Carnegie Mellon University

homaira akbari

February 12, 2019

W.L. Mellon: Homaira Akbari Stresses the Importance of Resiliency, Reinvention

As a young woman with a doctorate in physics, Homaira Akbari (MSIA 1996) entered business school with enough intellectual capital to power her way through her coursework and graduate in the top 10 percent of her class.

She exceled at the Management Game, ultimately winning it, and she worked hard for her accomplishments, often eschewing social functions with her classmates. So she shouldn’t have had any difficulty landing a summer internship, but when she applied, companies summed her up in a single word: overqualified.

“I couldn’t get a single interview,” she told an audience of students at the Tepper Quad, where she appeared as part of the W.L. Mellon Speaker Series.

To solve the problem, a career adviser recommended that she wait around until another student canceled a recruiting appointment, then swoop in and take his place. Akbari did exactly that, selling herself in the interview and ultimately winning the internship. The following year, she had five job offers.

The point, she told the students, is that resiliency and flexibility are two of the most valuable assets an ambitious MBA can possess 

“I’m a dreamer, but I’m also a person who understands constraints, because I was in physics,” she said. And business is set up the same way: multiconstrained, multidimensional problems that require nimble solutions.

Now President and CEO of AKnowledge Partners LLC, a global strategy advisory firm, Akbari has reinvented herself many times over during her career, beginning with her decision to attend business school after realizing that she didn’t want to work in physics research.

She began her post-MBA career in consulting, which led her to discover a love for technology. She entered the corporate world, where she held senior management positions in Fortune 1000 companies, including Microsoft, where she honed her management style.

“There is no question: What matters most in business is people, and the culture of an organization,” she said. The ability to effectively organize talent and build consensus is becoming increasingly important, she added.

Before working at Microsoft, Akbari typically didn’t answer many of her own emails, instead leaving that job to an assistant. But Microsoft executives didn’t delegate that task, and she began to realize how organizations function better when all employees, regardless of job title, perform value-added activities. 

Today, as a member of the board of directors on several Fortune 500 companies — as well as the Tepper School’s Business Board of Advisors — Akbari continues to practice adding value and using her viewpoint to influence direction. She remains active in the technology sector, where she specializes in the Internet of Things, cybersecurity, big data and analytics, and supply chain visibility.

“Every situation is unique. And that’s what I got from science: You observe, you collect data, and you react to that,” she said. “Be true to what you like ... when you’re happy with what you do, you definitely perform better.” 

The W.L. Mellon Speaker Series enables students to interact with global leaders, CEOs, and management experts in student forums that encourage insightful and lively dialogue.