October 20, 2013 10:21 pm

Lessons in life

Marc Sangarne©Magali Delporte

Marc Sangarné

I must have answered the question 100 times. “What do you expect from your EMBA?”, friends would ask, wondering if the scary amount of time and money invested was worth it. I have now completed two-thirds of the Global Executive MBA at Insead and my body language always reveals my enthusiasm as I talk about it.

I graduated as a multimedia engineer in France and started work early, at 21. Since then, I never really planned my career. I progressed within telecom companies such as Nortel, Verizon, Telmex and Orange across 12 countries, attracted by dynamic, fun international workplaces. Sixteen years later, I am responsible for setting up global alliances and partnerships at Polycom, which sells collaboration IT linking up people working in different locations. However, my undergraduate degree does not help me to negotiate legal and financial terms around go-to-market strategies with top-level executives. I decided to join the Insead Global Executive MBA to expand my knowledge, think more strategically and develop my leadership skills. I got so much more.

I began the EMBA with mixed feelings of excitement and doubt. Would I survive 12 weeks of classes and exams? Would other participants really open up to each other or hide behind a personal branding façade?

My first concern did not last long: some of the professors have really mastered the art of keeping your eyes wide open and your brain stimulated. Some use unconventional techniques such as dramatic performances (later impersonated by students for fun); others rely on fascinating content, passionate class discussions and a fun atmosphere. Inspiration even made me fill pages with new ideas applicable to me during the class.

We participants bonded quickly. After timid introductions, very diverse personalities emerged during class discussions and extracurricular activities. Everybody was open and authentic. People were keen to contribute and organise great clubs, workshops and events. Between campus sessions, fun continued with dinners and trips. It took some persuasion to convince friends and family that sessions in France, Singapore, Brazil and Abu Dhabi were actually hard work, despite the party pictures all over the social networks.

With a supportive wife, no kids and a flexible employer, juggling work, school and social lives was relatively easy. I admire my superwomen classmates who stayed on top of everything despite a last-minute adoption (after years of waiting), or a birth halfway through the EMBA.

Class interactions also unveiled individual aspirations: many of us have big plans, from deep sea mining to solar panels on the top of the world. This was a powerful incentive to recognise my own dreams and act. I want to have a positive impact on society and now spend all my free time on a global project to promote independent journalism. I also discovered how people are naturally inclined to help when a cause is right, which positively affected my outlook on human nature. Clicking with others via shared aspirations despite cultural differences is an intense experience.

I started the personal leadership development process with no specific expectations. When tasked to picture my life for my core group – literally, with a pen – it felt like being back in fourth grade. Surprisingly, it helped me establish new connections between personal and professional lives. The feedback left no corner unexamined and the process was sometimes disturbing. I discovered my other self, “Unconscious Marc” and his competing commitments (now closely monitored). My core group, from Greece, Portugal, New Zealand and Russia are life-long friends. They have a unique, unbiased view of my life and will advise me on my work-life balance. I will help the same way.

Going back to the workplace after school was like wearing glasses for the first time: I noticed more details and realised how much I had missed. I developed a deeper understanding of individual behaviours, organisational cultures and industry trends. I am defining the content of my new expanded role within my company and plan to relocate to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the longer term, I still see my career centred on innovation in IT and the media and will rely on the intensive career management programme to make the right moves.

So, what do I get from my EMBA? Certainly knowledge, new friends and an acceleration in my career, as initially expected. But most importantly a toolkit to better manage my life and the extra confidence required to pursue big dreams with my feet on the ground.

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