How An Executive MBA “In The Trenches” Helped Angel Chan Pivot From The Big Four To Start-Up World

Angel Chan

When Angel Chan decided to pivot her career from the world of large consultancy to a rapidly-growing start-up, it didn’t take her long to realise that learning ‘on the job’ would not be enough to make a successful transition.

Angel is the Chief Operating Officer at agile data analytics consultancy Aginic, where she has helped grow the business from a small team to over 100 people. The company helps B2B clients transform the way people experience data and use it to make better business decisions.

Working in a dynamic small business is a far cry from her previous role, where she spent six years with global consulting business EY.

“Working with EY was a great learning experience and gave me a wide range of exposure across different industries and business domains, but when Aginic’s founders approached me about the opportunity to join their start-up during an exciting growth phase, I couldn’t resist,” Angel said.

“The rise of big data and cloud-based data services presented so many opportunities and challenges to businesses. I thought that as a small company, Aginic would be well-positioned to adapt quickly to an evolving market and help our clients take advantage of new technology.”

“On a personal level, I wanted the experience of building and running a business alongside the diversity of consulting. Aginic was small when I joined, but we now have over 100 fantastic people across three offices. We work with interesting clients all around Australia and even internationally.”

Read More: How An Executive MBA Helped These Engineers Turn a Small Consultancy into a Major Player

Four years after joining Aginic, and just ahead of the pandemic, Angel started an Executive MBA at QUT Business School to help consolidate and extend her on-the-job learning with a more holistic understanding of strategy and operations.

“As you typically do in a small business, I was wearing different hats and looking after many operational areas, as well as clients and team members. I really felt that I needed a better understanding of business and leadership to do my role justice,” she said. “Aginic also has a strong learning culture, and seeing my team develop over the years inspired me to pursue my Executive MBA too.”

In deciding what qualification to study and where, her main priority was ensuring a diverse cohort that would be able to bring a broad range of perspectives to her learning journey.

Ultimately, she settled on the two-year Executive MBA from QUT due to the intensive learning model, QUT’s deep links to industry, and the real-world experience of many of the lecturers and course facilitators. It also included executive coaching in year one, and mentoring from senior industry leaders, executives and Board members in year two.

The QUT Executive MBA is designed specifically for executives with at least 10 years of industry experience who have a desire to hone their leadership skills with an elite cohort. With one annual intake in January each year in Brisbane and Canberra, it focuses strongly on creating an intensive learning experience (three days over one weekend every month in Brisbane or bi-monthly in Canberra) within a cohort of like-minded executives.

The Executive MBA program at QUT offers students the choice of two distinct pathways – Complex Project Leadership and Strategic Procurement and International Leadership.

Angel’s QUT Executive MBA experience was significantly enhanced by the deep relationships she created with her fellow students, particularly as the pandemic forced them to adapt to a volatile environment.

“The Executive MBA structure is very conducive to building strong relationships with a real sense that you are in the trenches together. You spend so much time with each other while dealing with the pressures of competing work, study and personal commitments. That builds a lot of trust and camaraderie,” she said. “The challenges of the pandemic only reinforced the bond we had as a group, and the ability to lean on each other for support.”

Studying an Executive MBA during the pandemic had other benefits, including the ability to share ideas and solutions to immediate business problems.

“When you get a group of people from diverse backgrounds, it leads to some interesting conversations and challenges many of your own assumptions,” she said. “I loved learning together, having debates, and sharing stories of how we were applying our EMBA to our roles and organisations.”

“As one example, during the early days of COVID, I was able to draw on the SCARF model of psychological safety alongside more traditional financial modelling and business scenario planning techniques. That helped me and the Aginic leadership come up with a COVID response that looked after both our people and our business during challenging and unpredictable times.”

“The Executive MBA has made me more aware of how I can apply models and research in my day-to-day, while retaining the practical and outcomes-driven focus that I enjoy about my current role.”

Applications for QUT’s Executive MBA are open until December. Find out more about their Brisbane and Canberra programs.

Ben Ready
Ben Ready founded MBA News in 2014 and is the Managing Editor. He is a former business and finance journalist with Australian Associated Press (AAP) and Dow Jones Newswires in London. Ben completed his MBA in 2012 and was awarded the QUT GMAA Entrepreneurship Prize. He is also the founder and Managing Director of RGC Media & Mktng (