October 25, 2011 11:11 am

Web chat: Sarah Perez

Sarah Perez

Welcome to the Financial Times online web chat with Sarah Perez, who features in our Ten Questions Q&A.

Sarah Perez, executive director of EMBA programmes at The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School will answer your questions on Thursday, 27th October 2011, between 14.00 and 15.00 BST.

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Post your questions now to ask@ft.com and they will be answered on this page on the day.

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In your Ten Questions Q&A, you mention that you learnt a second language. It appears that studying for an MBA is not enough. What languages do you recommend business professionals should learn?

Also, people talk about the importance of the emerging economies, such as the Bric countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), when doing business. What skills do we need to develop in order to work with these different business cultures?

Sarah: I believe that an MBA is a very important accomplishment and not a small undertaking.  Of course, business is global today and many business schools have programmes like UNC’s OneMBA, dedicated to developing global leaders. 

For me, learning a second language was a personal goal and something I was very interested in. If learning a second language is something you are interested in and it can help you professionally, then it is worth it. 

Choosing what language to study will depend on where you plan to do business. In the US, the Spanish speaking population is growing quickly so learning Spanish may be a benefit. On the other hand, China is one of the leading emerging markets so learning Chinese may be a good choice for some. Spending some time to determine which would be the best investment for you is important. 

In order to work in different cultures, I believe there are several things that you need to be successful.  A global mindset is very important, which includes a willingness to understand and respect different cultures and the way people do business. In addition, leadership skills, flexibility, ability to deal with change and ambiguity and confidence in your values are all important.  These are skills that will help you succeed not only in the Bric countries but in any market. Global executive programmes like the OneMBA are a great way to acquire these crucial skills.

What made you decide to move from the corporate world into academia and how did you find the confidence to do this?

Amy Thomas, UK

Sarah: Moving from the corporate world into academia was not as big of a shift as I expected. I was fortunate to find an opportunity where I was able to use the skills I gained in my corporate career and apply them to a position in academia. Because business schools are unique environments where academia meets “real world” business, I think it was a good fit for me .

In my work with the EMBA programmes at UNC Kenan-Flagler, I have the opportunity to work with students who are juggling demanding careers and personal commitments while studying in a challenging MBA programme. Without exception, they are doing this to better themselves, and they grow both professionally and personally while in the programmes. It’s fulfilling not only for me, but for all EMBA faculty and staff, to see students reach their goals through their experiences in the programme.

Do you think the EMBA is becoming a luxury product, as described in the FT EMBA magazine this week? Is it only suitable for certain individuals?

Chloe De Gastines, France

Sarah: I do not believe that the EMBA is a luxury product, however EMBA programmes are intentionally different than other MBA programme formats.

The philosophy of the EMBA is to bring senior level professionals into the classroom where they can share their experience in the classroom environment. This is one of the biggest benefits of the EMBA programme.

Because of the format in which EMBA classes are usually offered; weeknights or on the weekends, there is a level of service provided that is necessary to support the students in this environment. Without this level of service, it would be very difficult for these students to manage their professional and personal commitments along with a demanding MBA programme.

The EMBA is best suited for people with the sufficient work experience to add to this unique learning environment.

Do you have any advice on how to balance an EMBA with full-time work and a young family? I am thinking of applying but am worried that either my job or home life will suffer in the short term.

Sarah: I’ve been fortunate to observe many professionals successfully balance all three – work, family and an EMBA programme. From that experience, I think a few things are particularly important:

1) School fit. Each business school has a unique culture, and you need to find the one that works for your life. At UNC, we make a concerted effort to be family-friendly, including partners in orientation and inviting students to have their families join them a couple of times during the programme.

2) Programme format fit. EMBA programmes come in all shapes and sizes: some meet on the weekends, some meet in the evenings, some are primarily delivered online. When considering programmes, don’t overlook the importance of determining which format will best fit into your life. If you travel a lot for work, for instance, a programme that meets on weekday evenings will only add to your stress level.

3) Study teams. In many ways, EMBA programmes emulate your daily work life by requiring you to complete many projects with a team. This team serves a number of purposes, one of which is to provide support to you during times that are particularly hectic. When professional students work together to accomplish a goal – rather than always as independent individuals – the burden on any one student is lessened.

4) Time management. This is an obvious point, but one that can’t be ignored. Your priorities will shift numerous times during the course of your EMBA programme, and you will need to be flexible enough to adjust your schedule to meet those demands. That may require bringing in some help that you hadn’t before: a cleaning service or someone to help you prepare meals. It may mean saying “no” “to an optional project at work if you’re in a particularly difficult class, etc.

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