Leila Azimova

Professional background

Before I came to Imperial for the MBA, I had six years’ experience in the commercial department of the major oil and gas company, BP. I spent five years in the Upstream segment in Baku, Azerbaijan, and one in the Integrated Supply and Trading office here in London.

Choosing to study my MBA at Imperial

I had been planning to do an MBA at some point in my life for a few years – mainly thinking about the soft skills essential for future leadership positions, which I could obtain or improve with the help of an MBA programme. What triggered my decision was the difficult situation that the oil and gas industry is currently facing. I saw it as a perfect moment to take a break from work and do what I had been contemplating for so long – go back to school, work on my skills and knowledge, and explore my options.

I had actually already experienced life at Imperial College Business School by the time I decided to do an MBA. I hold an MSc degree from Imperial College London in Metals and Energy Finance (a joint course between the Earth Science and Engineering Faculty and Imperial College Business School) and this experience was highly positive. So, when I had to choose which Business School to apply to, Imperial was naturally my first choice.

Holding a degree from Imperial College London meant I was eligible for the former alumnus discount. Combined with the Imperial College Scholarship that I was awarded this reduced the tuition fees that I paid. The rest of the funds came from my own savings and from those of my parents.

A focus on innovation and entrepreneurship

Other than my previous relationship with the Business School, other reasons why I chose to study here again included the one year duration and the focus of the programme on innovation and entrepreneurship.

Two of our core modules are Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Design Thinking & Innovative Problem Solving and I am also going to take the Design Management elective this summer. Even though at this stage I don’t feel entirely ready to start up something of my own, I am absolutely inspired and am definitely going to apply all the knowledge I am gaining here in the future!

What I have found even more helpful in developing my innovation and entrepreneurship skills were the 360 Business Challenge and the Innovation Challenge – they both required us to apply certain learnings in practice and also, as the name implies, challenged us to step out of our comfort zones.

So far, the most challenging moment for me was the 360 Business Challenge. I had to work in a team of people I hadn’t worked with previously, within a very short time frame, doing something I had never done before. It was extremely useful in developing some of my soft skills, like pitching an idea, negotiating and persuasion skills, and communication skills. Looking back now, I can say that it was an absolutely great experience!

The focus on group work that the programme offers has been a very important factor for me in strengthening my leadership skills. In several instances I took the initiative to lead a certain project or piece of coursework, and I feel a lot more confident about leadership than I did before the MBA. I have also learned to better adapt to different kinds of personality and backgrounds. I am currently working on the Group Consulting Project. My team is working with Thomson Reuters and we are carrying out research on data crowdsourcing for them.

The Imperial community

The amazing people in my cohort are my greatest source of inspiration. The cohort size is just perfect – there are enough people for it to be a diverse, interesting and challenging learning environment, yet not too many so that we can get to know each other, build good personal relationships and learn from each other.

The diversity of ethnic and professional backgrounds is challenging and builds your skills as an international business leader but also provides great opportunities to lever each other’s strengths and produce more effective and high-quality work. I have the pleasure of working with these amazing people in an atmosphere of support, mutual help and learning. The faculty are also highly professional and knowledgeable people. What I find highly positive is that the Business School keeps attracting world famous academics like Franklin Allen.

We are also given many opportunities to network with Business School students outside of the MBA class. As part of the Consulting Club I have had the chance to participate in case study practices with students across the Business School and I am the Full-Time MBA cohort’s Academic Representative within the Student Staff Committee.

The Student Staff Committee works to establish a solid channel of communication between our cohort and the Programme team/faculty. I make sure that any queries about the academic side of the programme get heard and addressed. I think this communication is not only useful for current students but also for the Programme team to evolve the programme.

There are lots of active clubs and societies within the Business School and I have also been approached by the Imperial College Women in Business society and asked to help with an MBA-MSc mentorship programme. The programme is set to launch very soon and aims to provide female MSc students with career coaching and mentoring from MBA students. I am really impressed with the effort the Business School puts into creating opportunities for women and there are also a number of events organised specifically in support of female students.

There are also opportunities to network with students from different faculties across Imperial College London. As a Full-Time MBA student, we can take one free evening language course and I am currently learning Mandarin Chinese together with students from various parts of the college.

An international learning experience

We got to visit China for our Global Experience Week and this has absolutely been my highlight of the programme so far, with lots of interesting and useful learnings on business and culture in China. We even had the opportunity to teach English to the children of rural migrants!

Another event which was remarkable for me was the trip to Brussels where we visited the EU Parliament and Co-Station BXL, an accelerator for start-ups and scale-ups. The highlight of the Co-Station BXL visit was a piece of advice from Omar Mohout, who is an entrepreneurship advisor and mentor and who ran the presentation for us: “Whatever industry you are in, teach yourself some programming; this is essential nowadays!”

London

For the majority of our time, we are based on campus in an amazing location at the very heart of London, which happens to be my favourite city in the world.

I live around Gloucester Road, a 15-minute walk from Imperial. I really like the area and, funnily enough, I am renting the same flat that I used to rent back when I was doing my MSc course at Imperial seven years ago!

I really like everything about the life in London (maybe the public transport could work slightly better, but that’s minor!) – the best part being that you can find absolutely any kind of activity and meet absolutely any kind of person. There is an abundance of gyms, sports classes, theatres, shops, museums, exhibitions, bars and restaurants – but also all sorts of networking events and conferences, which are useful in business and career terms for both learning new things and meeting new people.

Careers support

I joined the MBA programme with the intention to return to the oil and gas industry and grow as a leader in it. At the moment I am entirely open to different opportunities, which is driven by the difficulties that this industry is currently facing, and also the exposure that I have been getting to other sectors and industries. For example, I am now really interested in and fascinated by FinTech; before the MBA, I hadn’t even heard of it!

I really want to explore different options and the one-to-one support from my assigned career consultant is absolutely invaluable. I meet with her quite often and we either discuss career opportunities, or do case study and interview practice.

Speaking of case study practice, we also had the opportunity to join a weekend case study course run by Barbara Puddinu, a former Deloitte Strategy Consultant and alumnus of Imperial College Business School, with three to four one-hour sessions per person scheduled on weekends.

I have attended most of the workshops ran by the Career and Professional Development Service, which were helpful for developing and enhancing various soft skills, such as presentation, improvisation, negotiation and others. The ‘Interview A Leader’ activity is a great initiative; it helps you to learn a lot and at the same time serves as a good excuse to approach high-level people!

The future

I am probably not going to be original here, but so far the key takeaway for me is the importance of networking and establishing relationships. Merely having the skills and the capabilities is not quite enough, visibility is needed as well.

I think the three greatest benefits that Imperial MBA provides are the knowledge, the brand and the network – I am definitely planning to leverage all three.

My advice?

I would say that it’s highly important to have a clear picture in mind initially about why you want to do an MBA, how you think it is going to benefit you and how you are planning to use it in the future, but it’s even more important to be open to all possible perspectives and not to consider your initial plan to be set in stone. If I was going to give advice to a prospective student I would say go for it. The Business School’s rankings are getting higher and higher, and you will get a lot from this programme: academic knowledge, interpersonal skills, interests, business development and consulting skills, entrepreneurial way of thinking, motivation, and, after all, the ‘Imperial brand’.

Nationality: Azerbaijani

Undergraduate education: BSc Economics in Oil & Gas Industry from Azerbaijan State Oil Academy

MSc Metals & Energy Finance from Imperial College London

Job prior to Imperial College Business School: Commercial Analyst at BP

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