Mei Ling Tan (Management Studies 1999) attended the Judge Business School. She is now Country Operations Officer for the World Bank in her native Malaysia. She shares her experience.
What was your experience of Fitzwilliam like?
I read my Management Studies in the Judge Business School and did the two years MBA sandwich programme with an internship in the UK. I thought one year in Cambridge would not be enough. I was lucky that I came to Cambridge on the Chevening-Cambridge Scholarship and the programme allowed me to stay and have the internship. The application was all done in Malaysia, through the British High Commission. Coming from Malaysia to live in the UK and Cambridge for the first time, can be a bit daunting. I chose Fitzwilliam as my college as I thought going to a newer college was more appealing to me. I thought it would be more like a home away from home. Arriving at Fitz, my first impression was that it was welcoming for a new international student. A Cambridge college can be quite imposing but Fitz felt intimate and more collegiate with many international students. I lived for a term in College grounds, and after that I went off to Glisson Road, to the postgrad accommodation. That was amazing. I met so many people from all over the world, made strong friendships with friends from Nigeria, South Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Latin America and Eastern Europe, which opened a whole new set of experiences that I really treasure.
With hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently?
I think I would have liked to have been more involved in College life, with sports, activities and cultural events. Being in the Judge and doing the MBA was very all-consuming. It was extremely busy. I remember very clearly people having barbecues and punting during the summer while I was slogging away in the library on my thesis! It is not a typical MBA programme. In the Ivy League Colleges in the United States, a MBA is very finance focused with emphasis on case studies. There is no requirement for a thesis, unlike Cambridge, which is a research university. The ethos at the Judge is based on sustainable development and not just maximising profit. That suited me very well. I remember Professor Peter Nolan, who taught sustainable development, and influenced my outlook on business and the private sector. My thesis was on the business model of Grameen Phone, which is financed by Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and the IFC (International Finance Corporation), under the World Bank Group. I travelled to Bangladesh and the IFC in Washington DC while researching my thesis on Grameen Phone.
Tell us about life post-Fitzwilliam…
I returned to Malaysia in 2001 and worked in the private and public sector for the next 14 years before joining the World Bank. Upon my return to Malaysia, I was looking for something different, a job which is developmental in nature. I joined the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), a government agency, where I was part of the core team which promoted and established Malaysia as a hub and destination of choice for shared services and outsourcing. After three years, I returned to Accenture where I had first started prior to studying in Cambridge. When I look back, I am thankful that I started my career in a consulting firm, for the employee development programmes and on-the-job skills sets that I learnt was excellent and has served me well in building a solid foundation. Being in consulting, I worked with many clients in different industries such as airline, automotive, transportation, heavy machinery and oil and gas. The types of jobs that I did were on change management, as a result of business process improvement and systems implementation. Change management is a very large discipline, which covers organisation and job change, work and skills change, training and providing tools to the organisation and people to help adapt to the changes.
Tell us how you progressed from the private sector to the World Bank …
The experiences I had in the private sector helped a lot, as they gave me a much richer understanding of industries, enterprise, jobs and innovation. These work experiences, coupled with my education background in Cambridge, helped me land a job in the Prime Minister’s Department in 2011. I was the Associate Director for the Strategic Reform Initiatives for Human Capital Development under the Government of Malaysia’s programme on transformation. My responsibilities included working with Ministries and agencies in defining KPIs, supporting the development of policies and tracking progress. I worked for five years before joining the World Bank in 2016. I also credit my time in Fitz and Cambridge in playing a part to secure a job in the Bank.
Working in the World Bank feels like a natural transition to me, moving from national to international development work. It also builds on my work experiences in both the private and public sector. Besides my current role, I am also active on the gender diversity and inclusiveness agenda, which I hope can influence the country’s policy-making. Being at Fitz and Cambridge has helped me to get here – it has given me the credence to move from one place to another.