An Intense Experience Even Before the Start of the Programme

Joëlle Marsot

When I first talked to my husband about pursuing an Executive MBA, it was Autumn 2019. It was not a project; it was an idea thrown in a discussion, an unattainable dream. 

My husband did some research and sent me tons of information to investigate the possibilities of an EMBA. Without him having taken this initiative, I would still have been at the “dream stage”. 

After carefully reviewing different business schools’ offers, I found an evident match with the INSEAD GEMBA approach because of the values the school seemed to carry (diversity and excellence) and the schedule of the programme, which appeared to be compatible with my already busy professional and family agenda. 

Because I was very seduced by INSEAD's value proposition, I decided to only apply to INSEAD, albeit without a high conviction my profile would be of interest or that I would be able to pass the admission process, as I’m law educated with a career mainly spent in HR management. As I like challenges, I tried… 

And then my personal transformation began in an unexpected way. 

First, my INSEAD recruiter and the alumnus I talked to encouraged me to enter the process and convinced me it was achievable. I met inspiring people driven by a sincere and unselfish desire to share their experience and advices. They showed me what I could bring to the programme and how I could inspire others. The INSEAD community was absolutely determined for me to cross the finish line. I faced serious periods of doubt when preparing for the GMAT but my recruiter found the right words at the right moment and introduced me to some alumni and one in particular took me under his wing.

The INSEAD family adopted me even before I was admitted! 

Secondly, to write the essays for the admission, I took a two-weekend introspection pause to reflect on what would be important for me in the next 20 years. I ended up formalising my essays 200% convinced that the GEMBA and INSEAD were THE answer to my career plans: this has been an important step which highly contributed to build my determination and courage to further engage. It became an evidence and my goal. 

But then COVID came into play… I decided to remain focused on preparation for the tests stage and keep the question of COVID’s impact away until I knew whether I was admitted or not. 

I found out I was admitted by a call from my admission officer. It was on 10th June 2020, and I will remember this day for the rest of my life with the same joy and surprise I felt the day I was the first in my family to graduate with honors at the age of 17.

I took two days to reflect on the deferring option. I saw this obstacle as the first learning opportunity offered by the GEMBA – the final test of the admission journey somehow! 

I decided to go ahead and never question the matter again because my professional but also personal experiences teach me that we learn more in tough times, outside our comfort zone and that dealing with ambiguity is one of the most important skills a leader needs to demonstrate.

Because uncertainty is everywhere. Knowing how to manage uncertainty became a crucial skill, but as a competency no longer owned solely by financial modelers and other data scientists. I’m sure the GEMBA courses will help us to deal with complex problems and to make evidence-based choices in ambiguous and adverse times. 

Surprisingly, I feel that COVID has already brought something unexpected to the GEMBA’22 group. A kind of pressing need to gather and build our team before the official launch of the programme as if it was urgent to compensate what COVID may take to us during the journey to come. 

A WhatsApp group for GEMBA’22 was built in early August – we are “talking” every day about our concerns and more importantly, we are sharing tips and tricks, encouragements and new perspectives on each one's problems. The Europe section already organised several virtual meetings: we started at 17 people and were more than 60 at the second. We discussed a lot about COVID and deferring.

That’s how some “observers” finally decided not to defer after a two-hour call during which we debated the positive aspects of being part of the first “100% COVID-aware” GEMBA cohort!

People who are thinking about deferring because of COVID need to consider an important factor: the force and the energy offered by future classmates to face the challenge. 

I have already learned much more than I expected even if the journey hasn't really started. I was expecting, and particularly during COVID and lockdown, that the admission process and the preparation for the first module would be a quite lonely time. Not at all! I was surrounded and supported all the way by my family, the INSEAD teams, the alumni, my classmates. And this is just the beginning of the journey! 

INSEAD offered me its first promise: an intense cross-fertilisation experience even before the programme started