Alumni Profiles: Alexandra Marsanu (MBA’17D)

Sometimes it’s important just to get off the train

There are many reasons to do an MBA. Re-branding your experience in order to change careers, meeting incredible people from all over the world or simply learning something new through a leading academic curriculum. All those reasons are magnified when having the opportunity to do such a course at a school like INSEAD. But sometimes the simple action of choosing to leave regular life and step into the intense INSEAD bubble is reason enough to take the plunge. And the value of that cannot be overlooked, as the opportunity to take time out, reflect, learn and make mistakes does not come easily.

A few years ago, when I started my MBA journey, little did I know what kind of impact it would really have. As many of my former classmates, I thought I would emerge with the typical change in at least of the core areas: role, location or industry. Having spent nearly 5 years as a consultant in London at the time, I was longing to get out of the daily routine and find a new career path. To my initial surprise, the big career switch did not happen as I ended up in a very similar position post-graduation – yet again a consultant in London! But did change really need to take one of the conventional routes?

A less discussed advantage of taking the year off to have the intense experience that an INSEAD MBA can be, is actually what happens during the programme itself. It’s many years wrapped into one. You can read, discuss and dissect tens of business cases, from big success to even bigger failure. You can go through the highs and lows of the first 100 days of a new business in just under a week. You can hear the perspectives of hundreds of classmates from different nationalities and professional backgrounds. But perhaps most importantly, you can learn how to think differently, having had your knowledge and expectations tested every day of the programme. And you never know when something like that can come in handy.

As I find myself back to my old routines (albeit with significantly less travel), many of the learnings from 3 years ago still resonate. Today, countless businesses are facing unprecedented challenges and have had to respond to an unforeseen crisis in a matter of weeks or days. The overnight shift to working from home is making company culture even more important and bringing us closer to peers and leaders that were not as accessible before. New and exciting business models emerge as others sadly die off. The manner in which our environment is changing seems to have been placed on steroids, yet the experience does not feel too far removed from what my year at INSEAD used to be like.

As a new and impressive cohort will soon be stepping onto the INSEAD campuses, I couldn’t be more excited for them. While the uncertainty of the global pandemic has brought many challenges, a world of change is already emerging. Priorities are being re-ordered. Technology is creating new solutions. Companies are starting to do things differently.

Having the chance now to take a step away, to reflect and explore new ideas is truly unique. To the 21Js starting their journey this autumn – I cannot wait to see what you will do on the other side!

August 2020

Alumni Profiles: Francisco van Zeller (MBA’08D)

The Unconventional Background
Looking for an international experience for my young family and I, my alumni friends in Portugal insisted that the best fit for me would be, by far, INSEAD, due to its incredible diversity of students and the seamless two-campus experience. Indeed, my background did not include any of the conventional ‘consulting’, ‘industry’ or ‘banking’. It was a mix of right-after-college start-up, followed by a few years in politics. And although both incredible experiences, I felt something was missing. So I applied, believing that I could fill the quota of ‘unconventional background’. And when I got the call from the admissions team, I knew my life would change forever.

So off we went a few months later to Singapore, Maria, 3-year Luis and me. We had never lived outside of Portugal and quite suddenly engaged with cultures that were very different from what we were used to, both in the city and at campus. The impact of the first weeks was massive, and something I will never forget. I obviously underestimated how different and brilliant all my classmates were, but at the same time – and this is critical – how open they were to learn from others and keen to hear more from each other. And that is where lies INSEAD’s uniqueness – above being ambitious, intelligent, successful, the students’ DNA is one of curiosity, eagerness to find out more and establish lifelong relationships. During that year there were a lot of meaningful conversations, travelling, group work and case discussions. It was intense, and afterwards you are not the same person anymore. Regardless if you went to INSEAD in the 1970s, 1990s or 2010s, it’s remarkable how consistent the experience is – just ask an alumnus at any event.

A different life
I graduated in December 2008 and received a fantastic offer to join Samsung in their new HQs in Seoul. I was joined by eight more INSEADers(!) from my class and spent another 3 years in Asia, had another child and learned Korean, before moving to London and eventually joining the fintech world. It’s very clear to me that none of these opportunities would be available if I had not joined INSEAD. After 10 years, I have good friends from all over the world whom I see regularly either in London, or in their own cities. It’s amazing to see their lives and careers evolving and how much they, like me, benefited from that extraordinary year.

December 2019

Alumni Profiles: Kate Barnett (GEMBA’18D)

A bit of fun along the way

“No Guts, No Glory” beamed the poster from my teenage bedroom wall – an incongruous cartoon Garfield the Cat poster picturing him pivoting at the top of a ski slope.

I recalled this message as I walked into my first factory manager role aged 31. I tried to boost my own confidence by striding purposefully through the corridors of the plant that produced one million cans a day for the food industry. I’d been told this was the first female Plant Manager position in Metalbox’s 75-year UK history and it was a role I’d been aiming for since being a sponsored engineering student (aged 18) with the company. Now as Crown Holdings Inc, it was part of an $8bn multinational and one of the largest metal packaging companies in the world – a terrific career where standards are high for a product whose integrity is taken for granted.

The metal in food cans is infinitely recyclable without degradation meaning that today may have the same metal in your soup can or beer ‘tinnie’ as 50 years ago, and the same metal can continue to be reused for the baked beans cans of your children’s children.

INSEAD’s “Force for Good” resonates. To me it is important that the product I contribute to manufacturing in the world is worthy. So it was an exciting opportunity to join the University of Cambridge’s examinations business, Cambridge Assessment. As a qualified engineer from arch-rival Oxford University I thought they wouldn’t even interview me, but my husband quoted my coxing chant of ‘go for it’. He and I met whilst rowing on the River Isis and I’ve never been allowed to forget the motivating calls that invited the start of our relationship. So I summoned the guts and took the glory of the Group Operations Director role, leading business transformation with the responsibility for the secure print and supply of millions of confidential exam papers to 170 countries worldwide.

I enjoy Operations – executing strategy to achieve a vision efficiently by combining end-to-end planning and inspiring a workforce at all levels … with a bit of fun along the way! As Professor Enver Yucesan made me realise: I’m good at Operations and the ‘enthusiastic achiever’ I had been labelled was demonstrated from the thrill of multi-tasking and developing high performing teams.

My INSEAD journey began as I got itchy feet at Cambridge – I had received the highest annual appraisal category, never before awarded to a director, and was contemplating “what next”. Sensing I may leave before he was ready to retire, my boss suggested an executive MBA. 20 years into my career with at least 20 more to go, this was the boost I needed. And I was encouraged to aim high.

Coming to Fonty the first time I thought how can such a distinguished institution accept me? Fortunately, over canapés I met with a Lithuanian lady who felt the same and we made a pact: I’ll apply if you do too. Discovering we’d both been accepted was as joyous as discovering I wasn’t alone in being sucked into the Imposter Syndrome, and GEMBA 2018 was the most stimulating year.

Today, I do my part to help customers make the world healthier, cleaner and safer, driven in my work as Global Operations Director with Thermo Fisher Scientific. The theme of “Force for Good” is alive and well: I’m enjoying utilising GEMBA learnings to structure global manufacturing strategy and lead business turnaround of two London sites. The energy from INSEAD colleagues is infectious and topped up regularly through reunions and gatherings – we are always learning!

To all my classmates, thanks for my two best take-aways from INSEAD: the ability now to ask great questions, and a whole chunk of self-awareness to be comfortable in one’s own skin… so we can all try to make a difference that matters in the world.

October 2019

Alumni Profiles: Minh Q Tran (MBA’00D)

Is life after INSEAD like playing golf?

Why did my life journey bring me to INSEAD? In 1999, I was a country manager in consumer goods in Malaysia. At that time, I wanted to change function to venture capital outside Asia in financial services. So, doing an INSEAD MBA was the logical path for me.

In May 2000, Fontainebleau Golf Club, INSEAD Match Play, Alumni vs Students:
I met Peter Skelton, President of the Salamander Golf Society on a beautiful Saturday morning on a golf match play between alumni and students. “Young man,” he said “Today, you are a student playing against alumni. But tomorrow and forever, you will be an alumnus playing with students.” I did not understand at first but, looking back and getting closer to my 20-year reunion, I now understood what he meant. Playing golf is very much like managing your career. Mine has been in venture capital.

Why you can drive longer after INSEAD

I think that the MBA has taught me good fundamentals. With techniques, you achieve better things than you thought. The MBA was like a big solid bertha golf driver. You drive longer so distance helps even though it does give you a par. So, it helped me to go places I could have dreamt of without having passed through Fontainebleau. I met incredible friends from the school more so after graduation with alumni where I lived, i.e. Guetersloh, then New York and then Helsinki. Funnily, I met some classmates in New York one year after graduation and in some ways, I felt that we were like ‘Friends’ in their coffee shop. It is where I started my career in corporate venture capital.

On campus, I had an incredible chance to be recruited by the Bertelsmann Graduate Program for young MBA entrepreneurs. This two-year assignment was almost a P6 session for me. It took me to media ventures in corporate venturing both in Europe and in the US at their New York headquarters. These were the times when Bertelsmann invested in Napster, the online music platform. From the initial corporate venture capital, I then joined Nokia Ventures in Helsinki. It was then a venture capital team backed up by one Limited (even strategic) Partner (LP). During that time, the venture capital industry witnessed the birth of the iPhone and with it, the emerging investment trends in mobile app and services. Then, in 2008, I moved to Paris and joined an EU VC independent firm where I launched their FinTech practice. It might be strange but investing in FinTech during the financial crisis was a period full of opportunities. I looked mainly at remittances and mobile payments in the SoLoMoCo (Social, Local, Mobile and Commerce) domains.

How my swing improved from tips by INSEAD Alumni

While teeing off to hit fairways and greens, you can be sure of one thing. You never land where you thought you could be. In my career, with my INSEAD classmates, it felt the same way. There is no perfect game plan with your swing. So, it is a constant adjustment to get closer to your objectives.

Landing on the green is about learning from others and how they did before you try the shot. In that respect, I interacted with many INSEAD alumni throughout my career. Almost every move has been with somebody’s help. And, at a certain point, you feel confident about your game and are ready to take THE shot. Confidence came with successful exits that help to build your track record. My first milestone was the trade sale of 10x revenues, in a startup in a network that we funded two years for <€5m but managed to grow sales to 15m€ in 15 months.

In 2012, the week after my son was born, I had to pitch at AXA. It is when I started to raise my own fund with the Insurance Company as first LP/Investors. Hopefully, I said to myself that more LPs will come. “Finger crossed!” said Nicolas, a classmate, when he learned about the venture firm. It turned out that many LPs liked my concept. The fund grew from €10m to €400m within five years. Good times for a proof-of-concept. But as GP (General Partner) and Directeur Général of AXA Ventures, it was not what I wanted to do. My belief is that the VC model is broken and there are more opportunities in investing differently.

What I learned to putt better at the Salamander Golf Society

Nineteen years after graduation, somewhere around the same golf course in Fontainebleau, I had a beer with Peter Skelton after a game. He pointed out “Uncross your fingers, you’ll putt better!” Next year, I’ll go to my 20-year-reunion and looking for the next Students-Alumni match play.

In 2018, five years after the AXA Ventures’ advance, I co-created Odysseus Alternative Ventures with successful entrepreneur Christophe Reech. We look at a blue ocean strategy for VC investing in the combination of technology ventures and alternative funds. It has never be done before and in order to create such a global franchise, we need to become entrepreneurs in a new breed of venture and asset builders. An illustrative example is to invest in AirBnB and create a real estate fund to buy flats that will use AirBnB to find customers.

So, “is life after INSEAD like playing golf?” I asked Kris, my wife, that question when we first dated. You don’t reach your goals, you get frustrated by your game. You keep trying after missing. Your game never gets perfect… To make a birdie, you need to go through many bogeys… She never answered that question. She does not play golf. But we passed our 10-year-anniversary so I’ve kept asking…

September 2019

Alumni Profiles: Rachna Chowla (MBA’09D)

A spaghetti life: Medicine + INSEAD +…

Before INSEAD, I had diligently followed a typical medical path – six solid years studying medicine, then another 7 working as a junior doctor, combined with post-graduate training. It was hard work and well contained within the bounds of medicine – a life that could have almost continued on a straight line, all by itself. But somehow my curiosity was stirred. Some combination of a childhood spent in Africa, and a definite unsettling feeling that just wouldn’t go away, urging me to explore what else might exist outside of what I had always known. So, studying at INSEAD became the conduit towards answers, for the many questions I was asking myself at this time in my life.

And as anyone who has been to INSEAD knows, it of course raised many more questions than it gave me answers to. A whirlwind of a year followed, spent in both Singapore and France – travelling, climbing mountains, chateau parties, not enough sleep, all somehow fitted around classes where I was exposed to an entirely new universe of subjects. And all amid meeting friends from everywhere, who came with their own unique stories and diverse cultural perspectives, about almost anything. Life could not have been any more far removed from clinical medicine. I loved being completely immersed in the richness of the INSEAD experience, all of it. The intellectual stimulation of class, the challenging dynamics of group work, the dancing every Tuesday at a minimum, the exchanges with friends from everywhere. It all changed me! We graduated one snowy December’s day in Fontainebleau and I could not have been more proud to have represented my class, wearing a traditional Indian Sari and delivering the Valedictorian speech. A wonderful end to a wonderful year, and the beginning of what I call now, my spaghetti life. Yes, a type of pasta does indeed best describe my life since then.

After INSEAD, quite by chance and because ‘I had a feeling’ during the interview (and, no, I am not joking about the latter), I moved to Milan to work for a Big Pharmaceutical, in strategy and marketing. With no working knowledge of the Italian language, but with that ‘all conquering’ bravado that we all get momentarily after INSEAD, I just went for it. And not surprisingly it was hard in many ways, not least the language. I was fortunate to have language lessons with a wonderful teacher and this changed everything. I made friends – with my neighbour, at work and with the Milanese INSEAD community, so work started to get easier and I started spending my weekends slowly living la dolce vita, punctuated only by the start of the INSEAD wedding season, which still continues 10 years on. Work in Italy eventually reached its limits for me. So, with lots of colourful life experience, ups and downs, including 2 solid years of cooking lessons, I returned back to London, fluent in Italian, la cucina italiana, and open to what might be next.

Since then, I returned back to clinical medicine part-time but have combined it with a myriad of different things, from working for a health-tech start-up (Outcomes Based Healthcare), research for two prominent London-based healthcare think-tanks – the last where I co-authored a paper on Compassionate Leadership, in the context of nurturing innovation in healthcare, and now I am co-leading an ambitious system-wide health programme in Southwark which has the potential to really improve the health outcomes that matter to local people. On the side, spurred I am sure by meditation and falling in love with poetry, I started writing my own poems and in 2017, I published my first book of poetry called, ‘Fall in love with Love with me?’

INSEAD continues to play a prominent role in my life. Professionally, I am currently an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at INSEAD’s Healthcare Management Initiative. I have just returned from an impressive European Alumni Forum in Geneva, buzzing with ideas and conversations with really interesting fellow alumni. In Italy I was social secretary for the alumni association, and in London I have organised a panel discussion on healthcare and am preparing for a further two events, one in healthcare and the other more arty. So if you are in London, please look out for them.

Life-wise with INSEAD, well you all know the score – it is such a vibrant community to be a part of, and some of the closest, smartest, most fun friends I have, are those that I met in class. And thankfully, our global lives remain happily intertwined with the help of phones, social media, the ongoing weddings and meet-ups all over. This May, half our class and our families met for our 10 year reunion in Fonty, where I was a proud reunion co-chair. Proud particularly because our class fundraised for a Diversity Scholarship to INSEAD in the name of our friend and classmate Machaba Machaba, who sadly passed away last year, enabling his memory to live on by helping others have, what he called, ‘a magical year at INSEAD’.

Machaba was right, it was magic and that magic changed me. Whilst I have no idea what the next decade will bring, I know that with this spaghetti life, it most certainly will not be boring, and that the true magic of INSEAD for me, remains in the wonderful life-long friendships that were born that year.

July 2019

Alumni Profiles: Jeremy Leigh Pemberton (MBA’61)

I read Classics at Eton. I did two years national service in which I had the distinction of guarding HM The Queen and Rudolf Hess, though not, as you might imagine, at the same time. My next step was studying at Oxford. I read law at Magdalen College with a job in prospect in a connected family business which in the event did not materialise.

And then my professional life started. My first job was with Liebig’s Extract of Meat Co. Ltd., the parent company of Oxo, Fray Bentos manufacturers of canned meats, soups etc. for which I worked on the European side. My then boss was about to take himself off to Harvard on a management course when the information about INSEAD fell on his desk; INSEAD was completely unknown at that time in the UK (and elsewhere) which was early 1960.

After some thought I agreed to apply and I only wonder in retrospect why I even hesitated! I was interviewed by Professor Kenneth Most who was to come to Fontainebleau later to give a course in management accounting.

In the 1960s INSEAD required that students could speak and write in three languages: English, French and German. My French was passable in those days, but my German was non-existent so I spent August at the Berlitz school in Paris along with future colleagues working on English, French or German. We all went through a form of language test at the end of the month, but in retrospect I imagine that the school was keen for us to enrol – so we all passed!

After a short time in the Hotel d’Albe I was moved to Avon where I shared a room with Michel Gauthier (who very sadly passed away very recently).

Although companionship was strong among the “participants” it was not an easy time. Accommodation was relatively temporary and led to some complaints, the food at Avon was not always well prepared, but most of all there was a feeling that the “direction” had insufficient experience in the form of teaching, the “case study” method resulting in heavy workloads and inconclusive discussions. For the French contingent, particularly, and naturally by far the largest element, the case study method and the lack of a single conclusion to a discussion was very unsettling. I was among a small number who approached a visiting Swiss Professor Silberer to ask for his help in trying to resolve what was becoming a crisis; we then went to talk to Olivier Giscard d’Estaing the Directeur General. I am afraid I cannot remember exactly how things were resolved, but after a difficult period Olivier and I became good friends and everything settled down. In line with a tradition in French colleges we performed a musical at the end of the year and as Olivier was known informally as “Gigi” many of the songs came from that musical with words based on life at INSEAD.

“Thank Heavens for INSEAD in Europe, which was quite at sixes (Common Market) and sevens (EFTA) it now has become a sort of Seventh Heaven….” etc., etc.

Michel and I opted for the Study Tour which was based on Italy and Southern Europe. During this tour Michel fell in love with a young German lady interpreter, Renate, whom he married!

Our finale was a party on boats on the Seine and before we all bade each other farewell the French contingent led the way with a local organisation, again largely through the initiative of Michel, and gradually a crop of Alumni Associations came into being.

When I returned to my job in the food industry in London I was put on a training course which included selling, sales management and finally product management. I became product manager of OXO with a substantial annual promotional budget of over £1m – probably the largest single budget in the UK grocery trade at that time. All went well until the company was taken over by Brooke Bond whose principal products were tea and coffee. After a period as Group Marketing Controller where, ably supported by three brand managers, we designed and monitored the marketing plans of all the Group companies worldwide. Brooke Bond then decided to dismantle the central marketing department to everyone’s surprise, within and without the company, and I was once again looking for a job.

Despite help from headhunters and advisers my next job came through a personal contact who, impressed by my graduation from INSEAD, asked me to do a consultancy job for them at a highly specialist paper Mill in Maidstone in Kent.

Happily the combination of INSEAD and my experience in Liebig’s / Brooke Bond armed me with exactly the ingredients needed to solve the problem. In the Paper Industry in the UK in those days you either made paper or you sold it! In this case the separation led to underpricing and lack of profitability. All this came right and the resulting company, Whatman Plc, found itself in the top ten performers on the UK Stock Exchange during the Thatcher Years.

During this time and when the company had become highly successful, I became involved in a number of local activities, not least because Whatman was a major employer in the area and neighbours of the Kent County Council.

The CBI, Confederation of British Industry, started a local area organisation in the county (Kent) and I was asked to lead it as founder chairman. This led to a number of involvements with the CBI and one was the response to invitations from schools to talk about Industry and its role in society. From this sprang The Understanding Industry Trust, for whom I spoke in schools for the next few years, also becoming a trustee.

Meanwhile I was asked by INSEAD to spend a week a year as a visiting professor of marketing and I conducted a case called “Chipmunk Crisps” based on the development and launch of one of Brooke Bond Liebig’s products greatly helped and supported by J Walter Thompson from whom I have to thank for a large proportion of my knowledge of marketing. It was most interesting that, when I visited INSEAD, the participants were generally very confused about marketing – as opposed to selling – so I had quite a willing audience!

I then began to be asked to join other boards as a non-executive director, including two Investment Trusts of which I eventually became chairman. I am still the chairman of the trustees of the D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust.

Looking back over this time I am grateful that it was so rewarding. As the second President of the International Alumni Association my name is numbered among those interred in the foundations of the new Campus. Following the work that I did for such as the CBI and as Kent’s first Chairman of Business Link, I was very privileged to be invited to Buckingham Palace to receive the Companionship of the British Empire from the Queen and later invited to become one of his deputies by the then Lord Lieutenant of Kent.

I have very close friends from my promotion. Together we are passionate about our time at INSEAD, our careers and the deep friendships we made. Our adventure in Fontainebleau feels special because of the pioneering nature of our time at INSEAD. We recently met at Verbier to benefit from the Verbier Festival. And we are looking forward to our next meeting somewhere around the world.

If you are interested in sharing your alumni story, please contact the UK alumni association at [email protected]

June 2019

Alumni Profiles: Azadeh Ghotbi (MBA’94)

How I found I needed to always wear two hats to find the right balance

I can hardly believe I’m about to attend my 25th year INSEAD reunion this year. Has it been that long already? I so look forward to going back to Fontainebleau and spending time reminiscing about the past and catching up with former classmates many of whom I consider good friends. Love hearing about the journey people took, where they thought they’d be, where they landed, and what they’ve learnt from it all.

My own story is somewhat unusual especially for an INSEAD alumna. I left Iran at the cusp of the revolution, lived between France and the US, got my French baccalauréat, studied international relations at BROWN University and took a job in telecommunication consulting.  So far so ‘normal’ except that I very soon realized I had just taken a wrong turn.  I wanted a more creative job so I applied to INSEAD hoping that an MBA would jumpstart a more interesting career in international marketing. INSEAD was everything I like: Multiculti, open to the world, friendly, dynamic and stimulating. From there, I joined L’Oréal and sailed the ship I thought was meant for me. Other jobs followed. The most exciting and challenging one was being given near carte blanche to create a website and ecommerce division from scratch for an American cosmetics retailer back in 2000.

What I haven’t told you yet is that I took one art history class in college and felt an irresistible compulsion to paint. First time since kindergarten! I come from a rather cartesian academically focused family, so I took the urge to produce abstract paintings of all things as an odd hiccup at best! I discarded the couple works I painted and moved on with my life. Some years later, getting a French work permit proved harder than planned and I had a few spare months before being allowed to start my first post MBA job. Lo and behold that repressed urge immediately crept back and I started painting again. I continued on and off throughout my corporate life but didn’t talk much about it as I couldn’t quite rationalize my own behaviour. Fast forward many years and a chance encounter with a private art dealer led me to donate two works to the Asia Society of New York where a Christie’s auctioneer sold them during a charity gala. Standing in the back of a room filled with strangers bidding for my paintings was the most surreal yet thrilling experience. Yet it took another decade for me to feel half comfortable referring to myself as an “artist”. Towards the last years I was the VP of a cosmetics company by day (crazy long New York workdays!) and a painter whenever else possible. Not quite sure how I pulled off that double life.

I ended up leaving the corporate world behind around a decade ago to focus on my art. Cutting off the structure, comfort and safety of it all was exciting yet quite daunting. The journey was long and lonely though gratifying in ways I hadn’t experienced before. I finally had time to fill my days not with endless meetings but rather studio time, art fairs, gallery and museum shows around the world. I also added photography to my body of work. My last exhibit, The Nature of Light, which took place in London earlier this year examined the alchemy and interplay between light, time, movement and space with a focus on impermanence and perception. The exhibit moves to Paris in early June.

While I am passionate about the artworld part of my left brain did start feeling somewhat underwhelmed some years ago. I decided to get into the property search business and thus resume wearing two hats this time juggling art with real estate, the asset class I’ve always felt most attracted to. I once again get to leverage some of the skillsets acquired at INSEAD making net yield analysis and price comparison charts to help clients find the best investment property or optimally priced home. The part I enjoy most is the hunt for the right property, looking for unique features, good design or renovation opportunities, and sound value. Since I work for myself, I have the ultimate privilege of balancing my time and energy between art and property search. My left and right brain couldn’t be happier. Finally!

If you are interested in sharing your alumni story, please contact the UK alumni association at [email protected]

May 2019

Alumni Profiles: Graham Gould (MBA’85J)

Life is about taking opportunities when they present themselves

I graduated from INSEAD nearly thirty-four years ago. This is simply incredible to me. If someone had asked me when I left university (forty-years ago!) how my working life would pan out, there is no part of it I would have guessed.

My first job was selling suits to American soldiers stationed in West Germany. I had never been to Germany, didn’t speak a word of German and didn’t have much sales experience. In fact, doing new things and going in different directions has turned out to be a characteristic of my working life.  I only applied to INSEAD because I met someone whilst I was in Germany who told me about it.

I have never discovered my “true vocation” and I think for many people this holy grail doesn’t exist. When I left INSEAD a class mate who had worked at Bain said that he was going to join a former Bain colleague who was starting his own management consultancy. I ended up joining this consultancy as the first employee. My class mate (still one of my closest friends) went to work for Merrill Lynch instead. The consultancy was successful and after twelve years we sold the business to an American consultancy.

A couple of years before we sold the business a personal tragedy occurred – our five year old son died. I was thirty-eight years old. The trauma of this made me reevaluate what was really important. It made me realise that whilst work is important its importance to me is of a lower order to me compared with family, friends and health. This realisation strongly influenced the career choices that I subsequently made and I regard myself as very fortunate, firstly that I was able to learn this lesson at a young enough age for it to make a difference and secondly that we sold the business which had given me some financial security.

After we sold the business I had five years pursuing a portfolio of interests which was a period I really loved. One of the interests was seeing if I could be successful in starting a new business which was in property. Through this I was approached by a wealth manager and asked if I would create a property fund management business is partnership with them. I decided to do this as I felt I would regret it if I didn’t. It meant giving up the rest of my portfolio of interests. We went on to build a portfolio of assets worth c. £200m.  After eight years the wealth manager was sold by its parent to a private equity business. I found myself in partnership with people I really did not enjoy working with. After about a year I decided life was too short and resigned from the partnership.

I am now Chairman of Thermal Recycling, a new business. We believe it is the first company in the world to have found a commercially viable approach to treating asbestos. Currently nearly all asbestos is buried in landfill sites which simply pushes the problem on to future generations. Our treatment means that this no longer needs to happen. The treated product can be reused as a construction material. It is great to be leading a business that can help to change the world in a positive way and to be part of INSEAD’s force for good.

My other role is as a partner, and founder, of LGEC Capital Partners. We are four partners with different but complimentary backgrounds – strategy, law, accountancy and technology. We have known each other for many years and set up the business to use our collective experience to help growing businesses. Only the partners do the work. We look to have long term relationships with a small number of companies that we work with where we can help them to grow using our combined experience and expertise.

INSEAD was one of the best decisions that I ever made. It was one of the most enjoyable years I ever had, it gave me confidence that I could try anything, it changed the way other people saw me and most of my closest friends today are people I met at INSEAD.

What have I learned since INSEAD? You need some luck and you need to take opportunities that present themselves. You need to work out what is important to you, what you enjoy and what you are good at. You need to be resilient. You must never compare yourself to other people and you must work out what “enough” means to you. If you have “enough” or have had enough it is time to move on and do something different as having more than “enough” isn’t a good use of time.

April 2019

Alumni Profiles: Letícia Bevilaqua (MBA’12J)

‘Doing good’ in a lot of wonderful ways

Ever since I graduated from electrical engineering in Brazil, I used to say: “I’m going to do an MBA so I can gain some business skills that I didn’t get from an engineering degree”. When seven years later one friend asked me: “So, when are you actually going to do this MBA thing of yours?” I could finally then tell him: “I’m applying to INSEAD now!” The timing for me was important because I needed a permanent resident status for the UK before moving away, so that I could come back without visa requirements out. London has been what I call home since 2006 when after six months internship in Zurich I decided I wanted to move to Europe after graduating (although I did have a stop over the US for 18 months before moving to London).

When I applied to INSEAD, I was very clear on my career and personal goals. I only applied to INSEAD after having visited IESE, LBS and IE. I knew INSEAD had the right profile of experienced, international and diverse students. After my MBA, I wanted to work with renewable energy in London, where I had left my partner behind. Back then I thought I was sick and tired of working with technology, which had been my career path since I graduated. Thanks to INSEAD’s network, I actually did get a job with renewable energy and my manager was an alum as well. My first female manager and one of the best ones I’ve had in my career.

Fast forward and after two and a half years working in renewable energy, I realised that technology was, actually, my gig of choice. Having worked in technology for eight years prior to INSEAD, I realised I actually liked its speed! Being able to see changes every six months with the technological landscape meant more to me than working on a 10-year project for an offshore wind farm. Now I know I will likely stay with technology for the rest of my career. I’ve learnt it takes perspective to separate why and what you love about what you do. I wanted to work in renewable energy because I wanted to work on something I was proud of and was “doing good for the world”. I now work on something that I’ve never felt prouder and more connected to that mission and values.

It’s interesting to see how, when I worked in renewables, the thought of “doing good” and having a positive impact in the world, actually never came up and quickly became a distant idealistic view of that career path to me. No one would ever think about the change an offshore wind farm would have to the world or environment. Whereas now, I work in technology helping millions of employees to feel more connected to their work, values and colleagues and I feel that connection every single day. From the messages from my clients to the stories I hear from other colleagues I feel the impact of “doing good” on a weekly basis.

So, when my plans change, it’s not as daunting, as it may have been before. I have somehow a clear goal. And being connected to some of my core values is so important for me. INSEAD let me jump into my dream job, brought me into a city I love and connected me to wonderful friends.

If you are interested in sharing your alumni story, please contact the UK alumni association at [email protected]

March 2019

Alumni Profiles: Ruslan Shopov (MBA’14D)

Real estate in London became REAL

I was born and grew up in Bulgaria’s second largest city Plovdiv, which is considered to be the oldest continually-inhabited city in Europe and one of the oldest in the world. This year Plovdiv is also the European Capital of Culture. I embarked on my international experience by enrolling at the American University in Bulgaria, which is a typical American-style liberal arts college. The school created well-rounded individuals, who had a wide range of courses. Afterwards students focused on a specific major. While studying there, I had my first international exposure, as not only the professors, but also many of the students were foreigners, including American exchange students. I already knew that I wanted to do and MBA, but I needed some experience beforehand.

Hence, after graduation, my intention was to spend a few years in the corporate world and gain some business experience. I started my first job as an investment consultant in the local Sofia office of Cushman & Wakefield (one of the global commercial real estate advisory companies). At that time (2008), Bulgaria had just joined the European Union and the economy was booming alongside expectations for convergence with Western Europe. Real estate and commercial real estate in particular was one of the main beneficiaries of the economic boom with lots of foreign investors. Commercial real estate was particularly attractive to me as this sector was just emerging in Bulgaria. I had the chance to have a real impact early in my career as the company and sector were new at the time and the environment was more entrepreneurial. I spent almost six years working there advising shopping mall, office, logistics and hospitality projects, preparing valuations and feasibility studies. I saw how this sector emerged in Bulgaria and coped with the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

Time flew by fast as I was also studying for the CFA exams and after completing the three levels I realised that it was about time to think about finally applying for an MBA. An MBA that would grow my experience and exposure to students from many different countries, jobs and cultures. I did a pretty comprehensive research of the top business schools and the more I was researching, the more I was realising that INSEAD was my dream school and top choice. It is Europe’s first business school with an established global network, prestigious reputation, but at the same time with friendlier and more collaborative culture than many of its top business schools peers. Needless to say, its unique double campus structure in Fontainebleau near Paris and Singapore was a huge plus for me combining the classic European experience, the exotic and at the same time futuristic Singaporean experience and a lot more. As it was my dream school, I applied only to INSEAD and was fortunate enough to be accepted. I started my INSEAD year in Singapore and then moved to Fontainebleau. Overall, it was definitely the best year of my life so far where I met new friends from all over the world, took interesting classes with some of the best professors and had the chance to explore Southeast Asia. It’s not without a reason that INSEAD is famous for being the “party business school”. I have fond memories of the welcome week, the first party on Sentosa Island, the parties in Heritage and Dover, drinks at Ku De Ta (Marina Bay Sands) and One Altitude bars and the numerous house parties in Fonty. I definitely enjoyed the most when I travelled to Langkawi Island (Malaysia), Angkor Wat temples (Cambodia) and Halong Bay (Vietnam). I also really enjoyed my elective course in Russia, where we visited both Moscow and Saint Petersburg. There we even had the luck of having a tour guide, who showed us the incredibly beautiful palaces of Peterhof, Catherine Palace and the Winter Palace.

My post-INSEAD goal was to move to London and transition from the advisory to the investment side of real estate. Apart from the job opportunities which London offers, it’s definitely the most international city in the world with amazing variety of things to do. I already had friends and classmates from INSEAD, university and high school based in London and this was one of the main reasons which attracted me to the city. I achieved this objective by joining the real estate investment team at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) at its headquarters in London. The EBRD is a development bank which was established after the fall of communism to help Central and Eastern Europe transition to a well-functioning private market economy and invests in both debt and equity instruments. Since joining the EBRD, I have participated in a number of very interesting real estate investment deals and I am currently leading a few challenging and innovative transactions. Outside work, I try to get the most London has to offer in terms of going out to bars and restaurants, attending events and exhibitions as well as visiting London’s great parks. Since graduation, I was invited to join the leadership committee of INSEAD Alumni Association UK’s Real Estate Group managed to organise and participate in several events already.

The year spent at INSEAD really transformed my life as it helped me build new friendships, expand my network, move to London and find an interesting and challenging job.

If you are interested in sharing your alumni story, please contact the UK alumni association at [email protected]