Designer To Manager: How I'm Merging Strategy And Creativity On The IE Business School MBA

Yunmi Suh had a background in design before her MBA, but once at IE Business School she learned how to combine this with strategic business thinking

Once upon a time, ‘creative thinking’ was thought to be secondary to business acumen. The artist and the analyst were at odds; creativity might have made good artworks, but it didn’t make good business.

Nowadays, that’s not so much the case.

Last month, the design arm of McKinsey & Company published the findings of a study they’d conducted into ‘the business value of design’, during which they discovered that companies, regardless of sector, all performed better the higher they scored on McKinsey’s own ‘design index’.

Indeed, the report notes that ‘the market disproportionately rewarded companies that truly stood out from the crowd.’

Evidently, it pays—literally—to prioritize design, and it makes strategic sense in today’s visual culture for that to form a large part of not just middle managers’ concerns, but executive-level priorities.

For forward-thinking businesspeople, choosing an MBA that will encourage these traits is key to a future in an innovative company.

This was the thinking of Yunmi Suh, a former design strategist at Hyundai Card and current MBA student at IE Business School in Spain.

Yunmi had worked in the creative industry for almost five years before deciding to pursue an MBA; she was looking to marry her existing creative skills with a greater knowledge of business.

“My title in my previous roles was always ‘designer’, but most of the projects that I did were in creating new opportunities in project and account management,” she says.

“I wanted to transcend my experience into a managerial role.”


Lab learning

Yunmi was attracted to IE because of its reputation for entrepreneurial excellence—25% of IE alumni start their own companies, and more than 1,500 are trained in entrepreneurial management each year.

In the second part of the program, MBA students at IE Business School enter what is known as the ‘Lab Period’.

In this section of the course, MBAs pick from one of five options for immersive business learning. One of these is the school’s own highly successful startup lab, but options also include a social impact project abroad and consultancy projects for corporate clients.


Getting tech savvy

Given her entrepreneurial ambitions, one might have expected Yunmi to opt for the startup lab.

But she knew she had to expand her technical knowledge and challenge herself to take on some new information. So, she chose the tech lab track, which puts the focus on design thinking, innovation, and the application of new technologies.

“During the six weeks of the lab we were focusing on human-centered design thinking methodologies and practices,” she recalls.

The students’ final project was working with technology firm Oracle to develop new business ideas and products using blockchain.

The lab took them through not only hard skills training on topics like data mining, data analytics, and AI, but also softer skills, such as using design thinking methodologies to situate new tech within the current business landscape.

This was a revelation for Yunmi.

“The tech labs taught me a lot about how to employ these new approaches in real business terms,” she says.

“I didn’t have much knowledge regarding blockchain or AI before, so it was very interesting to explore this new area. Especially with the help of my classmates who had worked for tech companies in the past—they helped me out a lot in understanding these different technologies.”


Aligning the creative with the strategic

Now, nearing the end of her MBA experience, Yunmi welcomes the changes in herself. She believes that being able to explore innovation through a creative framework has helped her round out her skillset as she had been hoping.

“My confidence has been growing a lot,” she says. “During the first core period, my confidence level was really low, but all the people at IE are really supportive.

“They know that people from different backgrounds have different specialties and expertise, and they help you strengthen your weaker parts.”

This support has meant that Yunmi is now more confident about her future—she’s eyeing positions in strategy in London design agencies.

“It taught me to see the bigger picture of the business landscape,” she says. “Before IE Business School, I was only focusing on certain industries, like the design industry.

“Now, I can align corporate strategy with the creative needs of a company, which is very important—to make sure that innovation and creativity is not at odds with corporate strategy.”