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Smart Math: PhD + TRIUM EMBA = Bright Future in Business

Armand Nachef, admitted to TRIUM EMBA

by Will Toussaint

This mathematician of French and Lebanese roots is in the midst of a new educational experience, one that will put him in the board room and not solely in the classroom. Improving his management skills is a priority for this mid-career changer. Armand Nachef currently attends TRIUM Global Executive MBA – a joint program of NYU Stern, LSE, and HEC Paris.

Can you tell us a little about your academic background?
As a young student at an international high school in Lebanon, I was fascinated by mathematics and physics. This interest led me to the University of Grenoble and its pole of technical competencies, where I earned a Masters in Operations Research and a Doctorate in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics. Before giving up the blackboard covered with formulas, I had become a full professor and an applied mathematics research director.

Why did you choose the world of business over research?
Most people, including myself, do not realize it, but a great deal of research is carried out by major companies. When I did my PhD in a mathematically-oriented field, I did not dream that one day I would become an expert in computer science, software development, wireless communications, system security, and marketing and strategic marketing. Since my business career started in 1990, I have authored 17 patents in the areas of system management and digital security. I have also designed simulation models for computers and networks.

So why are you returning to a university environment after more than 15 years in business and management?
I feel I have taken my career as far as possible on the back on my technical education. In the mid-to-long term, after several years, my goal is to launch an entrepreneurial venture in the Middle East. To drive my career forward, I need an outstanding learning experience in finance, economics, and management with a distinctive atmosphere and international diversity. TRIUM EMBA is the most suitable program for me. It has an established learning community across two continents and is positioned to fulfill my professional growth requirements.

How did you determine which programs you would apply to?
I wanted a global program with a balance between finance, management, economics, and international business. A multinational dimension was also important. In addition, I paid attention to business school ranking. I wanted to apply for an Executive MBA ranked in the top 10 worldwide.

Did you have a preference for b-schools in Europe?
I considered only the top business schools in France, UK, and USA. And in fact TRIUM is located in all of these countries and so was the ideal choice for my needs. Most of the other students at TRIUM will be senior executives in their companies who have lived in many different countries. Working with them will be a real challenge because TRIUM’s diverse environment truly represents the way business is run in our world of today.

What do you feel is unique about the people you have met at TRIUM?
The debates between people from diverse cultures, educations, skills, and ways of thinking are very attractive. It is remarkable to see all these executives who had major responsibilities in their companies becoming students because of their thirst of knowledge and their motivation to perform better.

Completing an EMBA is a difficult task, what kind of inspiration do you use to help you accomplish your goals?
I would say it is mostly the feeling of the progress in understanding better how things around us are working and how our world is organized. Also, there is an obvious expectation to evolve professionally. Last but not least, I waited for a long time to afford enrolling to an MBA program, so I cumulated a lot of motivation during this time.

What was the most difficult part of the application process?
In my life, I have always looked forward and rarely had the time to think about my past experiences. But in the application process, I had to do just that: describe what I had been doing for the past 30 years of my life. After this exercise, I agree now with Winston Churchill who once said, The most backward you look, the most forward you can see.

What advice do you have for other MBA applicants?
You need to be extremely motivated to be admitted to a top Executive MBA program like TRIUM. You also need to understand the particularities of each and every business school you apply to. I also have a special word of advice for older applicants: take the MBA initiative. Perhaps there was a time in the past when one diploma was sufficient for an entire career. But with the rapid evolution of high technology, an additional diploma in mid-career is becoming a valuable and necessary asset. An Executive MBA is a risk well worth taking.


IMD EMBA: Growth Is the Goal

Benoît d'Halluin, admitted to IMD

by Will Toussaint

For Benoît d'Halluin, Director of Strategies and Development for Galeries Lafayette Group, an EMBA degree meant more than simply the polish a reputable program would give his CV. Benoît decided to attend the IMD Executive MBA Program because he wanted to grow, both in his company and as a person.

Thanks for speaking with us; can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I have been working for over 13 years for Galeries Lafayette. My background is in finance. I had previously earned a Masters in Accounting & Finance (Diplôme d'Etudes Supérieures Comptables et Financières). I started out working in a division of Galeries Lafayette and was promoted to CFO. From there, I moved to the Group (which is the larger organization) to work in development. Currently, I am a Director of Strategies and Development for Galeries Lafayette Group while I also attend IMD's Executive MBA Program.

When and why did you start thinking about applying to business school?
My degree in finance and accounting was more technical than broad-based. I wanted to get out of that mold and learn more about business in a broader sense. Another big factor was that my company is very French, and we are looking to diversify and perhaps grow internationally.

When did you decide to attend IMD?
Last year, my company began looking at going international. At that time, we looked around and decided that our group has very strong roots in France. It was sort of a monoculture and we needed to expand. I decided to open my mind a little and get out of that. Thankfully, because my position is not an operations position, I can afford attending class for a month. I started my first module in January 2008.

Why did you choose IMD over other programs?
Firstly, it's because of the quality of the program. I also wanted to do an EMBA that I could be totally immersed in. IMD's program format allows you to do that because when you do a module you are consumed by your studies for a month. That gives you an intense experience which you can't really obtain if you are doing the classes part-time. For me, it's just better. I am able to really learn a great amount during that month, but I also feel that I would always be able to look back on the experience positively and learn from it. I think the people in this program are very diverse. For example, there are students from all over the world like China, Japan, Russia, France, and Germany participating. There are people from NGOs and corporations. I also decided on IMD because I thought it was an excellent environment to learn English, which was one of my primary concerns.

What other aspects do you feel attracted you to IMD?
I also think the program is not cut-throat, meaning participants are willing to get along. You are there working together. I think this kind of environment helps you to become teammates with a common goal of improving.

Would you encourage others to attend IMD?
Absolutely. The professors are excellent and professional. The thing that astonished me most was the level of the knowledge and the proximity of contact that you can have with these professors. For example, if the professor feels that the group wants to do or participate in something more tailored to the characteristics of the group – he or she can do it. One day we talked about how NGOs interact with large for-profit companies because there were several people in our group that had worked for NGOs. Another day we discussed family companies. The material is really tailored to the students. Another great thing about IMD is the campus. It is small but very modern and beautiful. There are excellent facilities that have all the tools you need.

What was the most challenging part of the admissions process?
The most challenging part for me was speaking English at the interview. It was also very difficult for me to cope with the GMAT's verbal section. I had to be quick, and English is not my first language. IMD's EMBA program format, however, is very flexible. It allows you to improve your English skills before you enter the third module of the program – which is more intensive. The first two modules are categorized as being part of the Program for Executive Development (PED). You can leave the program or proceed to the third module, which is the gateway to the rest of the EMBA program.

On a personal level, what does getting an MBA mean to you?
An MBA is something I think people view as being prestigious, especially when it is from IMD. Getting an MBA means you are learning about business on a deeper level because you are coming into contact with complex subjects and analysis. While this is all true, I think for me it was very important to understand the people that I interact with as well. They have so much to offer and to learn from in terms of their experience and background and personality.

What do you plan to do when you graduate from IMD?
My philosophy is that you grow in a company as the company grows with you. I plan to grow.


ENPC: Deep in the Heart of Paris

Bruno Dias, admitted to ENPC
by Will Toussaint

Bruno Dias found the right MBA program in the right place and for the right duration. At ENPC, Bruno has been getting an intense experience both in the classroom and on the job. As part of a consultancy project, which is a focal part of ENPC’s curriculum, Bruno has been able to make real connections with business.

Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I graduated with a degree in finance from a French university in 2002. Then, I worked in commercial banking as a financial advisor for medium-sized businesses. I was promoted to sales management more that two years ago. I led a sales team of seven people that focused mainly on small businesses. About a year ago, I decided that I wanted to reach the next level and accelerate my career by gaining a deeper understanding of business. That’s why I applied to ENPC. I started the program in September 2007 and will graduate in July 2008.

Why did you decide to attend ENPC?
I was looking at French business schools. And, I decided to do the ENPC MBA for four main reasons. First, the faculty is great. The professors have excellent academic pedigree – they were trained at the top universities throughout the world. Second, I think there is diversity among faculty and students. We have more than 20 different nationalities represented in the student population. Further, the students represent a wide-range of different backgrounds, like finance, IT, marketing, etc. Yet, there is a great synergy among us. It’s an enlightening and exciting experience to be able to work in a group like this. Third, location and accreditation. ENPC is in the heart of Paris, and I felt like the other accredited business schools I was looking at were too far away from the city center. Fourth, I believe the timing and format of the program were exactly what I needed. The program lasts 10 months. I did not want to enroll into a two-year program that would take me away for a quite long period of time from the business world.

Would you encourage others to attend your MBA Program?
The program is intensive. It has to be. For ten months, you have to really be focused on what it is you want to accomplish. There is not room to miss class or procrastinate. If you can’t take this kind of time-consuming program then it’s probably not for you. But, I do believe if you are willing to work hard and you’re not afraid to put in the hours, you can do very well at ENPC.
ENPC’s alumni network seems like it is an excellent network of contacts. It is 13,000 alumni strong. And, the network is comprised of both people from the engineering school and the business school. This is appealing because I will have an immediate relationship with many of the top engineers who can be excellent resources for my future career.

What do you plan to do when you graduate from ENPC?
I feel like there are many people who have unrealistic expectations about what they want to do following business school. The idea of doing something wildly different doesn’t really make sense if you have a solid foundation and experience in an industry like I do. Certainly, I believe people can work in a slightly different environment but they are going to have to be realistic about making tremendous change. Because I have a background in finance and business development, I plan to be in business development for IT, or it could be investment banking, venture capital, or private equity. I believe this is where I’m most likely headed.

In what ways do you think ENPC's MBA program is unique?
Even though the school is French in origin, you have diversity in nationality and background among the faculty. It’s amazing when you have someone from Australia teaching leadership and a week later someone from the Netherlands teaching finance. Also, ENPC is a very old and prestigious institution. The school is well known for engineers. I think this makes the business side of education a little different. There is almost a scientific perspective on things. The curriculum shares some of the approaches that the engineering school created.

What was the most challenging part of the admissions process? And why did you think it was challenging?
I speak four languages: Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English. But, the most difficult was the English language of the TOEFL and GMAT. I think that it was a challenging process for a non-native English speaker. Now, I have a good grasp of English because I speak it every day in class. Plus we have 15 classmates who come from the United States. English is the language that everyone speaks because there are so many different nationalities. When I first began the application process, the English part was difficult. After the GMAT and TOEFL, for much of the same reasons, preparing the essays was challenging.


The Will to Go Farther

Lyonel Scapino, admitted to IESE

by Will Toussaint

During his experience as an IT consultant working with reinsurance, Lyonel Scapino found he was inspired to do more with his career. The industry presented the promise of growth and many opportunities to excel. Lyonel decided the best way to take advantage of those opportunities was to get an MBA at IESE in Barcelona.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I graduated from a Grand École, Reims, where I earned a MSc. in Management. Early on, I had spent a year working for a private bank in Geneva. For a few years after graduating, I had been working as an IT consultant in a small consulting firm. I consulted for companies such as Nestlé and AXA, and I got to know the organizational side of things. Specifically, I did a lot of work in the reinsurance industry, which is a fascinating business and a solid foundation. Not too long ago, I was promoted to be a QA Manager.

When and why did you start thinking about applying to business school?
About six months into my experience of being a QA manager, I felt like it was the right time to get some insight into other realms of the business world. I felt mature enough, and I wanted some different challenges. Working in the reinsurance industry was definitely a factor as well. It’s a growing business that not many people know much about. I wanted to take the opportunity to get ahead in it. I felt I had the will to push forward, to go farther.

Why did you decide to attend IESE?
IESE was my first choice. It was very highly ranked by many of the leading experts, and it was a good fit for me. I felt the program format was perfect because it lasts about a year and a half. I will graduate in 2009. IESE also makes having a two-month internship mandatory, which is great because it forces you to validate your orientations.

What do you plan to do when you graduate from business school?
I plan to get into a consulting firm that will allow me to experience new challenges. I’m interested in intellectual endeavors and the possibility to work internationally. Still, I know a lot of people who have had specific careers in mind when they started their MBA in Barcelona. Some of those people had experiences in business school that led them to careers that are completely different. While I have in mind that I want to accelerate my career and go further with it, I am open to the possibility of change.

In what ways do you think IESE's MBA program is unique?
I think one of the most important aspects for me is that the program I am enrolled in is taught in both English and Spanish. When I arrived at my interview with the admissions officer, he noticed that I had Spanish language on my resume. I had lived in Mexico for about five months when I was younger. The admissions officer asked me to speak Spanish with him, and I think he was a little bit surprised when I did. He suggested that I enroll in the Spanish and English program. I think the dual-language program is great because in today’s business world it’s important to be able to really master more than one foreign language.

What was the most challenging part of the admissions process?
I don’t know if I could point to one single part. Each part was challenging. I would say that some candidates might overlook their personal side. Unlike the GMAT, which is simply a score, you have to really present yourself and your career in a clear and positive way. It’s your part as a candidate to make sure the admissions committee understands what you have done.

What advice can you give others who are interested in applying to IESE?
The most important thing I can say is: be prepared. Showing some interest for the business world may help too. When I arrived for my interview I was able to connect with the admissions officers because we discussed several current events in the business world. I keep up to date on these kinds of events, it's a habit. I have a deep curiosity when it comes to things like economics and its links with societal and political issues. I think I was able to convey that by discussing some of the recent news.

How do you think Barcelona impacts your experience?
I believe the location will allow me to have an experience that is, of course, European but also very international. I will be able to see and experience a Spanish point of view and that increases my job prospects.


Hard Work Equals Big Rewards

Mickaël Ghozland, admitted to HEC Paris

by Will Toussaint

Mickaël Ghozland knew he wanted a competitive school to prepare him for a leadership position. It had to be a program that was well regarded, a place where students would be able to meet other ambitious professionals looking to get ahead in life. He found the right fit at HEC’s Executive MBA Program. Now in his second year at HEC, he has given up much of his time outside of work in order to pursue his dream of advancing to a leadership position in his company. But, according to Mickaël, the reward of learning at HEC matches every bit of the effort.

Hello Mickaël, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m the head of structured and trade finance at a leading commodities trader here in Paris. I began the HEC Executive MBA program last year, and I am just about at the midway point. Before HEC, I graduated from Dauphine, where I received a Masters in Finance. Initially, I interned for a bank but decided that I wanted to get into commodities. After my internship, I began working for a trading company. I had held various positions within the company and I’ve been in my current position – head of structured and trade finance – for some years now.

What made you decide you needed to get an MBA?

I think I came to the point where I realized that I wanted to get ahead much quicker in my career. That meant gaining wider knowledge on how my company works and on aspects outside of my current position. I wanted to get a strategic understanding of the business. I decided an MBA would be the best way to do that.
Furthermore, it would be an excellent resource for me to meet other professionals in the business community.

Why did you decide on attending HEC?

There are many reasons, such as the top quality of the program and the international environment. I wanted to improve my management skills at HEC because the program is very well known for its ability to prepare managers. It’s also a rich community where you share experiences, and I wanted to take part in that. Of course, everyone knows its reputation as the top business school; indeed, the Financial Times has listed it as the No. 1 business school in Europe for three straight years. I was looking for a place with diversity. The people I have met there are very determined about what they want to accomplish. Everyone is pushing forward and wants to achieve.

So, what did you find most difficult about applying?

Since I put pressure on myself to perform to the highest level, I think that the management test was difficult. The test is supposed to gauge how well you understand management principles. If you do poorly on the test, I assume they consider you not the type who would be a good manager. While I feel I understood the material very well, I also thought if I performed poorly I would not be considered management material. Thankfully, I was accepted.

What advice can you give others who are interested in applying to the school?

Your motivation will be tested several times during the process, so you must know what your objectives are and where you want to go. Be yourself and be committed to participating with the school. I think the key is to believe in yourself, and the admissions officers will believe in you. I can certainly say that putting a lot of pressure on yourself is just going to give you heartburn. I would forewarn applicants, however, that it’s a very demanding program. And, if they are accepted, there are also opportunities to enjoy it as well. It’s the quality of the program itself that is going to be rewarding. There is a kind of spirit that allows everyone to win if they are involved. I also believe the exchange with other participants is one of the biggest benefits.

At the mid-way point of your career at HEC, do you believe you have experienced something that you had not expected?

Yes, I actually think this experience has encouraged me to be more open-minded. As I said, the exchange with participants is a great thing. The benefits of this are being able to see a different viewpoint on something. Or, sometimes that means having different solutions to the same problem. I think there are aspects of the program that help you uncover talents that might have been hidden.

Any other benefits?

One of the best things is that I have been able to develop my management know-how. I also believe I now can provide solutions quicker than I had been able to prior to enrolling. HEC Executive MBA program, I believe, has trained me to be a more efficient thinker. I see things more clearly and hence provide a correct solution because I’ve dealt with and discussed similar situations. Also, one of the great things is the flexibility you experience. Sometimes you are challenged as an individual, and sometimes you are challenged as part of a team. Whatever the case, you are going to be facing very difficult challenges that help you grow by finding a solution. I think this reflects true business.

On a personal level, how do you view getting your Executive MBA from HEC?

It is a great boost to my resume and professional career. I also consider it a personal achievement. It has allowed me to look at myself and see more possibilities. There is a strong satisfaction I have from doing this. I think it means more than just business. I find I’m improving in how I solve problems and understand solutions. You have more reflexive confidence when you approach scenarios.

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