“One of the great things about being a woman in business is that you can do things with finesse.”
Rebekah Ahn, Stern School of Business MBA Class of 2010, was honored as the recipient of this year’s Edie Hunt Inspiration Award at our recent MBA Women’s Conference in Chicago. The award, named after the Chair Emeritus of Forté’s Board of Directors, recognizes the outstanding achievements of women MBA students at Forté sponsor schools, and is awarded based on the contributions the winners have made to advance women in business.
Rebekah grew up in North Carolina, where she dreamt of becoming the next Connie Chung. “She was an Asian woman and she had such a voice in shaping American culture,” she explains. “So as an undergraduate I studied journalism and mass communications.” That drew her to New York and jobs in advertising and marketing.
As she gained the opportunity to serve clients from different industries, Rebekah began to focus her career ambitions. Business school was a natural step. Seeking to stay in New York, she enrolled at the Stern School of Business at NYU, drawn by the strong community of women there and the supportive environment created by the faculty and the administration.
At Stern, Rebekah made a significant impact on opportunities for women, via the organization Stern Women in Business. She joined as executive vice president in her first year, and co-president in her second year. “The idea of being a woman in business is something I never thought about too formally before I went to business school. When I went to Stern and I experienced that community of women I was so uplifted and inspired by it.” As part of Stern Women in Business, Rebekah was able to accomplish a lot, from bringing senior women business leaders to campus for an annual conference to organizing smaller networking sessions.
Rebekah is thoughtful on the topic of what it means to build a network. “The thing I’ve learned about networking is that it’s really just having a conversation with someone else,” she says. “Hopefully it’s a mutual exchange. It’s not being the person who’s always at the front of the room asking the question. It’s about figuring out what you have in common and how you can help each other.”
Rebekah used her networking opportunities at Stern to create relationships at American Express, a company she targeted right away, drawn by their strong brand and reputation for innovation. That kind of focus is part of her personality. But she says she also tries to make room for fate. “I’m of the school of thought that you can line things up, but at a certain point circumstances need to align for you as well,” she says. “I think it’s important to be open. I always knew that American Express was at the forefront for me, but I didn’t lock myself out of other opportunities just because this was what I thought I wanted. In the end it will benefit me more that I explored other companies, because there will come a day when it’s time for a change. And if I have a relationship with another company or business unit, that might help a friend.”
Rebekah is embarking on the next chapter of her career, with American Express Interactive. She says working in digital media suits her well. “Growing up in North Carolina as a Korean girl I always had this longing for a bigger world. I wanted to try new experiences. The digital format allows that. I’ve always had a strong curiosity for everything that’s new and creative and innovative especially in the way it connects people.”
Rebekah admires the biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, who once observed that mediocrity is the only sin. “I think that’s important to keep in mind, especially for women,” Rebekah says. “Don’t apologize for who you are. One of the great things about being a woman in business is that you can do things with finesse. Women have this unique ability to be artists about how we accomplish our objectives.”