Episode One: The Start of a Great Journey

Joao Costa

October 2020: I couldn´t picture a better moment to start my Executive MBA.

The timing is perfect both from an individual and market perspective. Portuguese, with 16 years professional experience, half in Telecommunications in Portugal and second half in FMCG abroad, I´ve just been given the opportunity to lead large organisations with significant increase of scope and responsibilities and with many challenges ahead. The INSEAD Global Execute MBA (GEMBA) will help me to further develop my leadership skills and help me to better navigate current and future professional challenges.

From a market perspective, COVID is a serious health crisis but, at the same time, a tremendous business and personal opportunity.

As Albert Einstein said, “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” It will change everything from the way we work, lead and engage with our teams, customers and suppliers. It requires new ways of doing things. It's a new normal and therefore what better moment to learn and improve our capabilities to not only deal with but fully explore this new reality? 

In all honesty my Executive MBA journey started in 2015, when I was living and working in Switzerland as an expat for Phillip Morris International (PMI). I was traveling an average of twice a month from Switzerland to multiple countries across Asia – more than 12 actually! -  to run different projects in PMI Asia affiliates and my agenda was so chaotic and I was so jet lagged that I decided to postpone the start of the programme.

The opportunity came when I was on my next international assignment working for PMI in Belgium and Netherlands in 2018. The first step was to take the GMAT and after getting a 760 score, this was out of the way and significantly helped to be accepted with various scholarships in all top programmes I applied to: INSEAD, Trium (NY Stern + HEC + LSE), Global ASIA (LBS + Columbia + HKU) and Chicago Booth. I must say I was impressed with all these schools, their rigorous selection process, top notch learning programmes, faculty and staff.

But INSEAD stood out. 

It stood out as a truly global school with impressive diversity and a mind-blowing international alumni network. As a very international person myself, with a global career and having lived and worked in various countries across Europe and Asia for the past six years I felt that I would fit right in. I actually met my wife during a business trip in Tokyo, to whom I´m happily married with a three year-old baby girl and a second on the way.

My short global journey so far has shown me how important, mind-opening and enriching it is to experience other cultures.

INSEAD can clearly help me to continue and expand my global journey.

I also really liked the structure and sequence of the programme, and in particular the focus on leadership development. I'm obsessed with learning every day, kind of a Kaizen mindset applied to my own continuous improvement and learning. Throughout my professional and personal journey, I have come to realise how authentic, inspiring and purposeful leadership can move mountains and change the world. In the beginning it's all about technical expertise but as I grew, I understood that although it is very important to master fundamental disciplines, it's the ability to motivate and inspire others that can make a big difference.

The INSEAD GEMBA is designed to help you achieve that next level of leadership.

Last but not least, and as with every big decision and organisation, what really makes the difference is people. And the INSEAD people are top notch and so approachable! It was really surprising when I reached out to INSEAD Alumni. First to two PMI colleagues, Vassilis Gkatzelis and Edgar Nunes, then during the admissions interview in Belgium with Daphne Roussis and a few calls with Christophe Van Ngoc Ty from TIEMBA’17.

Their enthusiasm and positive energy about INSEAD were so clear to me, and the impact it had and still has on their lives – the common expression was: "a life-changing event". 

More recently, the Europe GEMBA'22 class took shape and form, and without surprise and even months before the programme start, we are all connected on every social platform you can think of. We interact, we exchange ideas, we help and advice each other and some local groups mingle physically in various locations such as London and Paris so… voilà! We already feel like a very close family and we can't wait to meet on October 29th in Fontainebleau!

On top of outstanding experiences with Alumni and students, the interactions with the INSEAD recruitment and admissions team was superb.

I can never forget my first one-to-one meeting with an INSEAD "face": 19 February 2019 in Amsterdam with Pierrette Doz-Perdrix.

It made a great impact on me because Pierrette was very emphatic and really helped me to not only understand how INSEAD could help me with my current professional challenges and future ambitions, but also the key differences between the GEMBA Europe and Tsinghua-INSEAD (TIEMBA) programmes.

I truly felt that she was there for me and walked the INSEAD talk! Although I was admitted to start in 2019, another international assignment this time to my current location in Madrid, Spain, made me defer to start in 2020. So for more than one year Pierrette was there, available and advising me all the way. This was super important.

A big thank you also to Teresa Peiro in Admissions who has had all the patience in the world to answer my calls and doubts about anything and everything, especially when COVID came along. Sometimes, I just wanted to hear Teresa say very eloquently and making good use of her Latin DNA "you don’t worry Joao, we will move ahead, nothing can stop us, see you in Fonty!

So I guess it is pretty clear now why I chose INSEAD – how couldn't I?

The time has finally came! In a few weeks I'll be starting the first module on the Fontainebleau Campus. I couldn’t be more excited to start this journey, trying to organise myself at home, at work and of course going through the prep work and readings for the first module, because I really want to make the most out of this one in a lifetime opportunity! Stay tuned!