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HEC Paris MBA: Collaborative Knowledge-Sharing Is the Key
Fabien Zanini, admitted to HEC Paris, INSEAD and ENPC
By Anna Cianciara

Fabien Zanini needed a way to break with his past: nine years of professional experience in the commodities market promised to keep him firmly in place unless he could find a way to make a successful switch. Not always an easy task, but with an MBA from HEC Paris it will be not only feasible but highly probable that Fabien will have no difficulty finding a new position in his preferred industry, strategic consulting, after graduation. Fabien describes this and more in the following interview with the MBA Center.


Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?

Well, to begin with, I studied economics at the Paris XII University, graduating with a specialization in finance. After finishing these studies, I worked in the commodities market for nine years. During that time, I had the opportunity to successively fill the positions of Market Analyst, Broker, and finally International Buyer in the cereals market.

So, why did you choose to do an MBA at this point in your life?

As you can imagine, after nine years of working in the same industry, it was difficult to envisage a way in which I could easily change fields. For years, it had been my dream to focus my career in the direction of strategic consulting. I realized that in order to make this transition successful, it would be necessary to not only to gain the necessary knowledge and experience to change fields, but also to improve my international exposure and thus posture myself for a higher level position. What better way to accomplish these goals than through an MBA! And particularly, as in my specific experience, an MBA from HEC.

Which aspect of the application process did you find the most challenging?

GMAT was of course a difficult part of the application because it required a lot of work. But for me, the GMAT did not represent the greatest challenge. The most challenging part of the application process was the writing of the essays. Writing one set of essays for one application is challenging in and of itself – the hours or reflection, drafting, refining ideas, editing, and then refining the ideas again – but when you have to complete essays for several schools, the process becomes even more complicated. After the main ideas of the essays are completed, then you have to take yet another perspective on these same essays: reworking each essay, tailoring the content to fit the essay questions and requirements for each school.

It sounds like you applied to a couple of programs. Which programs did you apply to?

I applied to HEC Paris, ENPC, and INSEAD.

Why did you choose HEC Paris over the others?

I was impressed first by HEC’s collaborative environment. Many MBA programs seem plagued by cutthroat competition – not my preferred learning settings. This collaborative environment is reinforced by the strength and cohesive support of the student community for its members. This was evident as early as the interview. I was interviewed by alumni who received their degree several years ago but were still actively involved in the workings of the HEC MBA community. A couple of my other incentives for this program over the others were the strong international networking community, the great number of electives offered by the program, as well as the potential of finishing with a double degree from HEC and NYU Stern.
The learning environment can best be characterized as collaborative knowledge-sharing. In many cases, the real discoveries come from group work where one student with particular knowledge or experience in the subject in question will teach or clarify it to the others. Students frequently review in groups for exams, and willingly help each other if needed for assignments. Thanks to the smaller class sizes – there are 126 students in the September 2006 intake – it is easy to get to know professors as well as students, and many professors know us by name.

What has been the most interesting aspect of your experience so far?

Learning from others. I have to say that I was indeed surprised by what I’ve learned from others students in the program, through team work and sharing experiences. Having the opportunity to meet and work with people from all over the world has been truly enriching and has broadened my perspectives in ways I never could have previously imagined. It was thanks to this program that I discovered people that I would never have met otherwise. HEC is special in the fact that the program itself helps to build true relationships in this diverse body of students, cementing lifelong friendships through fostering a true sense of solidarity.

Do you have any advice for other MBA applicants?

Some people refer to MBAs as each having a specific “brand,” or “image.” I prefer to think of MBAs each having its own “personality.” As with people, knowing that you will have to spend a long time with the MBA program makes it extremely important to find the one that fits your needs. Often it is necessary to do extensive research to determine the “personality” that fits best with your own. I think that the most important factor in determining a program’s personality is to talk with alumni, since they usually reflect the community built around the MBA quite clearly.

 

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