Sainsbury Management Fellows

Interview 7: Fani Pournara

Fani Pournara (MSc, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), INSEAD

Fani Pournara largerBiog: Before starting her 1 year MBA at INSEAD, Fani worked in the transportation sector for six years. As a Rolling Stock Engineer with London Underground, she provided specialist technical knowledge across projects. She was the traction expert in the team set to deliver a major upgrade to the traction systems across the fleet of trains operating on London’s busiest commuter line, the Central line, which carries over 350 million passengers per annum. This upgrade is expected to address the single largest reliability issue affecting the London Underground Central line fleet.

Prior to joining London Underground, Fani worked for four years at Bombardier Transportation, a global leader in the rail industry, in Switzerland, designing traction and auxiliary converters for locomotives and high-speed trains for many international projects.

Fani’s passion for transport began when, as an undergraduate student, she completed an internship in the R&D department of Daimler, the world leader in the automotive industry in Germany, investigating the smart charging of electric cars.

What inspired you to study for an MBA?
Having spent six years in various engineering positions across the transportation sector, I had consolidated my technical expertise. However, my aspiration is to transition into a general management role within the industry and currently I lack the hard and soft skills needed to realise this transition. I decided to pursue an MBA at a top business school, as it will not only equip me with the necessary managerial skills and the confidence to tackle cross-functional business issues, but it will also boost my credibility – as a testament to my commitment to the pursuit of business knowledge, practice and excellence – and will allow me to take on positions of increased responsibility. Moreover, it will expose me to ways of thinking and perspectives from people with very diverse backgrounds, and it will provide me with a safe environment in which I can experiment with different learning and leadership styles, thereby allowing me to hone my judgement and decision-making abilities. I think these are essential skills for a future leadership role.

How did you hear about the SMF scholarship?
In parallel with the process of choosing the business schools to which I would finally apply, I was also searching for ways to finance my studies. I came across the SMF scholarship on the websites of all the schools that I was considering; that’s how I first became aware of it.

Why did you apply for the SMF scholarship?
When I read the eligibility criteria for the SMF scholarship, I realised that they matched my profile. Moreover, in my effort to inform myself more about the scholarship, I found out how the SMF began and the aims of the scholarship and Lord Sainsbury’s vision resonated with me; I could completely identify with this. In fact, I had experienced many discussions with my engineer colleagues in which we were advocating that our engineering organisations always benefit from leadership that has business at its core. Finally, the fact that SMF actively seeks to promote diversity by welcoming applications from under-represented groups and especially women encouraged me even further to apply.

How will the SMF Scholarship help you?
The scholarship is very generous in terms of supporting awardees financially. In this context, gaining this scholarship eases the financial burden associated with a top MBA and it will allow me to get the maximum out of my MBA experience. But what is most important for me in the long term is access to the incredible alumni. To give a tangible example of this fact, I found out that the Assistant Dean of Degrees at INSEAD, who addressed my MBA class during the first days of the program, is himself a Sainsbury Management Fellow!

What is your ambition after you graduate?
I have a strong passion for transportation. I believe that efficient and effective rail transportation for both passengers and freight is an essential requirement for a productive, world-leading economy in the 21st century, unlocking economic growth and new jobs, connecting communities and enabling them to develop and grow, and addressing the challenges of urbanisation, sustainability, global emissions and an ageing population. Policy makers and private investors in the UK have recognised the value and importance of rail transport and are carrying out the biggest rail modernisation since Victorian times with further growth on the horizon.  My aspiration immediately after graduation is to transition into a strategy role in a transportation company. In the long-term, I would like to step into a general management position and drive innovation in this fascinating industry.

What are your impressions on starting your course?
I’m at the very beginning of my studies. However, I am already impressed by the quality of the professors, my classmates, and the class discussions and I realise that I have made the right decision in terms of school choice and learning experience. INSEAD is a really diverse school, with a truly collaborative and inclusive culture. It is also a very intense programme – this is clear from the very first day! And of course, the opportunity to complete part of the studies in Singapore is an amazing opportunity; to live in a major Asian hub and explore the whole region.

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