C-LEVEL EXECUTIVE AND BOARD MEMBER
Dear Helia, since you completed the EMBA at the iimt, your career has unfolded in multiple directions. It is very impressive to see female leaders and our alumna being rewarded for their hard work and perseverance. It makes us really proud to know that you have chosen us to be part of your journey! We would like to ask you some questions and some advice that you would like to share with the next generations.
Why an EMBA at the iimt?
I chose the EMBA at the iimt due to a multitude of factors. First, it offered the best combination of academia and market, professors with an excellent academic background who were also former executives. Their extensive field experience complemented the theory with practical aspects. Second, the richness of the programme and the innovation topics linked to ICT appealed to me. Throughout those three intensive years, we were inspired, challenged and gained profound knowledge through 30 diversified disciplines. The exchanges with participants from different backgrounds were fantastic, and the fact that we would stay off-site during the whole duration of the modules created a strong network. We have maintained close contact within the alumni network since then. It was an incredible journey, from a human, development and business perspective!
How did the EMBA contribute to your success?
The EMBA was a major milestone in my professional success. It broadened my horizons from a technical perspective to a business perspective, providing me the necessary insights to build an impactful career thereafter.
I believe you have a small anecdote to tell us from those EMBA times?
[laughs] Yes, one that I’m very proud of. Those three years were very intensive, I was still working full-time, in parallel to my EMBA. And as if it was not enough, I got pregnant to my first two boys during that period: I even breast-fed my eldest in class! I always say that my son was definitely the youngest EMBA student, at only four months old! I keep those moments close to my heart, with lots of gratitude to Prof. Dr. Teufel and all the iimt staff, who did everything that they could to make it possible beyond my expectations. I’m forever grateful.
You have now three boys and never stopped working. How do you balance work and life responsibilities?
In short, with lots of drive, lots of organisation, and lots of passion.
What was the biggest sacrifice that you had to make in advancing your career?
I took every career decision fully aware of the consequences, and those decisions were not sacrifices: they were choices… choosing to have a family and a career, choosing to change countries for my career and moving the family along. I started over three times in different countries and decided to discover other industries after a long and successful career in telecoms and ICT. Looking back today, I should have done it much earlier, and it’s not over yet.
As a female leader, given the sector’s gender gap, have you had to invest in any extra steps or efforts to get to the same place as your male colleagues?
Yes, let’s not lie to ourselves, it has been harder for women to get to leadership positions. When you have companies serving the whole population with consumer goods, yet with only 14% females in senior leadership positions, this is symptomatic of the difficulty in building a career. The most significant barrier to achieve gender parity is the unconscious biases that we all – men and women – still have in our minds, which condition our daily actions as leaders. In general, women still have to prove that they are capable of doing the job before they ever get it, whereas men are given a chance because they have “potential”. Women are tagged as “too ambitious” with a negative twist, whereas men are tagged as “career-oriented”. We need to raise awareness of these discrepancies and biases, because we have many women with the right competencies and capabilities who are ready to take the next step and excel as leaders and professionals.
You recently came back to the iimt, this time as a guest lecturer…
Indeed, I had the honour and privilege of holding a master class on the topic of the “Smart City”, as well as a Strategic Management lecture for the MBA and CAS students on “The Power of Disruption”. It’s a pleasure being on the other side and contributing with my relevant expertise and experience gathered over these years. Thank you for having me back!
What is the biggest lesson that you have learned throughout your career?
Take risks and don’t fear the unexpected. Don’t get side-tracked by the unknown or circumstances, but rather focus on reaching your objectives. Leave self-doubt behind, and transform your particularities into strengths. Above all: stay true to yourself. Don’t compromise your values.
What advice do you want to leave to the next generation of leaders?
Don’t wait until you are seen. Make yourself visible.
Don’t wait until you get recognition. Acknowledge your value and move on.
Don’t wait until it’s the right moment. Dare and take the risk now.
“He won’t make it in secondary school, and neither will he be able to follow postgraduate studies”. Those were the words my primary school teacher said to my mother in 6th grade. He would never have expected that I would successfully complete a university postgraduate programme.
Most of my work colleagues cannot understand such a reaction. Looking back, however, I understand my primary school teacher’s position. I was extremely inquisitive as a child, however, in most school subjects, I counted more on a portion of luck (or destiny, as I called it at the time) and less on diligence and hard work. The lack of support from my main teachers led me to decide early on to go my own way. I invested a lot of my free time, other than in music, in learning web & graphic design and after a while earned a good pocket money with it. Accordingly, after secondary school I decided to start my own business as a service provider in the web sector and to focus on my areas of interest and strengths instead of getting a bachelor’s degree like most of my schoolmates. Since then, education has been a largely autodidactic path for me. I concentrated on acquiring the skills that were in demand and not very common and that coincided with my interests. Today, I successfully manage projects in the digital and marketing sector.
But Socrates already said: “I know that I do not know”. I realized that without academic mentors and teachers, I had a blind spot in various areas. With the support of my supervisor at the time, and to further achieve my goals, I decided to embark on an accredited continuing education programme. This is how I became aware of the Executive Programmes offered by the iimt of the University of Fribourg. Flexible and tailor-made courses, which were also open to non-academics. This was the start of my journey, in which I illuminated my blind spots in the areas of finance, service design, digital business and global business management, together with other professionals and executives. I benefited not only from the experience of top professors in business and research, but also from the experience of my fellow students.
I completed my study programme “Executive Diploma Digital Leadership” with my thesis in “Digital Services in Pregnancy Support” and the distinction “magna cum laude”. I am glad to have taken this path and can highly recommend continuous education to everyone, even after completing a first degree or earlier further education.
A big thank you to my supervisor at the time and the entire team of the international institute of management in technology (iimt) at the University of Fribourg for this wonderful time!
What does ongoing education have to do with success? And how can success be measured? Being successful means aspiring to and achieving one’s own goals. Already during my studies to become an electrical engineer, I was striving towards my goal of completing an EMBA at the iimt. A few years later, I have been successful in that regard. But that’s not all. The higher education also helped me to achieve professional success by reaching my goals in the business world. Thanks to the iimt’s flexible programme, which allowed me to maintain a good family, work and leisure balance, I was able to build on my specific strengths, but also to overcome certain weaknesses. Thanks to the EMBA many doors opened within a short period of time. As a member of the executive board of a regional energy supplier and while in the middle of my studies at the iimt, I was given the opportunity to become a managing director of a subsidiary of a successful engineering company. Right from the beginning, I was able to put a lot of what I had learned at the iimt into practice. After only a few months, I was nominated COO of the group of the same engineering company. As an engineer I am now responsible for the finances of all our companies throughout Switzerland and actively participating in the group management. In this diversified environment, I regularly draw on the knowledge I have gained at the iimt.
In addition to the very competent professors, I would particularly like to emphasise the network and the exchange among peer students. Thanks to the ingenious principle of having a different class constellation in almost every module, the participants can learn from each other and drastically expand their network. A healthy mix between practice and theory in the interactive courses conveys the learning content in an exciting and gripping way. Looking back, I experienced a thrilling and instructive time at the iimt with overwhelming encounters. Many thanks to everyone I met and got to know on a deeper level during this time. I would like to thank the iimt here explicitly for this opportunity and the career boost I received.
Hajar El Haddaoui
HEAD OF SHOP & RETAIL CHANNELS, REGION WEST, SWISSCOM
The courses were led by excellent professors with extensive academic and practical knowledge. Moreover, contact with both teaching staff and administration was always a positive experience. The CAS program has without a doubt added value to my marketability and has been a great experience. It has been a very interesting and fruitful journey! I have found the program being dynamic, shaping and empowering in terms of improving skills necessary to face and rise to the market’s challenges.
Professors are selected for the rigor and relevance of their research, as well as their ability to inspire in the classroom and to synthesise impactful learning from diverse student perspectives. The program has provided tremendous value to me and was an excellent platform to continue building my career.
What did you particularly love about the studies at the iimt?
Classes are very well thought through, and professors put huge efforts into making their sessions stimulating for students.
What made the iimt stand out from the similar institutions?
I was impressed how up to date were the articles and cases that professors used. Most importantly I was impressed by the insightful views shared by my colleagues during class discussions.
Why should someone who is looking to continue their education consider the iimt?
Improve your strengths. Don’t neglect your weaknesses, but don’t over-invest in them either. Your value lies in your unique strength. Find them and focus on them. Also, invest in your relationships. Keep your network alive. Take the chance to experiment in a safe environment at the iimt
What exceeded your expectations at the iimt?
Flexibility! It matched my and my family’s expectations perfectly.
Is there anyone from the iimt team you would like to pay special thanks to?
I would like to thank Dr. Stephanie Teufel. Thank you for being so encouraging and doing everything you can to keep us motivated and supported throughout the program. Your knowledge and leadership provide me with a priceless model for my own career. I am so happy you are part of my education! I hope today you can be proud of me.
Senior Manager, Solution Engineering, at Salesforce, leading Salesforce’s pre-sales organisation in Switzerland
The studies at the iimt helped me get a broader understating of what it takes to manage a large company, the inter-dependency between different departments and understand the various frameworks that have been used to govern enterprises. It provided me with tools and skills that I could directly use in my job. The leadership and management course at the iimt gave me a good understanding of the concepts that are in use in most companies. This foundation was extremely helpful to allow me to analyse and embrace the evolution of new methodologies (lean enterprise, open leadership, etc.)
Compared to some other MBA programs available in the market, the iimt has a strong focus on leadership and management courses for technology companies. The use cases we had tightly related to the problems we faced and sometimes, if needed, we would also draw parallels with others industries to get the full picture (e.g. in Marketing).Studies at the iimt provided us with a great balance between theory and practical use. It was fun to interact with the team around the various challenges we had to solve together. It is great for people coming from technology companies. There was a family feeling as we spent 3 years together.If you want to get clarity of what is needed to manage and develop an enterprise then You should consider the iimt. The practical examples and the curation of the latest developments in leadership and management makes it really interesting. It is an accelerator to your own research on management. I was impressed how a three-year program really gave me the opportunity to apply and practice what I learned and to make it stick, which is much better than some other short-term programmes.
If you are considering joining the iimt make sure you define your long-term objectives and see how the iimt will help you achieve your goals, then you can get the best of the different modules. Finally, I’d like to thank the iimt’s staff for their flexibility, for listening to our feedback and for continuing developing the program.
HEAD OF GROUP MARKET INFRASTRUCTURE & DERIVATIVES / SENIOR VICE-PRESIDENT IN A LARGE PRIVATE BANK INTERNATIONALLY ACTIVE
Getting an EMBA at the iimt has opened many opportunities for me. Prior to my EMBA, I had a bachelor’s degree in engineering in Telecommunications. When I finished my studies at the iimt, I held a position as the Head of Business Development at a Telecommunications Carrier. My role at the time already has a strong footing in many commercial and financial aspects of the business (business plan, company valuation, M&A activities etc.). As many may remember the IT and telecom market suffered a very significant crash in the early 2000s. At the time it was very difficult, if not impossible, to find opportunities in the sector. Thanks to my new degree I was able to secure a position and join one of the Big Four (E&Y) as a Risk Management Consultant. I believe my degree at the iimt has helped me in getting this position, as it would not have been possible with only an engineering degree. It’s a practice-oriented diploma. I liked the work with other students in works groups and the going through practical case studies. Despite the IT orientation of the teaching, which is almost very similar as to every other MBA, what takes the iimt apart from the other similar degrees are the skills I got and that allowed me to see immediate value in my job as well as a consultant. Furthermore, it gave me a sound basis and all the necessary building blocks to embrace a new career in the field of finance. As an expert in a very technical area of finance in the field of derivatives and related regulations, I have ventured away from IT while still able to leverage my former engineering skills. The studies at iimt definitively helped me to transform my technical skills into business skills, which gives you a unique profile and a competitive advantage in many areas of the industry such as consultancy, business development, or like in my case new technologies applied to the future of financial market infrastructure like blockchain, big data analytics, etc.
PROJEKTLEITER GESCHÄFTSENTWICKLUNG, DIE POST
For a few weeks now the Brot-Post delivery service has been a success with the population. Our CAS Lean Innovation alumnus, Matthias Rieder, was involved in the development of the project and wrote his Executive CAS thesis on “Prüfung eines flexiblen Angebots für die Brot-Post. Handlungsempfehlungen für zukünftige Innovatoren”. He kindly accepted to answer 3 of our questions about this project and its current and future developments.
How does the COVID situation affect your daily work? In the middle of March, I was still enjoying my holidays in Australia and at the same time I followed the events in Switzerland. Fortunately, we could get on board of our return flight and travelled home on time as planned. On Monday 23.03.2020, without any coffee chit-chat with my colleagues about my holiday experiences – as advised I took off to the home office. In the first week of work-from-home I missed the personal contact and verbal exchange in the office. However, we quickly adapted and set up conferences for online meetings and project task forces in order to create a roadmap and prioritize our current and future activities. Unfortunately, some of our customers either completely cancelled or indefinitely postponed many of the projects. Fortunately, the COVID measures implemented by the Swiss Government allowed for a real boom in Swiss Post with our “Brot-Post” service, the delivery of regional products and various home delivery services.
How has the Brot-Post project developed since you completed your Executive CAS at the iimt? The project Brot-Post was initiated by my teammates. When I wrote my thesis, they were in the validation phase and wanted to gain more knowledge about the customers. My thesis (Executive CAS Lean Innovation) allowed me to dive even deeper into the Brot-Post project. This enabled me to apply the methods and knowledge I learned directly to my daily work, which in turn allowed me to explore and recognise the customers’ need for flexible offers. Subsequently, I created novel product development measures and incorporated them into the current project. At present, the number of orders per week is rapidly increasing. Every week, more and more regional bakeries are being added, which now have their broad range of fine products delivered to Swiss households via Brot-Post. For the bakeries, this represents an additional distribution channel complementary to the usual store-based trade. The Brot-Post service is also being continuously developed, independently of my thesis. The service also benefits from the present situation, which has increased the demand for home-delivered regional food. Furthermore, we are also in contact with regional bakeries in French-speaking Switzerland and looking into making the range of products available to an even broader clientele.
Where do you see yourself and the Brot-Post in one year? I see Swiss Post’s Brot-Post as a firmly established Swiss Post service that enjoys a high standing among the Swiss population by offering great benefits. When I look through my “future telescope”, the service should be available in all towns and villages across Switzerland, from Aarberg for A to Zuoz for Z. Should this not happen by next year, then hopefully it will in the year after. Via www.brot-post.ch you can already check whether you live in a baker’s delivery area. Personally, I still see myself acting in an innovative and customer-oriented environment. This will hopefully include numerous exciting projects with solution variants developed through iterative processes, offering direct added value for our customers.
CEO AXIANS & ACTEMIUM SWITZERLAND
After finishing my studies at the iimt I was immediately equipped with a ready-to-use tool-set for my daily job. The iimt provides students with a good mix of theoretical and practical know-how. The professors and lecturers boast a wide spectrum of knowledge, which allows for insightful discussions during the lessons. Studies at the iimt stand out from the competition in particular for their use of the theoretical material in the case studies, the group works and so on. The iimt has a strong focus on IT & Telecom and as such stands out from similar institutions – if IT & Telecom are what you are interested in, consider joining the iimt. I would like to also pay special thanks to Prof. Dr S. Teufel for her dedication to the iimt over the years.