Nourhan Farhat, our 18J’ classmate, talks about her career in consulting, the best piece of advice her parents ever gave her and her optimal solutions for dealing with conflict. Happy reading!
Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself?
Greetings everyone! I am Nourhan Farhat from Lebanon – it is a small fantastic country in the Middle East which you should all know about and visit one day.
Before joining INSEAD, I was a Senior Consultant at Roland Berger, a leading Strategy Consulting firm – a great company and family which I am proud to have been part of for the past 4 years. I am very passionate about the consulting industry and plan to go back to making slides and restructuring companies as soon as I complete my 10-month program at INSEAD.
What have been highlights and challenges of your journey so far?
I graduated as an Electrical and Computer Engineer from the American University of Beirut. Sounds fancy… and it was! Unfortunately, I never found myself in that industry. It was really tough to realize that I really did not want to continue my professional career as an engineer after having invested two years of my life (as well as my father’s money!), but I pushed through knowing that my engineering degree would open up a lot of doors in different fields later on.
Long story short, I found my passion after joining Roland Berger in 2012 as a Junior Business Analyst. Indeed, consulting turned out to be a great passion of mine! I was on the fast-track to promotion, receiving 5 promotions in 4 years, becoming part of their Challenge Club (i.e. the top 10% performers globally) and leading two projects as a Senior Consultant before leaving for my MBA.
Did you encounter stereotypical behaviors in your environment while growing up or in your career? If yes, could you elaborate?
Yes! Well, try being a young female in the Middle East and you can imagine the flood of interesting stories that I can tell you. I wish I could say ‘no’ and show how strong women can overcoming this, but in all honesty, that would be a lie. After all, we wouldn’t have a Women in Business Club if such behavior no longer existed in the world today. Most stories of the issues I have encountered end on a pleasant note, since I more or less manage to overcome them, but some don’t and have had a huge impact on my life.
For example, my childhood dream was to become a pilot. That dream came down crashing after finding out that our national airlines (at the time) did not hire female pilots – of course, not officially, because that is pure discrimination, but by rejecting female candidates for the silliest reasons, the underlying one being: their gender. Accordingly, I applied to Engineering as a secondary option. This should not have been the case in the 21st century. I promised myself that I will work to change this in the future, but before I was able to, I am pleased to say that this year, that same airline has admitted two female pilots.
Another funny story was when a client once walked into our team room during a project and asked me to not lean against a desk because it was ‘distracting to the employees in the shared space outside’. My male colleague had a treat laughing at the situation, knowing that he would never have to face the same situation.
On a more serious note, it is the expectations of the Middle Eastern society that women must, when their biological clock starts ticking, focus solely on their family. It is as if balancing both or just wanting to be a career-focused individual is out-of-this-world. I have witnessed so many discussions and have argued with many people about this ideology, which I hope we will overcome one day as we all work together to change this mentality.
What are the skills that you find particularly helpful in mitigating and resolving conflicts? Can you give an example of when and how you used these skills?
For any logical issue I would say: listen, place yourself in their shoes and then find an optimal resolution. I have never been a patient person, and I tend to react quite quickly, so my own tactic is to stop for a moment and try to take the other person’s point of view. Two-fold benefit: I get time to cool off, and it gives me perspective.
On the other hand, when the conflict is illogical (i.e. stereotypical behavior), it becomes more complicated. My optimal solution then, is to weigh whether the person I am dealing with has the potential to be logically convinced, or whether it is going to be a wasted effort. I weight the costs and benefits and accordingly decide to either confront the person or just bypass the issue with the least damages possible.
What was the most helpful advice that has ever been given to you?
My parents have always been my biggest cheerleaders, and they constantly told me growing up: “If anyone can do it, it is you.” I guess it is the version of aiming high and believing in yourself, in a less lyrical form.
What triggered the move to INSEAD?
Adventure and reflection. After 4 years of consulting, I needed a break from the late-night workdays to realign my goals and make sure I am still working towards my long-term vision. An MBA at INSEAD offered me the optimal opportunity to re-energize by meeting hundreds of other ambitious and interesting classmates, while legitimizing it by filling my academic gaps and adding a prestigious accomplishment to my resume. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stop time and reflect, make true friendships, and learn the most in less than one year!
If you had to name one take-away or lesson learnt from INSEAD, what would it be?
The importance and value of diversity in all aspects of life. From working in the most random groups to just hanging out and listening to stories of previous NASA engineers, medical doctors, actors and consultants… you learn to appreciate everyone around you much more.
If you had a chance to have dinner with someone dead or alive, who would that be? What is the one question you would like to ask him/her?
I have my reservations on religion, especially when people use it for their own good instead of the greater good. I would love to sit down for a round table dinner with all the prophets and idols from the various religions to arbitrate a discussion so people can see that all religions fundamentally promote the same ethical grounds and that all this hatred we see today is entirely man-made.
Could you name one book that had an impact on you?
I am not the most inspirational when it comes to books…my favourite reads are from the fictitious young adults genre. So… pass.
What is your definition of success?
In forty years from now I would like to look back and not regret anything, knowing that I have achieved my life’s worth and left an impact on people’s lives.