Interview with Briana Tang, Emerging Business Leader

Our August 2020 Spotlight features Briana Tang, a recent IB graduate from White Oaks Secondary School and soon-to-be economics student at Western University with conditional acceptance to the Ivey School of Business. Briana has an impressive array of business competition wins under her belt (First Place in the 24-Hour Case Competition & Deloitte Pitch Challenge at the Ivey Summer Leadership Program 2019, First Place at the National High School Competition Concentra Challenge 2019). In addition, she has a diverse range of extracurricular leadership experiences, which includes acting as the Treasurer and an Executive Officer for Bleed the North, an organization aiming to fight period stigma and period poverty within  Canada, to serving as a Business Management & Administration Trainer for the White Oaks DECA.

In our interview, Briana discusses the decision-making rationale underlying her path, and shares advice for aspiring business students, and insights for succeeding in case competitions.

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1. You’ll be attending Western in the fall, and studying Global Economics. How did you make the decision to pursue this route? 

Frankly, every time I get asked this question, it makes me snicker a little. My decision to pursue Global Economics was definitely not what I had expected entering high school—if you asked grade nine Briana what she wanted to study in university, she would have looked you dead in the eye and said, “Health Sciences at McMaster.” Needless to say, I ended up on a significantly different path. 

My choice to study economics can be attributed to two main factors: firstly, my aversion towards chemistry, discovered while taking Standard Level Chemistry as part of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, and secondly, my love for travel and learning about various cultures around the world. The former was what initially tipped me off that STEM may not actually be the route I wanted to pursue. I found that chemistry at higher levels wasn’t very enjoyable to me: the subject itself didn’t seem especially meaningful, and lab reports were unnecessarily tedious to write. Eventually, after completing my final exam, I realized that I couldn’t see myself pursuing something that required me to take further chemistry courses. 

At the same time, I had been taking Higher Level Economics. I had chosen to take economics simply because it sounded like the most interesting out of all the offered humanities courses, which in hindsight, is a decision I am extremely glad I made. My teacher was hilarious: he found the best ways to explain difficult concepts and was very engaging when he taught lessons. This, combined with my participation in DECA—an international business-oriented competition for high school students—got me thinking about pursuing a business-related program. To a certain extent, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that economics was a sort of loophole for me: it allowed me to retain all the analytical aspects of science that I enjoyed, combined it with social-political concepts, and mashed in information about various cultures and countries around the world that made it absolutely fascinating for me to learn about—all with the additional benefit that no chemistry was required to pursue this route! 

2. You’ve successfully navigated the university admissions process, with a receipt of the Western Scholarship of Excellence, and the advanced entry opportunity status to the Ivey School of Business. What advice do you have for those looking to apply to undergrad in the upcoming school year? 

One thing I loved about applications to business programs is that the large majority of them placed a heavy emphasis on extracurricular involvement and leadership abilities. This allowed for me to construct what was essentially a narrative in my applications—using my own experiences to showcase my strengths and values. 

While I do think that academics are important, I find that marks present a rather one-sided view of candidates. What’s to say that a 90% at one school is just as easy to get at another school? Furthermore, I think it’s definitely important to realize that universities nowadays are looking for people that are more than simply book-smart. With a heavier stress on ‘soft’ skills such as communication and conflict resolution, it’s crucial that applicants take the time to pursue experiences that develop said skills. 

Keep in mind however, that the quality of your experiences is always worth more than the quantity. If you can show long-term commitment and effort made towards one specific extracurricular, that’s worth more than ten short-term commitments. Realize also that the definition of leadership today is rather fluid. You don’t have to be the president of a club or captain of a team to be deemed a leader. If you can successfully show that your efforts have left a positive impact on others or have helped your team resolve a certain challenge, then that’s more than enough to make a strong essay.

My friends and I (right) at the 2020 DECA Provincials Award Ceremony. 

3. You’ve been successful in various case competitions, including placing 1st in the 24-Hour Case Competition & Deloitte Pitch Challenge at the Ivey Summer Leadership Program 2019, and being a provincial finalist for the International Business Plan Event at DECA Provincials 2020. What advice do you have for students interested in participating in case competitions? 

Like many other things, the hardest part of case competitions is always just taking the first step and participating in one. It can be intimidating to present a solution to a problem you’ve been given only hours ago, especially if you have little experience with public speaking. My advice? Just jump straight into it. I found that the best way to improve in these competitions is to simply do more of them. You’ll find that for many case competitions, there are many things that remain constant (ex. the format of your business pitch, evaluation criteria). By analyzing more cases, you master the aspects that don’t change, which allows you more time to perfect your most important case competition skill: the ability to create an innovative, unique solution that truly stands out from the rest.

My team and I (speaking) presenting our solution at NHBC 2019. 

My second tip is that you should try to work with a variety of people. Team up with people who are leagues better than you, and with others who have less experience than you. The former category will push you to adapt to their fast thinking, challenge your critical thinking capabilities, and force you to present concepts you’ve only just learned minutes ago. The latter category will allow you to develop your teamwork skills, test your leadership abilities, and provide you the opportunity to help others grow. 

At one of my first non-school business competitions, my teammates were much more experienced than me, having won numerous international business awards or being world-class debaters. I definitely floundered at the start however, when looking back on it, I see this competition as one of my most invaluable experiences. Winning first place was exhilarating and it helped me develop confidence in my own skills, while also learning new ones. 

My teammates and I (right) at the 2019 National High School Business Competition. 

Finally, my most important piece of advice is to use these competitions as a chance to meet new people. If you’re interested in business, it’s likely that you’ll be studying alongside some of these people in university, competing against them for internship positions, and possibly even working with them. If you don’t plan to pursue business, this advice remains equally valuable: regardless of what someone may choose to do in the future, they will invariably be able to help you in one way or another. Meeting incredible people gave me the chance to learn from their unique experiences and broaden my understanding of the world. In short, these experiences are the ideal places for you to practice what may be the most important skill in life: networking. 

My teammates and I (right) for the Deloitte Pitch Challenge at the Ivey Summer Leadership Program 2019. 

4. As an advocate for menstrual equity, you serve as the Treasurer for Bleed the North and are currently a project management analyst for Project Untaboo. How did you get involved in this cause? And what lessons have you learned from these endeavours? 

I actually became involved with Bleed the North during their earlier stages through a recruiting campaign they were doing on Facebook. I’m a member of multiple student opportunity groups, such as the Student Opportunities Platform – STREAM, Canada’s Young Leaders and Innovators, and Canadian Students Opportunities. These groups are actually one of the best places to find opportunities to get involved with various organizations and access resources to help grow your skill sets. I’d highly advise joining them! In terms of my apprenticeship with Project Untaboo, I found this opportunity through FLIK. FLIK is an organization that works to connect prospecting femxle-identifying professionals with femxle-identifying founders in various industries. In exchange for mentorship and career development resources, apprentices are able to gain work experience even while in school, usually on a remote basis. It’s free for all apprentices to use, so it’s definitely worth applying to if you’re looking to gain work experience!

These endeavours have taught me so much about things I’ve never thought of before. Being a menstruator myself, I find it rather shocking how I didn’t know about issues such as period poverty that are relevant within countries we generally considered wealthy and developed, such as Canada. Furthermore, I’ve never stopped to think about menstruation in terms of sustainability—while I did know about alternatives such as menstrual cups, I had never actually put much thought into considering how much waste was being generated from used period products. Truthfully speaking, our society is still rather squeamish when it comes to talking about issues such as menstruation and as a consequence, problems such as period poverty usually don’t see the light of day. 

I’ve also learned much about inclusivity within the menstrual sphere. I never realized prior to my experiences with Bleed the North and Project Untaboo that not all who menstruate identify as femxle, and that certain populations may be more prone to period poverty than others. For teaching me this, I have only my amazing teammates and mentors to thank. In any experience, your best takeaways will often come from the people you work with. 

5. In the midst of the turbulence induced by COVID-19, what change(s) do you hope will persist? (ie. accessibility of various webinars, Zoom meetings, etc.)

One benefit COVID-19 brought forward was an enormous increase in learning resources and career development opportunities for students. From LinkedIn users compiling databases of recruiting companies to help those who have lost their jobs to find work again to universities sponsoring Coursera courses to provide free online education to students, I think that this pandemic has truly worked to show the power of humanity as a whole. I was astounded by the support for students and job-seeking professionals that I saw on various social media platforms. I loved how the gradual shift to virtual or online learning also opened up a multitude of opportunities for aspiring learners to pursue their interests in subjects that are not taught in school and allowed them to discover methods and information that are not taught by their local curricula. 

Moreover, I think the pandemic acted as the catalyst for many of my generation’s young entrepreneurs. With the creation of many new organizations and businesses to pass the time while social distancing at home, I’ve seen hundreds of innovative solutions that work to solve existing problems in today’s society. This was further enhanced by the Black Lives Matter movement, which triggered an enormous wave of social activism and had youth find ingenious methods of fundraising money to support non-profits and marginalized populations. I hope that moving forward, this entrepreneurial spirit stays strong and our drive to make a positive difference in the world remains unchanged. 

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Briana is a National Young Leader mentor and is happy to answer your questions related to economics, business, and leadership. Connect with her here.

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