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From intern to CEO: 3 inspiring figures every business student should know

internship benefits
“Dreams do come true, but not without the help of others, a good education, a strong work ethic, and the courage to lean in," advised Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox. Source: Shutterstock

Internship benefits are far and many. They let students apply the knowledge learnt in lecture halls and classrooms. They bring to light the various soft skills needed to complement technical know-hows in students’ future careers. They place students in real-world settings, but still within the guiding hands of lecturers and mentors.

But one of the the rarest and least talked about internship benefits is the fact they build a pathway to the most coveted roles at the top of the corporate ladder today.

Difficult? Yes. Impossible? Not according to  these three figures in the corporate world today (and they all also happen to be women!):

Marguerite Zabar Mariscal


Marguerite Zabar Mariscal comes from a family who knows food – the same Zabar family who founded an iconic specialty grocery story in New York City of the same name.

But when she first started in restaurant empire Momofuku in 2011, she held the lowest of all positions in the up-and-coming eatery, working as an intern in the public relations and events department.

Today, she heads the successful culinary brand, which spans restaurants in New York City, Sydney, Toronto, Washington, DC, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, as well as a bakery established by pastry chef Christina Tosi, a bar and a quarterly magazine.

Momofuku founder David Chang told The New York Times that he wanted Mariscal to be CEO as early as four years ago, when she was only 26.

“She’s the only person I’ve ever felt comfortable giving complete carte blanche to, in terms of what Momofuku looks like and what it should be,” said Chang.

Chang may be the Netflix star everyone knows, but it’s Mariscal running the show behind the scenes. Momofuku as a brand now employs more than 1,000 people, and it’s up to the Bachelor of Arts/Science graduate from Bowdoin College, as Chang’s right-hand woman, to ensure it all runs smoothly.

Tosi, who runs the bakery brand under Momouku said: “She’s honestly been acting in this role for quite a while.

“How Momofuku meets you, how it makes you feel, all the little details, they’re all her.”

Adena Friedman

“You can’t be successful in business without taking risks. It’s really that simple. Starting a new job can be nerve-racking , but it’s also exciting,”says Adena Friedman, CEO of Nasdaq Inc. Source:Keta Betancur/AFP

Nasdaq Inc is the American multinational corporation that owns Nasda – the world’s second-largest stock exchange. What’s lesser known is that it also owns eight European Stock Exchanges in Armenia, Copenhangen, Helsinki, Iceland, Riga, Stockhold, Tallinn and Vilnius.

At the top of this company, with a revenue of US$4.2 billion in 2018, is President and CEO, Adena Friedman.

And she first started at the company as an intern.

Friedman had a BA in political science from Williams College and an MBA from Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. Internship benefits are many but Friedman applied here with one goal in mind: getting a foot in the finance and product management site of the tech world.

She then climbed to the role of CFO before leaving to a private equity firm. Returning to Nasdaq thereafter, she was promoted to CEO in January 2017.

While Nasdaq began as the world’s first electronic stock market, Friedman’s leadership has turned the company into a global technology leader, integrating everything from artificial intelligence to the blockchain technology behind digital currencies.

Her advice to aspiring business leaders is to have “intellectual curiosity” and to add value to the company, no matter what their role.

“We look for people who want to understand more about the world around them. We look for people who want to understand more about the capital markets and how they shape the economy,” Friedman said to WayUp.

One of the most important internship benefits at Nasdaq, she says, is that “you can find your way into the organisation through one group, and move to other parts of the company”. The promotions won’t come easy, though.

“You have to have your own sense of self-reliance, self-starting,” she says.

3. Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns epitomises what it means to rise meteorically in one’s life and career. She was an African American woman born into a poor neighbourhood in New York City’s Lower East Side. When she first started at Xerox, a Fortune 500 company she now heads, she held the lowliest position as an intern.

Burns charted her rise from a young age, refusing to be pigeonholed into the career options then offered to women, with the limited options of either being a nurse, teacher or nun. Instead, she chose chemical engineering, which later switched to mechanical engineering as her college major. She later graduated with a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University.

The most crucial internship benefit for Burns at Xerox was the recognition of her talent from senior executives. Due to this, she was promoted to executive assistant by one of the company’s most respected executives, who taught her the business and leadership skills she needed to thrive, Forbes reported. By 1999, Burns became Vice President for Global Manufacturing and in 2009, ascended to CEO position.

Don’t underestimate the internship benefits your lecturer speaks about. They could one day, as these women show, just make you CEO.

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