INSEAD Alumna Interview
Authored by Saskia Gentil, INSEAD, shared by Nancy P, INSEAD (Goodwill partner Edvisory)
Nationality: Swiss Year Graduated: 2016 Current Role: Director Meetings and Events, American Express Global Business Travel (GBT)
INSEAD really pushes you out of your comfort zone, which is where you learn the most.
Why did you decide to invest in doing an EMBA?
I’ve always considered that to be good at your job you need to be passionate about what you do. As a happy person who loves challenges and working in team, I had to find a job to leverage my energy. The event industry is the perfect fit for me and, a few years ago, I took responsibility for the French and Swiss markets in meetings and events at American Express GBT, along with a team of 160 people. I managed to turn the department around and applied for a VP Europe role. As I was in competition with a more senior person, I didn’t get the job, but I decided to do an EMBA instead and the company agreed to sponsor me.
And why choose INSEAD in particular?
Some members of my family had done the MBA at INSEAD. I grew up knowing that it was prestigious and always wanted one day to get this milestone on my CV.
How has the programme changed the way you think?
The programme has flipped a strategic switch in my mind. Now I see the business from the top. I understand much better how a big international organisation works and why decisions are taken in a certain way, but I’ve also learned to fight the right battles and to have more confidence in myself.
What impact do the other participants make?
Staying and working with the same group of people for one to two weeks is a very powerful experience. You learn that people can think and act completely differently than you to reach even better results than you thought. You become much humbler and rely on others to teach you their way to view and solve problems. You begin to understand why your CFO doesn’t see things the way you do and you learn to stop being frustrated. And because the group is so international, you get better at imagining how colleagues from different cultures are likely to react. You meet friends that you know can go to for the right advice – when you need it – for the next step in your career.
What were your favourite courses?
All the modules with a lot of numbers were a challenge… but the ones I learned the most. Today the “WACC” has no more secrets from me! INSEAD really pushes you out of your comfort zone, which is where you learn most.
Why do think there are fewer women on the GEMBA than men?
Sadly, I think women are still not as prepared as men to “go for it”. It’s particularly difficult if you’re part of a couple where both partners have international careers. But in the end, it’s a personal decision taken for personal reasons. And the GEMBA is a rich experience in its own right. A lot of people – men and women – do it for themselves rather than to get a better job.
Was it difficult juggling work, family and study?
To tell you no would be a lie. But when you reach a certain level in a company you are always juggling anyway. This is right for men and for women! We knew it would be hard and it was a family decision to do the GEMBA. My kids are used to seeing me mainly during the weekend, but I became even more organised – thanks partly to my Swiss background. You just have to set priorities and give quality time to the ones you love. My children got to come to campus with me a few times, which turned the programme into a big family adventure. I also learned that I only need four to six hours’ sleep!
What advice would you give to today’s GEMBA students?
As one alum who came to talk to us said, “Be brave, be patient, be there.” It can be quite difficult readapting to work after the modules. You want to go much faster and make quicker decisions, because you know how to get straight to the essentials. But everyone around you is still doing things the same way, hence the importance of patience and being there for your team. I’d also advise people never to assume that they’re going in a particular direction after the programme. INSEAD gives you the opportunity to go a hundred different ways.
Has your investment in the GEMBA paid off?
I feel transformed. I got so much knowledge in such a short period of time. I know I will feel the benefits every day of my life from now on. The INSEAD GEMBA was a fantastic experience.