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Ingrid Marchal-Gerez is an MBA graduate of London Business School and team leader of Cut out Cancer, one of the teams shortlisted in this year’s FT MBA Challenge with UK charity World Child Cancer (WCC). For the challenge, her team needs to write a business plan that shows how WCC can successfully harness technology to raise funds and awareness. There is one alumnus from London Business School on her team - a Sloan Fellow - and two MBA students, one from the University of California, Berkeley in the US and the other from SP Jain School of Global Management.

Ms Marchal-Gerez grew up in Paris and studied biology and biochemistry up to PhD level. Immediately after her PhD, she co-founded a bioinformatics company then moved into more commercial roles in biotechnology. She now works for Janssen Healthcare Innovation, an entrepreneurial healthcare team at Johnson & Johnson.

1. Who are your business influences?

As a scientist and a woman, I am very much inspired by the career of Marie Curie. She dedicated herself to the advancement of sciences and women in society. She helped discover radioactivity and today her name still means hope for cancer patients.

2. Why did you enter the FT MBA Challenge?

As MBA students, we are always encouraged to develop new skills or test new leadership styles. The FT challenge is one of these great opportunities to learn. Yet this one is not just a business challenge: there are real kids whose lives could be saved by the WCC, so I felt compelled to enter and do my best.

While at university, I volunteered in western Africa, taking care of HIV-positive, orphaned or malnourished children so I was particularly sensitive to the cause of helping innocent kids in deprived countries. If, with our ideas and time, we can help to save just one of these children, then it’s already an achievement.

3. How have you found the experience so far?

It’s been great. It gave me the chance to meet an amazing team with the same passion and with complementary perspectives. We have also had the chance to talk with some of the stakeholders and we have a great mentor [Tony Watson, board member at Vodafone], who has challenged our thoughts and helped us to improve and address more questions.

4. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

Done is better than perfect. My PhD supervisor first told me that, as he didn’t want me to spend years on an endless piece of research, but rather wanted me to gain experience and achieve results quickly. In research as in innovation, you can always do more but you have to pause and know when it’s good enough to deliver value.

5. What academic achievement are you most proud of?

I have a PhD and an MBA. I think that says a lot about who I am, i.e. someone who loves to learn and challenge the status quo.

6. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

One of the things I realised through my MBA is that you can do almost anything if you have the right team.

7. How do you deal with pressure?

I always try to put things into perspective and have alternative plans. I find that it helps to prioritise and focus on the most critical tasks. That way pressure becomes a driver, not a barrier.

8. What do you enjoy most about your job at Janssen?

I work in a corporate innovation team, which feels a bit like being in a start-up while also having the power of a big corporation. It also means having to meet and interact with a large variety of stakeholders and learn about what they do and what is important to them. This makes us more relevant in developing services and products that can really make a difference.

9. What is the worst job you have ever had?

I had a summer job in a warehouse, which consisted of filling out orders for small medical equipment. We had to follow a very precise process and put them into boxes. There was absolutely no room for thinking or innovation. But it’s great to have that sort of experience because it helped me realise how lucky I was to have the opportunity to study things that I was passionate about.

10. What do you hope women in business will achieve?

I am confident that women will have more and more opportunities to access top level roles. Research shows that likeability and success do not go well together for women, while they do for men. This is because women are expected to be nice, helpful and nurturing and this clashes with ambition and success. My hope is that with more and more examples of successful women, the expectations will change and society as a whole will have an increasing acceptance of successful women.

The team leaders of this year’s MBA Challenge are all women. Based in Germany, west Africa, the UK and US, they feature in our Women in Business Q&A throughout August and September 2014.

Read about the other team leaders:

Onyanta Adama, an MBA student at Lagos Business School in Nigeria and team leader of Ripple

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