Tell me your story, Daniela
The INSEAD Women in Business Club have launched a « Tell your story » initiative across both the Singapore and Fontainebleau campuses that aims to present the current INSEAD MBA female students’ inspirational life-stories. This is the story of Daniela Mordetzki, MBA '17D. Original story published here.
Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself?
My name is Daniela Mordetzki and I am just about to graduate from INSEAD, Class of December 2017. I grew up in Uruguay and the United States, and later spent a decade in Israel before moving to France to pursue my MBA.
In my last role prior to INSEAD, I worked as a management consultant at a leading Israeli consulting firm. I have experience in strategy development and performance improvement projects, and have led complex change management processes in several industries. My background is in Industrial Engineering, but I seem to also love making slides and will be doing much more of that post-INSEAD! I will be joining a global strategy consulting firm in London and looking forward to the challenges ahead.
What have been highlights and challenges of your journey so far?
Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to improve the way the world works, and my journey has been all about finding opportunities to solve interesting problems and make a lasting impact in people’s lives. My career journey began when I left Uruguay at 19, enthralled by Israel’s entrepreneurial spirit and the challenge of a university exchange with one of the world’s most demanding engineering schools. I wanted to see the world and seized this opportunity for high-level training and independence in a foreign country, despite the programme being taught in a language I barely knew.
The experience brought out the best in me - I found that I flourish in uncharted territory, and learning to read new environments quickly and hit the ground running have proven invaluable as a professional. I eventually fit in so comfortably that I decided to stay, and it was this same drive and adaptability that led me to consulting and later to INSEAD. It’s been a privilege to apply these tools to new projects and clients in my work, always in wildly different settings - from industrial control valves, to boutique wines, to electrical consumer goods and solar energy plants. I love that my projects are always different, and that there are unimaginable worlds behind the most unexpected sectors.
Did you encounter stereotypical behaviors in your environment while growing up or in your career? If yes, could you elaborate?
Yes and no. I have little patience for stereotypical attitudes against women, and find no stronger motivator than to be told there’s something I can’t do. I’ve been fortunate to have had strong allies and mentors, who have pushed me to excel regardless of the circumstances, and to whom I owe a great deal of my success. From my earliest memories, seeking excellence and knowledge has been a pillar of who I am, and one that I follow with all my spirit, no matter who suggests otherwise. I’ve found myself a triple minority in more instances than I can count, as a young woman in a foreign culture, running projects in difficult environments. I have always found it to my advantage, and have let my work and composure speak for themselves.
What are the skills that you find particularly helpful in mitigating and resolving conflicts? Can you give an example of when and how you used these skills?
I find it helpful to face conflicts with empathy, checking that initial instinct to put my defenses up and go to battle. Resistance takes many forms, and I feel that we’re often so focused on getting over the obstacle that we lose opportunities to create value. Especially when there’s an imbalance of power, I find that I’m much more successful when my energy is focused on understanding the other party thoroughly, instead of wondering whether I’m doing it right or not.
A few examples come to mind, but none more than one client I needed to persuade to work with me a few years ago. He was fundamentally opposed to the changes I was promoting and refused to speak with me, or frankly, with anyone else. As much as I was planning to win him over with compelling arguments, all I could do was sit and let him vent, patiently hearing his tirades over the course of several meetings. To an outsider looking in, he was clearly walking all over me.
At one point, however, something shifted. I had been listening quite well, and could now understand, under all the noise, what was driving the injustice. The road ahead would still be difficult, but I had been allowed a window into the levers that pulled at his truly important concerns, and spoke to his underlying interests. When I reflect on this experience, it sounds simple to say that listening and humility were key. They were, however, the first solid step to building a bridge, and have been essential tools that have enabled me to forge partnerships and unlock positive organisational change.
What was the most helpful advice that has ever been given to you?
There’s a wonderful quote from Mario Benedetti, a Uruguayan writer and poet, that says something like this: “When we thought we knew all the answers, suddenly, all the questions changed.” The advice is to focus on the right questions, not the answers, before someone changes them for you.
What triggered the move to INSEAD?
A sense of adventure and freedom. The move to INSEAD felt like a natural choice, as tough as it was to make the move. I wanted to fill academic gaps, gain new skills, and felt that INSEAD’s multicultural environment was the best fit for my own background. I was also very much looking for the experience : a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stop time and reflect, make true friendships, find connections in unexpected places. Most of us here have trouble answering where we’re from, and often feel more at home at INSEAD than anywhere else in the world. This past year has been all of that and more. I also couldn’t have done it without the support of my husband, who came with me to Fontainebleau as a partner and kept me grounded as I went through the journey. I couldn’t be more grateful.
If you had to name one take-away or lesson learnt from INSEAD, what would it be?
That there are worlds outside our comfort zones that can only be reached by linking arms with others on the same journey. INSEAD at the beginning was incredibly exciting — the diversity of students, outstanding professors, travel opportunities, and more. Now that the MBA is sadly drawing to a close, I feel that we’re focused on other things — appreciating the connections we’ve made, getting ready to say goodbye, slowly beginning the transition back into the real world. To me, this part of the MBA has felt like the best one — it’s grounding, a bit more somber, and has deeply reminded me of what I wanted to achieve here.
If you had a chance to have dinner with someone dead or alive, who would that be? What is the one question you would like to ask him/her?
I recently attended an INSEAD Women in Business event in Paris, and had the incredible opportunity to hear Hélène Ploix share her story. Hélène is one of the first two women admitted to the INSEAD MBA programme as members of the class of 1968, and INSEAD has been celebrating 50 years of this tremendous milestone. While it was a privilege to hear her speak, I would love the opportunity to get to know her better — and would ask her what has kept her going in moment of self-doubt, or when nothing in her future was clear.
Could you name one book that had an impact on you?
This one is difficult, both because I love to read and because I have a terrible tendency to forget about books I’ve read! However, there are a few that have stood the test of time. I first read Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ when I was 15, and it had a profound impact on how I saw the world around me, as well as the foundation of my dreams and behaviour. I’m not necessarily a fan of dystopian novels, but this one is excellent — and one that made me fundamentally consider the architects that design the world we live in, and the contexts in which we make our decisions.
What is your definition of success?
My definition of success keeps evolving, and rightfully so. I’ve spent quite some time reflecting on what rings true for me today, and what version of success truly answers my own aspirations. One view is, for me, the ability to teach — finding myself in the position where I’ve become an expert in my field and can develop and impart knowledge. More than money and power, I would be honored to have gained wisdom, and the chance to pass it onto others to make a difference in the world. Not necessarily in an academic setting, I have always found teaching and mentoring immensely challenging and rewarding, and would consider it a profound symbol of success.
Daniela Mordetzki is a '17D INSEAD MBA candidate. She grew up in Uruguay and the United States, and later spent ten years in Israel, where she studied Industrial Engineering and worked as a consultant. She moved to Fontainebleau with her husband and cat, and loves learning languages, vegetarian food, and traveling with the smallest possible carry-on luggage.