching people of different background, which is very important for my current role as a Management Trainee.
At the company I work for there are there are only two Management Trainees from Malaysia from my cohort in the whole of the South Asia region. I work closely with all of the South Asia Management Trainees and Management Teams, so the MBA has a really trained me to thrive in this kind of international and diversified environment. Because of my experiences on the MBA, I feel relaxed about the reality of working as part of a team.
My traineeship lasts until the middle of year 2022 and if everything goes to plan then after that I will graduate and then progress through the management levels from there.
Do you have any advice for prospective MBA students, particularly from Malaysia/South-East Asia?
Don’t be afraid to try! It is OK if everything is not perfect. I know grades are important, but don't be afraid to experiment. Don’t be shy just because that’s your nature. People from South-East Asia can be shy sometimes but don’t be afraid to speak what’s on your mind.
You are so lucky to have these professors supporting you so make sure you ask them lots of questions. And if you think you need something, just speak up to the relevant person or someone who can help you. If you're facing difficulties in your studies don't be afraid to speak to your cohort and professors for help.