When Petronela Pell heard that PWN Global, a professional women’s networking organisation, offered a merit-based scholarship to INSEAD's modular Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) programme, she knew she had to seize this golden opportunity.

She was born in Romania and grew up in London. Her family taught her the determination to pursue one’s goal when they boldly left their country to give themselves a better chance. 

After working for about 11 years in an investment management company in the city, Petronela started feeling too comfortable with the job. The worry of being stuck on the career ladder, with little to no chance to grow, created the spark that reignited her courage and passion for aiming high.

Pursuing the GEMBA at INSEAD felt like the quintessence of her fulfillment. It was a gateway that provided a connection between the desire to advance her career while also nurturing her values.

A bumpy start

The enthusiasm and pride for being accepted into one of the best business schools in the world were, soon enough, replaced by confusion and uncertainty when COVID-19 hit.

Early 2020 was particularly hard for Petronela: she felt the ground was missing under her feet when all her plans started crumbling down.

“Having lived through Communism as a child, I had experienced living with food quotas, shopping queues, and limited traveling.”

Tasting the bitterness of a confined daily life, now as a mother having to homeschool her four-year-old daughter, took her on an internal struggle, wondering if she should have pushed through with the GEMBA at the cost of extra sacrifices to her and her loved ones.

“I would lie if I said I enjoyed the lack of sleep during those months!” She laughs. “But I was ready to shoulder the burden, and I savoured every second of those crazy times!”

The secret, she says, lies in a very structured approach; learning how to prioritise between work and family tasks. The concrete milestones of her assignments at INSEAD helped her focus. Coordination with her family was vital due to the variety of extra chores, from arranging food supplies to homeschooling. It was honest and open communication with the closest persons in her life that kept her motivation strong.

Transforming chaos into success

While she was establishing her career in London, Petronela's natural inclination to balance work-life time had given her hope that she could deal with new responsibilities at work even when she became pregnant.

“In today’s society, in which dual-career couples strive to have purposeful careers, starting a family can become an issue pretty quickly.”

Global Executive MBA Petronela Pell
INSEAD GEMBA alumna Petronela Pell with her daughter

During her time at INSEAD, that hope turned into turmoil when she had to become a teacher and a playdate, in addition to being a wife, mother, professional and student.

Petronela then came up with the idea of tackling this challenge by turning it into a fun experiment featuring her own family.

Blending her business world and the playful, imaginative universe of her daughter was a bold, and creative, move.

For Petronela's daughter, seeing her mother surrounded by books and documents was like a new adventure which pushed her inner curiosity to discover all the daily working activities that were keeping her mum busy. And so they started toying with different professions: every day, she would come up with a job, describe it, and explain what she liked about it.

The experiment turned out to go way beyond Petronela’s expectations - besides helping both to pass their time when going outdoors was not allowed, it also introduced a different perspective and gave her daughter a new, unconventional access to her business persona.

“Seeing me on calls with clients has helped her develop a sense of what having a job is like and that working is something that provides purpose and enjoyment.”

Making a breakthrough towards gender-balanced societies 

Petronela holds a strong belief in a more equal society and advocates that gender stereotypes should be eradicated in the entire educational ecosystem, starting from a young age.

She brought up this topic with several professors at INSEAD in terms of gender representation in academia. The presence of female leaders and professors can undoubtedly influence the shape of business education for executives and the future of leadership, she says.

“We need to shine a light on role models of all genders. They exist, but often stay in the dark. We must celebrate them more often.”

Keep looking ahead

The GEMBA studies may be over for Petronela, but not her learning experience. Being part of the INSEAD and PWN families has provided her with a myriad of opportunities to develop personally and professionally. The knowledge, network, and gravitas acquired during these two years have reinvigorated her spirit and broadened her ambitions.

As a result, she became more aware of which areas she needed to improve in; she also discovered her strengths. 

“I have a latent entrepreneurial desire.” She confides. “I have always dreamt of starting my own business in software technologies, and now, with this MBA, I feel much more confident.” 


Written by Valentina Buratti

Professional Women’s Network (PWN) Global stands for advancing women in leadership by sharing knowledge, best practices, tools and techniques through mentoring, events and networking. One important mission of the INSEAD Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) is to increase the flow of women business executives into key educational gateways and business networks. This is achieved with monetary and mentoring support, such as the INSEAD GEMBA Professional Women’s Network (PWN) Global Fellowship. PWN Global Fellowship applicants should exhibit exemplary leadership in one or more ways: through academic achievements, team leadership, community involvement or capacity for creativity. The fellowship will cover a portion of the tuition costs and will be awarded based on merit.  

AY 22-23 GEMBA Brochure

Download Global Executive MBA Brochure

Download now