Maliha Azad Khan, A cross-industry view

By Saira Ansari | Members Only

Sep 15
Maliha was born and raised in Karachi, and attended college and graduate school on the East Coast. She has spent time in manufacturing operations, management consulting, and on the management side of finance. She took out time relatively early in her career to care for a parent with a terminal illness and recently moved to San Francisco to be closer to family and to work on her startup idea. Apart from her impressive laurels, she loves to hike, read, meditate, and spend time with family and friends-old and new!

1. You have worked across a number of industries (textile, consulting, finance) – what is the most important thing that each has taught you?

  • Textile/broader manufacturing operations – how to get things done on a day-to-day basis. How to take pride in your work even if your day-to-day isn’t glamorous. How to work with an extremely diverse set of people in terms of level of education, hierarchy within the organization, management style, etc.
  • Consulting – very little other than how to be a Powerpoint monkey 🙂 Jokes aside, it taught me (as a liberal arts undergrad who’s predisposed to long-windedness) how to clearly distill ideas
  • Finance – the institution I worked at (Bridgewater Associates) prides itself on its culture of bluntness and direct feedback, and that’s something I really valued during my time there

2. While working in textile, you founded a literacy program for 200 female factory workers – what inspired you to take this initiative?

I’d just returned from undergrad at a women’s college in the US so I was a little naïve and idealistic, but in a good way. I saw a lot of women not progressing beyond the manufacturing floor, not even into the lowest levels of being a supervisor – because they lacked literacy skills. I decided to launch this program (initially a small pilot program of 30) to help the women advance. What started off as a purely philanthropic exercise ended up having the unintended benefit of decreasing attrition rates among the female factory workers.

3. You worked on hospital efficiency and decision-making strategy while on a personal sabbatical – how did you go about doing that? How was it in comparison to being a full time consultant?

This was really informal stuff I did while I was taking care of a parent who was ill. Because I’d built up these relationships with providers at a large national cancer center, and because I unfortunately spent so much time there, I was able to share with them some of my observations/best practices (some of which were implemented and others that were not). One of my most meaningful projects during the time was around patient empowerment. Because of the information gap between physicians and patients/caregivers, so many people just follow along with whatever the doctors tell them to do. Because I had spare time those days, I constructed a database closely monitoring vitals/symptoms and observed how they correlated to clinical outcomes. It may have been something done for a single patient, but it was really empowering to be involved as a caregiver and consequently involved with the doctors in decision-making processes rather than just be a passive bystander.

4. Tell us about Harvard Business School – what was it like?

An amazing experience. A two year party in a 5-star resort with lots of smart people 🙂 It was a time where I made some of the closest friends I have, fostered great relationships with professors who’re at the cutting edge of some of the leading research on business and built connections for life.

5. What advice do you have for someone who is considering his or her MBA? What are the key decision making factors you think they should keep in mind?

Think carefully about why you want an MBA – is it to switch careers? To build connections? To learn certain skills?

Think about what kind of learning environment / school would suit you best

Think about your applicant profile and what would make you distinctive from others – think of yourself like a Powerpoint slide with 3 or 4 bullets on it, and ensure that your application/essays/interview coalesce around that consistent story

During the MBA, think carefully about what you want to do post-MBA and why. Take out time for self-reflection instead of running after whatever the latest trend is the hordes are going after (consulting, finance, tech, etc.)

6. What advice do you have for someone who has just graduated from an MBA program and is about to start his or her new job? Any top things to do and any to avoid?

See above point about having thought carefully about what you want to do and why. If you haven’t done this already, then tread carefully in your new job. Don’t be afraid to quit early and quit often if something just isn’t right for you or isn’t going to help you achieve your long-term goals.

7. Are there any online journals or resources that you recommend people read?

Everyone should read whatever they’re interested in – my interests span beyond business, but I’m happy to share what I read regularly. The NYT, The Economist, the WSJ or the Financial Times (I alternate between the two, but only skim the headlines), The New Yorker, Foreign Affairs, The New York Review of Books

8. How do you define success?

Finding what you love doing where waking up and going to work each day doesn’t feel like a chore. Where you’re willing to do the not-so-glamorous work because you feel a broader sense of purpose

9. What are the top three skills that have helped you succeed?

Curiosity, being willing to fail spectacularly, being able to be big-picture but also hone down into details when needed

10. Have you used any networks to help you achieve your goals? If so, what networks have you used and which have been the most helpful?

HBS alumni network, Pakistanis wherever I’ve been (unfortunately they’ve always been men!)

11. What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever received? Do you have any advice for our readers?

A voicemail from my (now deceased) father that I recently re-listened to: “don’t always be so worried about work, you’re wicked smart and you know you’re going to make it as long as you believe in yourself”

Listening to it recently really gave me the courage to stop doing things that I thought I needed to do to check off boxes (consulting, finance, etc.) and listen to myself and find what it is that I really wanted to do.