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Maria Garcia Salmones (MGS) and Oliver Regidor (OR) met while studying for an EMBA at Vlerick Business School’s Brussels campus. They live in Brussels with their son and plan to start a company together one day.
OR: We call our son, Manuel, our little revolution — he turned everything we were thinking of doing after the 18-month EMBA upside down. We had dreams of moving to California to explore opportunities outside the traditional corporate structure. During the last week of the EMBA, in July 2017, we found out that we were expecting a baby. We had just finished the final project at Vlerick and started an even bigger one.
We met during classes, a weekend every three weeks, residential courses in the Netherlands and trips to China and Silicon Valley. We were a group of 50 people: it started as “Maria, my classmate” and one thing led to another.
MGS: I was very excited, of course, to have a child and it was a super-beautiful moment, but it was also difficult to stay at home with the baby. Having just done the EMBA, my brain was full of ideas. But I had to take a break and say OK, for now it is all about the baby. With the little spare time I had, I read books on innovation, knowing I’d get up to speed again the moment I went back to work.
Before taking four months’ maternity leave from Euroclear, the financial services provider, I created a start-up community that was working on transformation projects. It was inspired by an EMBA visit to Silicon Valley. That and the school’s focus on entrepreneurship and innovation were the main reasons I chose Vlerick. The people and companies we met in California were so open to new ideas.
The group I created was, let’s say, for the company rebels who wanted to change things that weren’t working that well. By joining forces we were able to change things and management took notice. After a few months, I had created the new position of innovation manager. I got the role before my career break. My company encourages family life; thankfully, times are changing.
OR: I had just started a new role at a new company. Instead of being able to focus on just the work, I had to — and wanted to — also focus on my family. It was a balance of trying to keep those worlds separate, but give both enough time and attention. In Belgium you get two weeks of paternity leave, which I found very limited, so I took an extra two weeks. It was and is an exercise in being disciplined in how you use time professionally and personally.
Before and during the EMBA I was a programme manager at financial group ING and I was planning to stay. I was a typical corporate boy, which I know was Maria’s perception of me. When I work at a company I really try to get across their values. But I was contacted after the course by a headhunter for an interesting digital transformation role at Argenta bank.
The EMBA for sure had an impact on my career transition. It makes you stand out from the crowd and teaches you how to handle difficult situations. The most important thing I got from the course was interpersonal skills. We had a course on negotiation and how to deal with difficult situations. It was an artificial situation at the time — how do you deal with someone who is very angry and demanding — but it really helped me because I encountered it later in real life, in my new position. The lesson to take a step back and separate reaction from emotion really helped me grow both professionally and personally.
MGS: We’re thinking about creating our own company. I’ve been focusing on agile working in my innovation position and Oliver’s specialism is enabling digital transformation. Combining the two you have a strong offering for companies, so we are thinking of joining forces and going into consulting.
The plan to move is still open: we’re always talking about how we feel in the current situation. We may go abroad, but it’s all about timing. We are considering getting a house here and having one in Spain, where my parents live. Now that we have Manu we realise how difficult it would be to live, for example, in London without anyone to help. Being alone in a new city with a baby would be very complex.
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