The INSEAD Women in Business Club have launched a « Tell your story » initiative across both the Singapore and Fontainebleau campuses that aims to present the current INSEAD MBA female students’ inspirational life-stories.  This is the story of Christy Ma, MBA 18J.

Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself?

Prior to INSEAD, I was at HSBC Global Asset Management, where I promoted China investment strategies to global sales teams. Growing up in Hong Kong, it’s almost inevitable to find yourself working in financial services, but even more inevitable to cultivate the love for food. Three years ago, I created lolleroll.com – named ‘Top Food Blog’ and interviewed as ‘food authority’ in Hong Kong and London – which led me to discover passion for all things food-related. After my MBA, I hope to bring my experience in stakeholder and project management from asset management to food.

Did you encounter stereotypical behaviours in your environment while growing up or in your career? If yes, could you elaborate?

Subtly so. My dad often projected his desire to have a son by making us (three daughters) do a lot of ‘boy activities’ – in retrospect, very cool. It’s telling that I was conditioned to believe that these were ‘boy activities’ but more importantly, this was irrelevant for my dad.

At school, I was frustrated that boys were always chosen to play the main characters of plays because the characters were male; I was convinced it didn’t matter. I truly believed I stood an equal chance, so I would belt out the audition lines in my most manly voice. I still didn’t get the role, but I think it was my efforts to overcompensate which got me the role of the narrator instead.

Less encouragingly, seven years ago I joined the Investment Research team as one of two Fund Analysts. I was less experienced but I couldn’t shake the suspicion that my boss referred to me (and treated me) as his secretary in front of Chinese clients because I was the woman of the team. I left the company shortly after. But in general, I think stereotypical behaviours exist to a lesser extent today.

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?

Patience, perseverance and people skills. I was often in conflict with stakeholders much more senior to me at work, as we had different opinions on how to promote our investment strategies. Remaining patient helped uncover alternative solutions, and persevering ensured I wouldn’t give in to a position I did not agree with. In the end, finding buy-in from the right people was probably most impactful.

What was the most helpful advice that has ever been given to you?

“Know who your stakeholders are,” as my mentor at HSBC once said. In an organisation so large, it’s easy to get caught up in doing everything and trying to make everyone happy – but this is also applicable to life in general. This advice constantly reminds me the importance of finding and connecting to your stakeholders in life; prioritise and say “no” more often.

What triggered the move to INSEAD?

The literal trigger was a bit random. In the weeks leading up to my Pleasure Vessel Operator’s exam (license to drive a boat) in August 2016, I studied four nights per week from 7pm to 10pm. It sounds excessive for a licensing exam, but grasping the concepts of compression in a diesel engine was very difficult to me, especially considering I majored in Philosophy! When the exam was over, I realised I secretly enjoyed those nights of intense studying. Three days later, I registered for the GMAT exam. At that point, I thought I would end up doing a part-time MBA in Hong Kong.

The true trigger for my move to INSEAD was a little more meaningful:

My food blog was initially built to efficiently spread recommendations. But the journey from 300 to 11,300 followers on Instagram unexpectedly opened up opportunities to meet a diverse range of characters across the world – chefs, entrepreneurs, bloggers and more. One accidental conversation led to an event invitation, another led to a magazine feature. I felt inspired by these encounters, and only then did I truly learn the importance of talking to people and building ‘weak ties’. This gradual realization also helped me advance at HSBC, and I had the feeling I could achieve even more.

People always told me I don’t need an MBA because I had already done my CFA, but because I was witnessing how powerful building relationships and developing soft skills could be, I decided my pursuit of an MBA would not merely be for “further studies”, but for the people. That’s why I chose INSEAD.

If you had to name one take-away or lesson learnt from INSEAD, what would it be?

Confrontation is good. I used to avoid confrontation to avoid conflict, but the encouragement to foster disagreements within our study groups taught me that confrontation is actually a tool to resolve conflict, rather than trigger it. I learnt that many issues are often based on misunderstandings. This has helped me work much more effectively and happily in different groups.

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?

Jonathan Day, owner of El Pan de la Chola. Everything about this quaint unpretentious bakery and cafe in Lima smelt like “goals” to me. I said, if and when I ever open a cafe (my ultimate dream), it would be exactly like this. There is no specific question I would like to ask him. I just want to meet him, talk and maybe, absorb some creative inspiration.

Could you name one book that had an impact on you?

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I think the cliché sense of passion is overrated. Like many others, I was not born with a passion and I have never had a eureka moment that lead to discovering one. I think it takes repetition to know whether you love something. It also takes repetition to fall in love with something. It’s not that this book changed me, but I recognise, agree with and respect so many of the concepts covered.

What is your definition of success?

Being able to do what you love, and continually gaining satisfaction from it – no matter what that may be.