Carmen Schwender’s career path is as inspiring as atypical. She left her native Romania for New York in 1995 with the dream of becoming a professional ballerina—an ambition that was realised in Connecticut’s New England Ballet Company. After 20 years dancing and teaching dance, Carmen felt it was time to hang up her pointe shoes and pivot to a new career; one that would deliver new challenges along with the financial stability she needed. A degree in finance followed and in 2002, a new career with then Merrill Lynch now Bank of America on Wall Street. 

EMC 2023

Carmen Schwender
Marketing Director APAC Research at Bank of America, Singapore


“Mine is a career that’s seen a lot of morphing into new roles and directions, and a career that is very prone to change,” says Carmen. “I was in finance for over 20 years and a chance conversation with a client whose wife was studying at INSEAD opened my eyes to a new and exciting opportunity for change.”

That opportunity was the INSEAD Executive Master in Change (EMC) - a programme “like no other” with the capacity to “break you down into a million pieces and rebuild you,” in the words of Carmen’s alumni friend. It was too compelling a description for her to ignore.


“Here was this really wonderful description of a learning journey; one that I decided to embark on and which has in fact exceeded these words,” she says. “The EMC really is a programme like no other. It’s a profound journey and a call to purpose.”

Carmen joined the EMC programme in 2022, another inflection point in her career when she decided to move from her sales role and take up a new role as Marketing Director in APAC Research department within Bank of America. Embarking on a degree programme whilst navigating a new responsibilities has brought her face to face with change in a way that feels almost visceral, she says. 

"There’s a Robin Sharma quote about change being hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end, and I’d say I’m somewhere in the middle with sparkles of light becoming visible from the end,” says Carmen.

“Being on the EMC journey is redolent of dance in some ways. It's almost feeling light and being flexible, dancing to the melody of your favourite song, and having a certain freedom to express yourself.”

The EMC journey has thus far challenged her to test her unconscious bias, and to purposefully know and understand herself better. This has been an exercise in pinpointing her own leadership qualities as she prepares to become an agent of change in her current role, and already, she is seeing the impact of this learning journey in her work. 

“I recently went to Japan to build motivation and alignment with our research department and our strategy and found myself leveraging some of the things the programme has been teaching me: from adaptive leadership to active listening to looking at relations through a psychodynamic lens, and it’s meant we have really been able to unpack their challenges, and to forge trust and the bonds to really bring them onboard around shared objectives.” 

The EMC gave her insights around cultural differences and the self-awareness to avoid typical leadership pitfalls, she says. Without the programme, she would have been more likely to simply go into the team project presenting the strategy as a fait accompli and expecting her colleagues to get onboard. 

"If I hadn’t been wearing my EMC hat, I wouldn’t have had the right mindset to help bring in this ‘win’ mentality that has really brought us together as a team. It’s been tremendously helpful."

The programme has delivered a depth of self-awareness and discovery that has changed her profoundly and probably for the rest of her life, says Carmen. This is a learning experience that has equipped her to better address some of the personal trauma of growing up in communist Romania - the lack of reparation, she says, for the loss of freedom and the repression experienced by generations of Romanians who stayed on or became part of the diaspora, as she did. 

Indeed, this collective trauma became the focus of her EMC thesis, and in interviewing others, the process has empowered her in some way to be a conduit for healing. 

Simultaneously, the EMC has armed her with the insights and techniques to deliver change within systems and within the organisation. 

“In my cohort, we joke that coming out of the EMC we feel like Jedis with superpowers,” she laughs. “And it’s true that now in work when I face a challenge or a problem, I immediately use a psychodynamic lens to see things more deeply and with renewed energy. It’s a continuing journey; so much so that I am looking to pursue more conferences on group dynamics and learning opportunities with my classmates in the future.” 

The friendships and contacts that she has forged on the programme are lifelong, says Carmen; and she remains in close contact with her cohort sharing ideas, challenges and news – a “stream of intellect,” she says, that has evolved into something beautiful and profoundly meaningful. 

Carmen is emerging from her EMC experience with a strong resolve to empower others to drive transformation across cultures and in group dynamics. 

She feels connected to a “deeper purpose,” in this sense. On both a personal and a professional level, she has seen a profound change in her approaches and her relationships. 

"You develop greater empathy for others, and you learn to be that holding environment or sounding board that others need within your organisation or your business, with the raised awareness to meet people wherever they are in their career, and to collaborate more fully around shared purpose”, she says. Carmen is “forever changed” by the EMC experience. 

"Carl Jung said: until you make your unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate, and I think that sums up the INSEAD Executive Master in Change beautifully.”

Carmen Schwender attended the Asia section of the INSEAD Executive Master in Change (EMC), an 18-month part-time programme for senior executives based on the INSEAD Asia campus in Singapore. 

By integrating business education with a range of psychological disciplines, the EMC prepares participants to assume roles in leading organisations, drive individual and organisational development, and successfully execute change management. Download the programme brochure to find out more. 

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