As March is the month of International Women’s Day we will be catching up with some of our students and alumni, celebrating their successes and sharing their stories with you. Most recently, we spoke with Chimeren Peerbhai, a Westminster MBA alumna and one of our very own ‘woman in tech’. Chimeren very kindly offered to share her experience through this interview, highlighting the benefits of studying for an MBA, her start-up journeys, the challenges she’s faced as a woman in business, and what she feels it takes to be a leader.
An introduction: Chimeren Peerbhai
Hi! I’m originally from the US but moved to London to pursue my MBA degree at Westminster Business School. I’m currently a Product Director at a digital healthcare company and working on my start-up consultancy VersaStyle.com, specialising in the Wearable Technology, Augmented and Virtual reality sectors.
I initially trained as a Multimedia developer during my undergrad, before founding a creative agency and then moving on to work as a Global Digital Strategy Manager at a Fortune 500 prior to my doing MBA. I’m extremely passionate about accelerating the adoption of emerging technologies, promoting the equality of Women in Tech, participating in and running Hackathons to support good causes!
As a successful MBA alumna, can you share with us how the MBA programme helped you to develop professionally?
I took time off from a successful career to do the MBA programme, hoping to become a better-rounded professional in order to accelerate my career into more senior roles. I had a formal education in the technical aspects of digital development, had gained tons of on the job experience in marketing and management. Whilst working on my first start-up I gained an informal business education from the “School of Hard Knocks”, however I hoped the MBA would fill the gaps in my formal credentials.
Doing the MBA certainly provided the business skillset I set out for, providing me with a more holistic view of how to identify, analyse and create customer value. Most importantly it gave me a more honed ability to think critically. While the program was very comprehensive it understood that you can’t learn everything in one year and that as information, needs and times change, it’s important to instil in students the ability to be resourceful in seeking new information, the importance of having a strong professional network to pull from and the critical thinking skills to separate the “wheat from the chaff” as our careers progress.
The program also provided access to a strong professional network, as many classes are mixed between different cohorts and very group work focused. I had the privilege to become very close to a group of very high performing individuals from around the world from both my cohort, other full time cohorts and the executive cohorts. I now have friends from every type of industry, from all over the world who are at the top of their game. It’s great to have a network to call upon should I need any information, referrals or just a friend to have a drink with should I be traveling in their area!
Lastly, while I initially did the MBA hoping to climb the corporate ladder, what it provided me with was time to focus and reflect upon what I really enjoyed doing and to discover new passions. I hadn’t considered starting up my own business again, but after the program I now have the confidence, tools and support network to set out on the start-up journey once more!
Can you tell us more about your new start-up, VersaStyle.com Consulting?
My new start-up is called VersaStyle.com Consulting and we help demystify emerging technologies such as wearables, augmented/virtual reality and the Internet of Things to help brands leverage them in their digital strategies. We have created the first eLearning course on how to integrate Wearables into your product or marketing strategy and we offer a variety of services from coaching, consulting and workshop training sessions.
It’s been challenging trying to start a business up in an area that is still emerging. In particular in creating my eLearning course about Wearables, there was nothing like it prior, so the amount of research I had to undertake was even more intense than my dissertation! It’s an exciting area and what I enjoy most about it, is the ability to be a pioneer in a new space. Likewise that’s also the most challenging aspect, as if it’s never been done before it’s hard to know if you’re on the right track or not. I’m a huge fan of the agile methodology, which aims to solve challenges quickly and then validate the solution before going too far down the wrong path, which is invaluable when working in uncharted waters.
As a special thanks to the first 25 readers of this blog, I’d like to extend a coupon code to take my eLearning course on how to integrate wearables into your product or marketing strategy for FREE, simply click this link to enrol!
Have you experienced the ‘glass ceiling’ effect and if so, how have you dealt with this?
There have been times in my corporate career that I realized I was being paid less than my male counterparts. While shockingly, this is still prevalent in our modern times, I’ve been lucky to have female mentors who helped me get the raises and promotions that brought me up to an equal level. It wasn’t easy, I had to work twice as hard to prove myself but the playing field can be levelled if women support each other.
What qualities do you think are necessary to make a successful leader?
Some of the most skilful leaders I’ve come across have an extremely high degree of trust in their employees. They do not need to micro-manage because they have faith in the intelligence of their delegates. They know when to just stand back and let initiatives arise out of teams puzzling over problems together. They do not need to impose their own will and understand that true innovation comes out of emergence of collaboration, not force. These types of leaders are the ones who inspire others to achieve more than they thought possible of themselves, and whose employees would happily work overtime for free because they are working towards something fulfilling, in a supportive environment.
Over the year’s I strived to be able to “let go”, which for me is a conscious effort, being a perfectionist by nature. There are times when it would be much faster for me to do something myself rather than to have to explain it and train someone to do it and likely as they are still learning, it won’t be to my satisfaction. I used to work with them until it was done exactly how I would do it. However, I’ve found that often if I provide some guidance and examples of how I would do it, without imposing too much then after a bit of practice they often are able to produce something even better than I had originally envisioned. It’s a more collaborative approach, which can be challenging when you have a “vision” of how it “should be”, but often the collective thoughts and experiences of others transform the “acceptable” into the “exceptional”.
To be honest, I don’t know if there is a gender biased in good leadership, I think it comes more down the person’s natural temperament and personality style but there are skills that can be cultivated and if one is mindful of their actions, they can move beyond their baseline temperament.
Which achievements are you most proud of?
I have to admit getting distinction in my MBA was a huge moment for me and something I’m so thrilled my mom could see before she passed. I’ve also won a few hackathons (1st place for Facebook, 2nd place for Capital One’s Hack Cancer and Most Enthusiastic for Tesco) which were all unique challenges to pitch a concept, form a team and build an app overnight to present to judges the next day. The hackathons are such a great test of your ability to cope under pressure, manage new teams and develop commercially viable yet innovative products, so they are something I’m even more proud than some of work accomplishments where I had more time, familiar teams and additional resources to work with.
What else do you have planned personally and professionally?
Career wise, I’m looking forward to all of the upcoming technologies such as virtual reality becoming more mainstream and hope to become a key player in this space. Personally, I’ve still got quite a few countries to visit on my bucket list and I hope to buy a home in London soon so I can get a dog. Hobby wise I’ll continue doing hackathons, attempting to grow my vegetable garden and delving deeper into my meditation and yoga practice.
What was the best advice that anyone has ever given to you?
It’s important to look at people who have a lot of success and to adopt the mind-set that “no man is cut from a different cloth, what one man can do, another man can do”. Some look at successful people and believe they have some special talent that they could never attain. While there is always some degree of natural ability, there are also very talented people who aren’t successful. Success comes from taking small steps every day towards your goal, especially when you don’t feel like it! Beyond talent, with persistence and belief in yourself, you can accomplish nearly everything just by gradually improving over time.
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