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Internship Spotlight: Vesi Bikova ’17

What did you do last summer? We asked rising second-year MBA students to check in from their summer internships, where they applied the lessons of their first year at Yale SOM.

Vesi Bikova ’17

Home Country/State: Bulgaria

Internship: Risk and Information Management Intern at American Express, New York, New York

Favorite SOM Class: Negotiations and Big Data

As Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates,” and so is one’s career. This summer I joined American Express hoping to learn more about how to use big data to better understand clients’ purchasing behavior. Just as in a box of chocolates when your first pick turns out to be delicious, this summer I was pleasantly surprised that the large financial institution that I joined had a huge heart, true commitment to employees, and respect for every individual.

My project was to create a framework to identify potential clients for a new Amex data product that utilizes advanced analytical models with internal and third party data to improve marketing effectiveness and grow revenues. It was a fascinating assignment on which  I got to work with industry experts in  decision science and marketing.

Even though my summer was a tremendous learning experience, what I was most impressed with was American Express’s culture. During the first week of my internship, the company showed its gratitude for the former president who unexpectedly passed away last year, Ed Gilligan, by holding a memorial and offering a scholarship in his name. It was an emotional ceremony that featured the beautiful voices of the employees’ choir singing “Tears in Heaven” and “Lean on Me.” This was the first moment when I knew that Amex has unique spirit.

During the summer more than 20 colleagues lent me their expertise for my project, and another 10 who helped me improve my presentation delivery. All of them had just met me and were eager to help me succeed. It is absolutely amazing how quickly these strangers accepted and supported me. The kindness and care with which employees treat each other is shared by everyone from the security guard who offered to hold my bag while I looked for my ID to the C-level executive who helped me create better work-life balance.

Yes, at Amex employees are encouraged to enjoy life outside work. Actually, the number-one career advice that Steve Squeri, the vice chairman, gave the interns was “family comes first.” Amex promotes healthy, happy teams where each individual is respected. Diversity is truly embraced and valued. It is apparent on every floor as well as in every meeting. Amex has very engaging company-sponsored affinity groups to help employees connect. This summer the WIN (women’s network) helped interns practice their presentations, Hola (the Hispanic network group) hosted an innovation challenge, and Pride organized a forum for employees to share support for the LGBTQ community after the Orlando shooting. From my personal experience, when I had a family emergency, Amex gave me time off to be with my family. They did it in such a kind manner that it allowed me to focus on being with my family without worrying that my absence would negatively affect my chances of getting a job offer.

In my short 10 weeks at Amex, I learned more than I could ever expect, worked on a strategic and impactful project, got to meet and present in front of senior executives, made great friends, and realized that my personal values can live in a corporation.

I am not sure what the next chocolate will be in my career box, but I hope it will be at least half as good as this summer internship.