If you don’t want to quit professional life, the GEMBA is one of the most practical programmes to combine with work and family.
Bart Willems

Bart Willems

Bart Willems
Nationality/Passport: Belgian Year of graduation: 2012 Current Role: Group CEO @ OMOA-Group

How did your career lead up to the GEMBA?

I was working in sub-Saharan Africa for the world’s leading chocolate manufacturer and the GEMBA was a kind of a negotiation. I promised to stay one more year in sub-Saharan Africa, provided they paid for an EMBA programme. When you’re away from home as long as I was in Africa, you sometimes need to catch up and stay in touch with the latest business thinking.

Why did you choose INSEAD?

The rankings for one thing. And the modular structure for another. If you don’t want to quit professional life, the GEMBA is one of the most practical programmes to combine with work and family. It’s hard work, of course, particularly at the beginning, which is packed with theory and exams. But as it progresses, the emphasis shifts to reflection and networking.

What impact has the GEMBA had on your career so far?

The careers coaching and the Leadership Development Programme never push you to quit what you’re doing – but really get you to think about your progression.

After the programme, I eventually decided to resign. But also thanks to the programme I didn’t panic. I took a month’s vacation in Mexico and finally networked my way into this new job. It’s with a smaller food company that allows each country to operate independently. We can even develop a product from scratch, if we like. And Algeria is close to Europe, yet a new cultural experience for me. It’s great!

Was the programme what you expected?

The Leadership Development Programme was probably the biggest surprise. By the end of the GEMBA, some of my colleagues and our coach knew me better than some members of my own family. We’re still supporting each other today and see each other whenever we can.

Were there any other surprises?

INSEAD is a top business school full of ambitious talented people. And yet it promotes balance in life. It helped a lot of us to step back, analyse, see the bigger picture and ultimately slow down.

How did you find the professors?

I came from a very classical education system where the teachers keep their distance. At INSEAD, not only did we have the very best professors in their field, but we also built relationships with them. The thing is, they’re not just academics. They know what it means to put their subject into practice.

And what did you make of your peers?

It was amazing to have so much diversity in one classroom. I was able to offer the African perspective, but there were others with the Asian, European, Middle East and American perspective to share as well.

What was your favourite course?

I particularly enjoyed Managing International Enterprises for obvious reasons. But what was good about it was that the professor threw out all the classical approaches and told us to see international companies from a totally different point of view.

What advice would you give new GEMBA participants?

Above all, you need the support of your boss and your partner. And remember that it’s tough for spouses. My wife gave birth during the GEMBA, so I made an effort to stop working early and have dinner with her every night before starting my INSEAD work. It’s also important to be highly organised. If you don’t prepare for each module before you go, you won’t get any sleep on campus!