From MBA To CEO: The Edinburgh MBA Who Rebuilt One Of Iceland’s Biggest Banks

Birna Einarsdóttir became CEO of Ícelandsbanki in 2008, at the heart of the financial crisis. The skills she learnt from the Edinburgh MBA became vital to the bank’s recovery

Birna Einarsdóttir always planned to study an MBA, but when she chose the University of Edinburgh Business School, she couldn’t have known the impact her education and experiences there would have on the rest of her life.

In 2008, financial crisis hit Iceland hard and its banking system collapsed, with its three biggest banks falling in the space of three days. Birna became CEO of Ícelandsbanki in October 2008 - tasked with the daunting prospect of rebuilding the fallen bank.

The skills she'd honed years earlier during the Edinburgh MBA were the perfect tools to help her fix a broken system.

How did your MBA help you in strategizing the rebuild of Icelandsbanki?

I did it through strategic management. The long-term planning and strategy skills learned on the MBA were crucial.

To say it was a challenge is an understatement. You didn’t know where to start – it was so broken. I did it by setting out a strategy journey to take us step by step to where we’re going. The focus was on rebuilding the bank instead of solving a problem every day – there were enough of them I can tell you!

How has your MBA has helped your progression to CEO?

The MBA made me more confident and capable. It gave me international experience I couldn’t have gained in the same way without studying an MBA abroad.

On graduating, I moved to Scotland and worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland for six years. I would never have applied for a job at RBS without having the MBA from Edinburgh.

What role should business schools have in challenging the gender bias at CEO level?

I have always said that both during my undergraduate and MBA degree there were no gender issues. I can see that in young people coming straight out of university. They don’t understand the discussions about the closing the gender gap because they feel that they are completely equal.

But when young women start their career, it’s not the same. I don’t know if MBA degrees today are covering this issue, but I think they should. Nothing changes if the managers of the future are not there to do it. Current students are tomorrow's leaders and need to be educated about it.

Why did you decide to pursue the Edinburgh MBA?

When I finished my bachelor’s degree in economics in Iceland, I was always determined I was going to take an MBA someday. I had never been to Edinburgh before I decided to apply, but I knew that Edinburgh was a highly regarded university in all the lists of MBA rankings. I also had a friend doing a PHD there and he encouraged me to come. So, for me, it was relatively close to home, had a great reputation and I had a friend who recommended it.

What stands out about your MBA experience?

I got to know lots of good people and have kept in touch with a few that I call my very close friends. I got to know my husband there too, that’s why I moved to Scotland! The MBA was a brilliant year; one of my best. 

What advice would you offer to anyone considering taking an MBA?

I wanted to have some work experience when I applied which is why I worked for several years between my undergraduate and MBA. I thought it was good for you to have experience before you start. I think it's extremely important when forming an MBA group, that you ensure that most people will have some work experience.

Read more stories about students,
alumni and programmes at University of Edinburgh Business School.

University of Edinburgh Business School

You must sign-in or register to post a comment