By Gigi Hume
On paper, Tustin alum Ayyub Bokhari seemed like a college’s dream. Basketball team captain, ASB senior class president, senior class president, member of MUN, 4.5 GPA, Pakistani prospective college student–all the activities that scream “well-rounded.” So, when he learned that he was rejected from USC and his dream school, UCLA, he was left in a state of bewilderment.
“I didn’t know what to do. I told myself I didn’t have a dream school, but I really wanted to go to UCLA.” He eventually landed on UCSD where he went into Pre-Law per the advice of our own Mrs. Robinson, but changed his major to Economics because his dad wanted him to be a lawyer. And in true teen fashion, he wanted to rebel.
Flash forward four years, he maintained a solid 3.7 GPA throughout his time at what he lovingly dubbed “the nerd school,” but he still felt the looming question of “What am going to do?” in his mind. “My sister recommended that I try consulting where I would help top companies solve business problems.”
Just one problem–big corporations did not recruit from UCSD. “These big consulting firms do not come to the UCSD campus. They go to UCLA and Claremont McKenna–higher ranking schools than UCSD.”
Determined, Bokhari did not let this obstacle stop him on his quest toward a career. So, one night when UCLA was having a consulting firm event, Bokhari made the four hour trek to UCLA where he borrowed an ID card to get into the event. “I ended up talking to a few firms and at first, we were vibing. They liked my resume, but as soon as I revealed I was from UCSD, they wouldn’t give me an interview.”
But this man drove four hours and finessed an ID for this goal, so you already know that this didn’t stop him. At the event, he eventually came across a Los Angeles-based company called Mercer, did his spiel, mentioned that he was from UCSD, and to his surprise, got a positive reaction. Giddy, he quickly emailed them afterwards and their response is what made him realize Mercer was where he needed to be. “They told me they hoped there are more like me in the future. They treated me like a human.”
Over the next few months, Ayyub was on his grind—talking to the firm on the phone and lightly LinkedIn stalking for “information nuggets” about his interviewer. To his pleasure, he makes it to the second round interview after which he was waitlisted and didn’t know his rank. Throughout this interview process, Bokhari became friends with a USC grad named Julie who was also seeking the same job as he was he was. One day, she confided in him that she got an offer from Mercer as well as some other companies and wanted his opinion on what she should do. He had the opportunity to tell her to take a job at a firm other than Mercer, leaving him the job. Instead, he said she would be great.
“[That’s when he realized that] just because your grinding, it doesn’t mean you have to step on someone’s throat to get there.” And it paid off–he was offered a job two weeks later.
But achieving this goal didn’t co-opt to complacency, he just made a new goal–get into a top business school. And just like he did on his job quest, he “stayed on his grind.” He was asking partners out to lunch, taking opportunities to network–anything to, “…make sure they have a good opinion of someone from UCSD.”
And his superiors took notice. He got the opportunity to be on Mercer’s Recruiting Team, continuing to “get creative and not just ‘work’ there, but enjoy what he was doing.”
Months in after proving his capability to his superiors, he asked to be in rotation for Oliver Wyman, a large international management consulting firm with offices in San Francisco. There, he did great and they gave him a return offer of a doubled salary, but Mercer still wanted him.
“I came up with a list of demands at Mercer. I wanted a month off to go to Pakistan and I wanted to be a manager.” With his reputable work in his back pocket, Mercer promoted him to West Coast Lead of Recruiting, but he still didn’t forget about his initial goal–go to a top business school.
He applied to five schools (and chuckled about five different essays)—Harvard, Wharton, Berkeley, Northwestern, and Chicago. Unfortunately, he didn’t get into Harvard or Chicago, but he got into Berkeley, Northwestern, and was waitlisted at Wharton. But it wasn’t long until the what-ifs permeated his thoughts–“What if I can’t afford the $200,000 cost for two years? What if my GMAT, Graduate Management Admission Test, isn’t enough?” But all these hypotheticals were washed away when he earned a full scholarship to Northwestern–one of ten offered.
Now, Bokhari is just enjoying his last few months at Mercer before relocating to Chicago where he will work to achieve his, “dream role–one where he can be influential for people, one where he dictate the direction of a company. Then, [he] will be satisfied.”
But even as he achieved these successes, he still owes a lot to his Tustin upbringing. “When I tell people I’m from Tustin and they say, ‘Oh, like Irvine?’ I say, ‘Nah, Tustin.’ he joked. ‘But in all seriousness, I owe a lot to Tustin and its diversity. Tustin helped me navigate the world. I learned to talk to different groups of people. Why is that possible? I went here.’”
As our talk came to a close, Bokhari said something that really stuck with me—“My route will never be duplicated.” And I know for us high schoolers, it’s tempting to believe that there is only one way to define success, but Bokhari reminded me that my idea of success will not match someone else’s. And that’s okay.