My leap from ice dancer to MBA student
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
When I was four, my parents put me into hockey classes at our local rink in New York and I just took to it. But it only lasted a couple of months, until I saw figure skaters on the ice and told my mother: “I want to do that.” The rest is pretty much history, I have been skating ever since.
After university, I was faced with the choice that I either stop figure skating and go into a more corporate job or continue and perform around the world. I decided to tour the world. For about 12 years, I travelled and performed in different cities in Europe and the US and on international waters on cruise ships.
Then, in 2018, I founded a performance company and put together my first show from scratch with 25 of my professional figure skating colleagues. We performed it in Connecticut and it was a big success. That is when I started thinking about going to business school. My undergraduate degree was in graphic design, I had a long history in the creative industries and I wanted something a little more tangible to move me forward in my professional career.
I wanted it to be in Europe, because I had spent so much time there over the years and felt very comfortable. I applied to schools in Berlin, Amsterdam and to Imperial College Business School in London, which was the best, and I was happily surprised when I got in.
The course was an intensive one-year MBA. There were a handful of British students and a lot of Americans, Chinese, Indians and south Americans — it was really international.
We got to do about six months in person before the pandemic hit and we switched to remote learning. It was tough — doing an MBA is all about networking and connecting with your peers and professors. But, once the lockdowns hit, many students went back home. We made the most of it, though, and supported each other.
My favourite courses were design thinking and accounting, which is kind of funny. I was good at maths growing up but had not done much professionally, and I was finding the accounting class really hard. But, at the end, it clicked; it was beautiful, almost, how everything added up. The artist in me loved when everything matched. The design thinking professor encouraged us to be creative, making it a really exciting class. It taught me that, in business, creativity is very important.
The Reaching Out fellowship for members of the LGBTQ community also helped make a big impact on my time at business school. I thought that I would go into a class of a lot of straight white men, because that’s the stereotype. I was happily surprised that it was not like that. It was a very diverse group, and it was great going into a network of LGBTQ+ candidates.
We did an entrepreneurship module as part of the MBA as well, and I created a company with one of my classmates called the Ice Theatre of London. Since I graduated last summer, I’ve remained in charge of that business but I have a team of ice skaters who are helping me run the company as I no longer live in London. I ended up back in New York accidentally — I was going for a two-week vacation but then England went into lockdown and I stayed where the ice rinks were open and I could teach skating.
The MBA gave me the confidence to run businesses and step into managerial positions. I am about to join a country club in New Jersey as their artistic director, where I will be producing, directing, choreographing and managing all of their performances.
I stay in touch with many of my classmates — we have a WhatsApp chat that we contribute to. It’s fun to hear what they are doing because all of our lives ended up going in different directions than we thought, because of the pandemic. We have had to pivot.
What’s next? I really hope that the Ice Theatre of London will take hold and garner a bigger audience in the UK — that’s one of my goals. Other than that, I’m looking forward to living my life. I just got married. I think the pandemic has forced us not to plan too far in advance, and so we are living in the moment — we will see what happens.