How Shujaat Ahmad, WG’17, made a radical pivot from strategy consulting to his passion for people analytics through Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives.

With an engineering background, Shujaat Ahmad, WG’17, had built a unique profile of diving into unchartered territories and solving complex business problems across a variety of industries and functions. As a result, he was on the fast track for a career in strategy consulting. Yet over time, he realized his true passion was on the people side of business. Unsure of how to make a career out of that interest, he came to Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives to “gain academic muscle,” learn more about this field, and explore possibilities.

“A big benefit of the EMBA program was that I could engage in insightful dialogue with other experienced students to learn about the key people issues they face in their industries and how I could influence a diverse group of business executives in appreciating the value of the talent domain that is traditionally deemed as ‘fluff’ and an after-thought. I knew that would help me refine my career goal and validate my perspective that HR could be transformed from a support function to the most critical value-creating lever for the business,” he said.

Shujaat, who is now Manager of Talent Insights at LinkedIn, credits several aspects of the EMBA program with helping him envision and execute a mid-career pivot into a high-impact role with a leading player in the emergent field of people analytics:

People and Data Analytics Classes

While taking Prof. Cade Massey’s Influence course, Shujaat had an “a-ha moment,” when he realized that he’s “a corporate strategy professional who is also a people champion.” He explained, “I saw that I have a unique point of view that would add value at companies that use data and technology in their talent domain. Prof. Massey, who heads the Wharton People Analytics Initiative, showed me there is a career in this nascent field and encouraged me to look for opportunities,” he said.

In that class, he built an action plan for exploring the people analytics market. He also began taking other classes to learn more about HR and people analytics. For example, in Prof. Peter Fader’s Marketing Probability course, he learned about what data can reveal about talent trends and its impact for managers. He complemented that with learning from an Organizational Change course taught by David Pottruck, W’70, WG’72, on how leading executives influence bold breakthrough cultural change across the enterprise. “The real-world philosophy on influence that I learned at Wharton is deeply embedded in my current team’s motto when ensuring that analytics leads to executive decision making: Insights without action = overhead,” he said.

In addition, Shujaat learned about people analytics during Global Business Week, a weeklong immersion course EMBA students take in their second year. He and his classmates spent the week learning about business opportunities and challenges in South Africa. Shujaat also used the opportunity to explore human resources in this part of the world, writing a paper on whether talent defines how well a business performs in South Africa. That led to a subsequent independent study on what it takes to develop talent in emerging economies, using Africa as a proxy.

People Analytics Conference

Each year, Wharton hosts a People Analytics Conference in Philadelphia. At Prof. Massey’s suggestion, Shujaat attended the event and found it to be “game changing.” He explained, “The conference was an incredible platform to evaluate the landscape. It provided me with both intellectually intriguing material and a quick overview of where the practitioners were concentrated. I saw that many companies haven’t caught up to people analytics and don’t advertise their people analytics roles.”

“Talking to people in this industry, I realized that while I don’t have an HR background, I have taken so many classes and done projects on this topic in school that, combined with my unconventional work experience, I have developed a unique point of view to offer. That conference confirmed that I was on the right track and expanded my network, opening doors that were not accessible earlier.”

Global Modular Course: Rwanda

After graduation, Shujaat joined Wharton’s Global Modular Course in Rwanda, led by Prof. Katherine Klein and Eric Kacou, WG’04, where he examined the logical and emotional levers used by leaders to motivate people and bring change despite conflict. “By then, I had defined my goal to become a leader who helps businesses make better people decisions that make sense for business and their role in society.”

“Rwanda’s remarkable journey showed how an entire country could lift itself after decades of conflict and self-destruction leading to the traumatic experience of genocide by applying data-based approaches towards socio-economic development. For example, it prioritized gender equity as a strategic priority for long-term development and it has achieved it like no other country. That is attributed to its leadership championing the use of mathematical and methodical approaches,” he said.

Shujaat said the course reinforced that what he is trying to do in people analytics has real purpose and can make a great impact. “It’s important to see that in HR, you can use data to achieve your goal of bringing people together and being more inclusive, while transforming the business.”

Executive Career Coaching

Shujaat also utilized the Executive Career Coaching (ECC) resources available to EMBA students and joined a job search action group, facilitated by Director of Career Advancement Steve Hernandez. “That was an excellent opportunity to test out my strategy with other classmates looking to make changes. They held me accountable to my plan, which helped motivate me to continue talking to thought leaders and people in this field and exploring opportunities,” he said.

As a result of all his efforts, Shujaat received multiple job offers from companies for people analytics roles that didn’t previously exist. He ended up accepting an offer from LinkedIn, where he is now part of the Talent Insight team, working with executive business and talent leaders. “We leverage data to bust myths and help our leaders make better and faster decisions that are less biased and based on evidence. We bring science to the talent area. We also help reinforce our product and think about future products around people analytics,” he said.

Shujaat said this career transition wouldn’t have been possible without Wharton. “I knew I had limited time in this program, so I made sure to take advantage of the opportunities to connect with people, conduct research, take classes and utilize resources. The ROI at Wharton on my career has been unquantifiable.”

Meghan Laska

Posted: June 13, 2018

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