Why I Do What I Do

I'm often asked how a mechanical engineer like myself, branded with an MS from MIT, got into banking. How I despise that question! Almost as much as I despise someone asking me why I chose to come to Lebanon. Because the answer is not so plain. And the journey nowhere near consummate.

Here's the start.

I was awarded a merit fellowship both by MIT and the United States National Science Foundation to pursue a complete graduate program, and believe me, the PhD had long been my goal. I was passionate about tutoring and teaching, and I'd determined the only way to teach at a university was to obtain my doctorate. At MIT, however, I had a change of heart--I loved the course work and the interaction with my peers, but I rarely looked forward to time in the lab. In fact, the most memorable thing about my master's was crafting the thesis itself. I finished it well before graduation--such was my excitement--and my advisor insisted it read more like a narrative than it did a technical paper. As far as I was concerned, that was the ultimate praise.

But honestly, I couldn't picture myself running experiments day and night in the lab, publishing papers whose titles were as long-winded and enigmatic as their content, attending boring conferences, and leading a life of wretched solitude. I'd enrolled in an engineering management course, which exposed me to case studies and real-life problem solving, and I loved it. This propelled me to audit MBA courses in the Sloan School of Management, listen in on talks by CEOs and executives visiting campus, and even lead activities in my dorm hall and social clubs. I preferred human interaction to theoretical computation, expressing myself in words rather than numbers, grappling with open-ended questions rather than closed-form solutions. I'd loved engineering as a discipline, but I couldn't take it up as a career.

And as fate would have it, during my second year at MIT, I was invited for an interview by the College des Ingenieurs, a specialty MBA program in Paris that plucks fresh engineering graduates from top international grad schools and immerses them in a 10-month course of study. Coupled with the course work, however, is a real consulting experience at a real corporation. I flew to Paris for the interview, and a few days later, voila! I was admitted.

That year in Paris immediately following my MS was many things (I'll defer the treatment of it to another post!), but most importantly, I was convinced that I preferred the business world, particularly strategy and development, to the technical and academic. The former was liberating, the latter, austere. I had freedom of thought and expression as a junior consultant, and my ideas and recommendations were taken seriously at AREVA, where I worked.

After I graduated, I worked briefly for an American consultancy in Abu Dhabi, but long hours and a grueling lifestyle were ample persuasion to pack my bags and head home. I soon found myself in the Middle East under the auspices of MIT and its Arab Students Organization, of which I'd once been an active member and ambassador. For a month I visited schools and universities throughout the Levant, encouraging top students to apply to top American institutions and showing them the ropes. The chairman at one of Lebanon's alpha banks caught wind of my work and of my interest in strategy management, and a position was carved out for me. And the rest is history, as the saying goes...

So here I am, engineer turned consultant turned strategist (and part-time blogger). I worship good writing--my undergrad English professor did urge me to major in literature, but I clung to my curiosity for math, sans regret. I'm not sure where the roads will lead me, but I do know that everyday I'm getting closer, and so long as I'm writing, there will be new adventures to recount.

Thanks for tuning in.


  1. Very insightful Danielle... Certain things were along the lines I expected, others were rather off the course of my predictions.

    1. Thanks, Tsolag--yeah, at the time, I couldn't have foreseen most of it either :)

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  3. Loved this post. A great read for undergrads deciding what to major in.


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