Saira Ansari - UK alumni success story

Manager, Global Strategy & Operations, Discovery Communications - Saira Ansari

From: Pakistan

UK degree: Masters in Management at the London Business School

Saira works in a Media firm in London, in a Strategy and Global Business Operations role. The role is a combination of strategy development and implementation, working with teams across the world and from a wide range of areas in the business

Please describe your current job

I work at a Media firm in London, in a Strategy and Global Business Operations role. The role is a combination of strategy development and implementation, working with teams across the world and from a wide range of areas in the business: Digital, Sports, Ad Sales, Distribution etc. In terms of projects, they vary as per business requirement, but can range from post-acquisition integration of a USD 2 billion business in the Nordics, to working on getting global teams aligned on a corporate strategy and how to execute it efficiently and effectively; never a dull day!

What drew you to study your subject in the UK? How did it help you in your chosen career path?

My studies (since High School) were concentrated in Math, Business, Finance and Economics related subjects. I did a Bachelors in Business Administration at Institute of Business Administration (IBA) in Karachi. Continuing my studies in a similar area seemed like a natural extension. I did however, want my Masters degree to provide three additional benefits:

  1. a more a “practical” perspective (combing textbooks with real world examples and case studies);
  2. a global cultural experience (interacting with people from all over the world);
  3. competitive advantage in a highly competitive UK job market; all of which fit like a glove with my Masters in Management degree from London Business School.

My programme in the UK helped me both in the ramp up phase of job-hunting as well as in my current and previous jobs. I have had to rely on extensive data analysis and problem structuring skills, structured and hypothesis based thinking, and strong communication and inter-personal skills – all of which were built and honed during my degree.

Why did you choose the UK?

It was a result of a funnel approach, which helped me narrow my choices. First, as per research, Europe was (and is) a popular and prestigious destination for pre-experience degrees (those catered to candidates with 0-1 years of work experience). Second, London was home to some of the finest business schools offering such Masters degrees, with great job-placement statistics. Third, when analysing the schools and comparing degree programmes, London Business School clearly stood out. All that I wanted from a Masters degree was on offer: stellar academics combined with practical learning, world class faculty, an extensive and strong knit alumni community, multicultural student body, and job-access to a global hub in London. Lastly, I do think I was sub-consciously influenced by reading too much Enid Blyton as a child and watching Notting Hill one too many times!

What advice would you give students from your country hoping to get into your area of work?

My role requires strong problem solving, structured thinking, data analysis and inter-personal/communications skills. I came to my current role from a Strategy Consulting background. In terms of subjects you study to get a consulting role, the industry welcomes a wide range of backgrounds, as you bring a unique perspective to the table when you become part of a team. So although one may think that most people have Management and Math backgrounds, many people in consulting have studied a wide range of subjects: Music, Philosophy, Engineering, Science, Geography, Medicine, etc. In terms of Media/Technoligy, if you don’t enter through the xonsulting route (like I did), you usually have relevant work experience to the role you are applying for (e.g. experience on the sales side or media agencies; experience with due diligence/M&A for Business Development roles; experience in technical product development for over the top digital media player related roles, etc.).

Regardless of the subject you study and the field you want to enter, I would strongly advise the following: do your research. I’ve jotted down a few buckets of research here:

  • The tools at your disposal (are there current services such as the Career Services Centre or senior students at your university who can help you prepare and/or connect you to existing employees)
  • The firm itself (read up on facts like revenue and core offerings, as well as softer aspects like values and mission statement)
  • The background of the people who are in the roles you aspire to be (look at what they studied and what career paths they took to get to where they are at)
  • The interview process at your desired firm (for example, if it’s a case study format as in consulting firms, team up with a friend, or practise on your own, but don’t go in under-prepared, it really comes through)

What for you has been the most useful outcome of your UK education?

This one is easy: the network. I cannot over emphasise how immensely valuable the London Business School network is. No matter what part of the world you are in, the London Business School community (students, alumni, professors, staff) is there for support and growth; both professional and personal.

What are your ambitions for the future?

I love logic-based and structured problem solving; breaking a seemingly massive and daunting issue into sub-parts and working towards solving it. I also love the world of content and story telling, and being in an analytical role in the media industry is a good fit. The content industry is going through a fascinating transition, with “Cord-Cutting” and the move towards device-based consumption, but one thing is for sure: while the format of delivery may change, strong content and story-telling will always be part of our lives. I am therefore keen to transition more on the tech side of the Media/Content industry, while still keeping my analytical hat on, lets see what that role looks like!

On the side, I have co-founded a passion project, aka a website called Dairay with one of my childhood friends from Karachi. It is a website dedicated to forming a global community of goal-oriented Pakistani women and helping them collectively achieve their goals. Through the website, we hope to share inspiring stories of successful Pakistani women from around the world, and connect them to help each other and share practical advice. We hope to grow Dairay into a place that inspires, shares and creates stories of success for Pakistani women all around the world. 

Did you find it easy to settle in to life in the UK? What did you enjoy the most about living here?

London is a very multicultural city, and I was fortunate enough to study and work in extremely welcoming environments with intelligent and diverse people from all over the world. I also know of friends who find and attend networking events and gatherings through online forums, so even if you don’t have a direct school community here, you can always find like-minded people to connect with. You also have access to a plethora of historic and picturesque cities at your doorstep; under three hours and you’re in Paris! London has become my favourite city in the world, that’s how easy it was to settle

What I enjoy the most? Walking! Seriously, it sounds like a small thing but being in a “walking city” with great transport links, easily accessible destinations and so much to explore on foot is absolutely amazing; it was my favourite thing when I moved to London and still is!

What’s your number one memory of your time in the UK?

I was part of the alumni group invited to Buckingham Palace as part of a reception for my school, and it was a pretty surreal experience to be part of that delegation and have private access to the Palace! I’m also a foodie, and I absolutely love exploring the old and new food places in London. There is cuisine from all over the world here and something new every other week! 

Is there anything else you want to tell us about your experience of studying in the UK and how it helped shape your career?

Studying in the UK taught me not only tangible skillsets but also invaluable cultural experiences. Working in a multi-cultural city like London, where people from all over the world bring the best of what they have constantly challenges you to become a better version of yourself.