Consulting on all sides

MBA student Abdur-Rahim Syed ‘peeks behind the curtains’ at eBay during summer internship

Abdur-Rahim Syed

As a dual degree candidate with the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Abdur-Rahim Syed, unlike most students at MIT Sloan, had two summers to dedicate to internships. Sure that he wanted to go into consulting after graduation, he spent the first of these with a large consulting firm, but, interestingly, over this past summer he took a completely different route by joining a very small team of interns at eBay. “I thought I owed it to myself,” he explains, “to peek behind the curtains to see what is on the other side of industry.” And it seems that this glimpse deep inside such a prominent and complex company has had a number of positive impacts on his future goals.

One of the things that drew Abdur-Rahim to eBay was the lean size of the team. As one of only six other interns working directly for CEO Meg Whitman, Abdur-Rahim worked to answer specific strategy questions coming from all of areas of the company's business units. It was a great opportunity, he says, to learn directly from the CEO herself. “I got to see how Meg Whitman operates, how she thinks, and it gave me a much better understanding, both intellectual and viscerally, of what it means to work in industry in terms of both the complexity of the organizational challenges that exist as well as the depth of knowledge you need to be successful.”

The question that Abdur-Rahim was assigned to tackle pertained to Generation-Y (people ages 13-27). At the beginning of the summer Meg Whitman explained she wanted to know what they are doing differently, why they are not shopping on eBay, and, perhaps most importantly, how they are changing the Web. Then, basically functioning as an entire consulting firm unto himself, Abdur-Rahim spent the rest of the summer, in his words, “running with it.”

“It was great,” he says. “It involved talking to people across all business units and their strategy teams and getting exposure to both the product line side of eBay as well as the strategy side. I had to bring together a product that was not only well-researched, but also that collated agreement and opinion across the firm itself.”

Riding the learning curve

The experience was definitely a challenge, says Abdur-Rahim, but then he has always been a person drawn to challenges. This is what brought him to MIT Sloan in the first place, and also why he thinks a career in consulting will be such a perfect fit for him. “It is a desire to be constantly faced by a steep learning curve,” he says. “Working in industry you have a steep learning curve at the start in terms of how well you know how your industry works, who your competitors are, who the players are, and how you operate, but after that it tends to flatten out. You get more efficient, but you are not faced with new learning constantly. So in terms of pure knowledge and what is out there to learn I think consulting gives you a really good opportunity to at all times keep learning new things and at all times keep being intellectually challenged.”

As for his experience in the high-tech sector, Abdur-Rahim says he found it invaluable. “I have come to appreciate how dynamic the high-tech space is, much more than before, especially the extent to which it is changing consumer behavior. I definitely do want to work in the high-tech sector, whether it is from an industry point of view down the road or from a consulting point of view right now.”