Interview 11: Rauf Khan

Rauf Khan (BSc, University of St Andrews, MPhil (University of Cambridge), Stanford Graduate School of Business

Before joining Stanford, Rauf worked in investment banking, consulting and product management across the UK, US, and Middle East. Rauf studied Chemistry at St Andrews and Nanotechnology at Cambridge. At university, he developed clean-tech such as solar, batteries and fuel cells, and evaluated private equity investment in nanotechnology.

Through his career, Rauf has helped governments, companies and venture capital firms invest in clean energy technology globally, revamped product portfolios for large fintech companies, and facilitated the IPO of a US electric-vehicle start-up. Most recently Rauf helped design, develop and commercialize mass-market electric vehicles for the UK, Europe and US, as a product manager.

Rauf is passionate about developing others; his learning initiatives have reached over 20,000 people. These include launching schools of design thinking and data science in the Middle East, scaling mental-health solutions globally, and coaching women in developing countries into top STEM universities.

Why did you decide to do an MBA?
To become better.

Each step in my journey involved a short learning period, followed by an intense expectation to deliver. The stakes were high; customers, clients, and partners entrusted the future of their organizations on my team’s shoulders.

By leading with empathy and purpose, together we created innovative solutions that resulted in a huge impact, improving the lives of tens of thousands across the globe.

Each day we faced new challenges, adapted, and added skills to our toolkit. However, with stakes this high, my ability to experiment and try radically different approaches was limited.

During the MBA I’ll grow through diverse experiences, explore issues that touch my longer-term mission, and disrupt how I think and lead by experimenting.

I believe new experiences build empathy and challenge biases.

I believe every endeavour pursued with intention, unlocks hope. In the exchange of energy for intention, we strive; we decide; we become.

As I become a better writer, engineer, and founder I will become a better brother, friend, and leader. I will create hope for many, especially those that need it most. After all, hope is the most powerful force that I know.

I also believe my next journey relies on faith. The most meaningful periods of growth throughout my life have been due to relationships I didn’t expect and moments I could never predict. This will be no different. I trust the direction I’ve chosen will enrich my life and my community. Precisely how, I am on the path to discover.

 What stage in your career were you at when you decided to do the MBA?
I had a bright future at my company and great relationships with my team and customers, which made it difficult to transition. With their support, I was ready for my next major learning experience.

How will you use what you learned in your MBA course to further your career?
The hardest part of solving real problems using technology is not the technology, it’s people.

Human challenges require empathy, self-awareness and compassion. Human challenges cut across boundaries and disciplines because people do too.  By exploring how people interact with specific kinds of technology during my MBA, I’ll be better equipped to create and scale products that tackle our most important challenges.

Hard skills will help me fund-raise, build great teams, and serve users.

It’s also true that most of what I learn will be outdated soon. The friends I make will last throughout my life.  I’ll learn from them, lean on them and push them to be better, as they will do for me.

What was the most important or surprising thing you learned from your business school experience?
Pain plus reflection equals growth.

Our instinct as leaders is to search externally for a challenge to solve and influence change. I discovered there is huge power in first looking inwards to understand who you are and what is important to you.

Choose a significant experience you’ve faced. Why is it meaningful to you? Drill down by asking why until you reach a core belief. How can you ensure others make it through that challenge? How can you move others to actualize your core belief?

One of my core beliefs is that learning and education can create hope.

Reflection feels thankless, there aren’t any awards and you can’t add it to your LinkedIn profile, but like many of the moments that shaped you most, you can feel its impact when you look back and connect the dots.

Don’t waste pain. Use it. A few hours of reflection today can help you use future years with great purpose.

What are your expectations of being part of the SMF network after business school?
We help our communities, especially when it matters.

How do you hope to support SMF after you graduate from business school?
Mentorship and coaching.  I’m here today because a few people cared about me a tiny bit more than they needed to, and luck. Those people, often teachers, helped me believe I was useful. They gave me hope.

I promise to help others realize their potential. I’ll work with SMF leaders to create opportunities, particularly in low-income communities.

What did you learn by going through the scholarship application process?
Many of the goals I’ve worked towards, like creating a new, diverse generation of engineers, align directly with the SMF and its values. I was in the right place. Search for an organization that aligns with your values.

What tip would you give to someone seeking financial support to do an MBA?
Apply for scholarships! All SMF candidates felt doubt when applying and were surprised when accepted, including me.

Most of my story I can pin down to ‘turning up’. I show up, try my best, and keep trying when things get hard. I bet the same is true for other SMFs.

Success is not eluding failure; it’s the ability to move past failure without losing enthusiasm. Invest in your attitude, not your outcome.

Scholarships are free to apply to. Show up, apply, see what happens. You may be surprised too. And if it doesn’t work out, you’ve earned another repetition, and learned on your journey!

Find out how to apply for a scholarship.


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