When you spend upwards of nine months as part of a diverse team working on a single project, you learn a thing or two about cultural differences and how to overcome them. These are lessons that prove invaluable for those pursuing careers in international organisations that bring together employees from around the world.
For two roommates in Geneva, now both working for big-name NGOs, the team-based consulting project they did at EMLYON Business School served as the catalyst for their burgeoning careers. It also gave them an invaluable preview of what it's like to collaborate with colleagues from vastly different backgrounds.
Rebeca Hernandez said navigating the group dynamics during her consultancy at Rovipharm, a manufacturer of medical devices, was a learning experience that is serving her well in her current position at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
Photo: Rebeca Hernandez (pictured centre)
“The group I worked with at EMLYON had a really interesting make-up,” Rebecca told The Local. “There was an Italian with a background in sales and logistics, an engineer from India who had worked with the automobile industry, and an engineer in Malaysia who came from the oil industry. Then there was me, the only one without some sort of engineering background.”
Hernandez came to EMLYON from Costa Rica, where she received her undergrad degree in international relations. Having studied some French back home, she moved to France to improve her language skills and to be closer to some family members. She was drawn to EMLYON by its Entrepreneurial Leadership Project and said her group project at Rovipharm, where she helped the French company create an export strategy, has really paid off.
“ISO is a very diverse workplace with many countries represented and my time at EMLYON definitely made me more adaptable and flexible,” Hernandez said.
As part of a cohort of 38 individuals representing 20 nationalities, Hernandez said her full MBA experience at EMLYON was culturally enriching.
“Because we were such a small cohort, you really get to work with every single other person,” she said. “For one project, you'd work with people from five different countries and really get to know them and their cultures. Then you'd change to a new group and encounter five totally different ones. You get to know them on a professional and personal level, and you end up with friends all over the world.”
Hernandez was the first of her 2018 cohort to land a job, an impressive feat when 90 percent of EMLYON's International MBA grads land work within three months of finishing their coursework.
“I hadn't even officially finished my MBA before I moved to Geneva to start at ISO. EMLYON is very insistent that you start applying for jobs early,” she said. “I started in early March and that was a real key to success.”
She said EMLYON's career support team is one of the school's main selling points.
“They have a whole team to help you launch your career,” she said. “They're very good at it and they're always trying to improve, particularly in how they help internationals get their careers started.”
The 29-year-old is now part of ISO's social media and engagement team, helping the organisation's 163 global members create messaging around specific standardisation campaigns. She's found a job that is rewarding in several ways.
“There is a misconception that NGOs aren't well-paying jobs. The idea of working in an NGO is that when you do make money, you feel like you are earning it in a good way,” Hernandez said. “You're not just selling a product, you're educating people. You feel like your job has a purpose and that's really why I chose to work within this sector.”
Photo: Rebeca Hernandez
That sense of purpose is also what led Hernandez's roommate and fellow 2018 EMLYON MBA grad Sarah Shakour to her position at the World Economic Forum. Originally from California, Shakour moved to Geneva to start at the Forum the very day after she finished her studies at EMLYON.
“There were a number of reasons I picked EMLYON but its proximity to Geneva was the main one,” Shakour told The Local. “The school is very well-known not only in France but throughout Europe and because it is so close to Geneva a lot of the big international organisations based there know how good it is.”
Now 31, Shakour came to EMLYON in 2017 after becoming somewhat disillusioned with her Silicon Valley career path.
"After eight years working in the Silicon Valley, I felt something was missing. I have always been involved in charitable giving and so I wanted to leverage my skills to improve, in some degree, the state of my community." she said. "With my desire to live abroad and pursue an MBA, EMLYON was an obvious choice given its reputation."
Like Hernandez, Shakour said her team-based consultancy project at EMLYON helped to prepare her for a multinational workplace. In her case, she worked with students from France, China, Colombia and the Ivory Coast to develop a marketing plan for the French food company Panzani's Middle Eastern market.
“My team at the Forum is very diverse and my experience at EMLYON really helped me understand how people from other cultures work. I also learned a lot about teamwork and collaboration and that has proven invaluable because everything at the Forum is based on teamwork,” she said.
As part of the marketing team at the Forum, Shakour focuses on outreach around the organisation's big events, including the annual gathering in Davos. She called the job a “good hybrid” of her experience and interests.
“This has allowed me to combine my business experience and my passion for charity,” she said. “The Forum brings together business leaders and heads of state and gets them to have serious conversations about some of the things that could really improve our world.”
Shakour said that she hopes to start her own small charity one day and that if she succeeds, it will be in large part because of her time at EMLYON.
“Everything I was looking for was in Lyon. It gave me direction, it reignited my passions and I made friends I never would have otherwise,” she said. “The person I was a year and a half ago is not who I am anymore.”
This article was produced by The Local's Creative Studio and sponsored by EMLYON.