Diving Into a Changing World

 by Catherine Villarosa, Global MBA Ambassador 2020-2021 | Strategy & Digital Leadership Singapore Track 

As a class, the ESSEC GMBA Cohort of 2021 was faced with the difficult decision of pursuing our degrees during a time of great uncertainty. The entire world was put on pause until a cure was found for COVID-19, with the billions of people around the globe left uncertain even of what the next day would bring. Until then, we needed to make do with what we could. Yet, despite knowing the upcoming challenges, the seventeen of us still decided to go for it. Changes were happening left and right, and even though there were times we felt lost, we realised how much this reflected the world that was coming: a new, different, and constantly changing world that we were still preparing to dive into. 

To begin, the journey to Singapore was a long road; with over half of the class struggling to enter the country, the whole class adjusting to the new blended online-offline learning environment, and the entire community striving to make the most out of what was possible. And for the first time, the cohort’s team building and integration activity was held after the first term closed; when, normally, it is intended for the first week of classes to help us build a strong foundation for the upcoming twelve months. But after working together for three months, I have found that even though the physical and temporal differences made it difficult to build that foundation, it was the shared experience of going through the struggles and having the hopefulness in a better tomorrow that truly brought our class together--and our team building activity helped cement it.

On the 14th and 15th of December, we took part in a two-day programme that allowed us to experience teamwork through out-of-the box tasks, different perspectives through culinary delights, and a sense of community and appreciation of the MBA journey through alumni talks over dinner with a beautiful view of Singapore.

We began our activities on the first day with Focus Adventure with a light breakfast and brief introduction and expectation-setting session: with some key ones being to have fun, make great memories, and make sure everyone was safe. We had a quick, multi-round icebreaker which had us learn our friends’ favourite colour, food, and country to visit. This went on for one round, where we traded as many name tags as we could by passing on what we learnt onto the next person we met. The second round was us passing back the name tag to the owner by correctly naming all three favourites. The final round involved a heavy round of competition between two random teams, where a curtain was put up in the middle, and the first team to correctly identify all three favourites would win the set, and the winner would take the person from the other team onto their side. This went on until one team won.

Our next activity was to build a working raft that would keep us afloat to complete a series of tasks. However, we weren’t going to be spoon-fed for our materials; we had to earn our materials through a blind minesweeper game, where we had to collect a specific number coloured balls that would represent each item that we needed to build our raft. The catch was: our team could only lead us through the field by using only animal sounds!

After successfully collecting everything we needed, each team was challenged to come up with a workable design that would be able to hold two team members who would operate the craft on the water towards a defined point, and would take it back to shore after. We would need to do this three times, and in between, we had to complete three sub-tasks as well. The first was to complete seven rounds of team juggling, the second to do a coordinated jump rope effort for ten rounds, and finally, to disassemble the raft in the most efficient and organised way possible.

Following this, lunch was served, and we had another icebreaker to re-energise us for the next activity of the day, which was to build a bicycle. Teams were given parts, manuals, and guides to assemble, and needless to say, it was an effort that required communication, teamwork, as well as both precision and trial and error. Throughout the allotted time for assembly, all teams were forced to stop working, and would only be able to continue once we completed specific tasks.

Apart from this, teams were also challenged to creatively present their bicycles through a short five-minute presentation. It was here that we learnt that the bicycles were to be donated to children in need, and upon learning this, all teams began to put greater effort into ensuring that the assembly was correct. In parallel, the teams began to prepare the presentation content; which ranged from lighthearted, superhero stories to inspirational, but humorous stories about chasing after their dreams (and ending with a dance for successfully reaching them!).

The day ended with a wrap-up of going through our expectations, as well as a time for special recognition for and from our teammates. The day was certainly tiring, but very rewarding, as the entire class had learnt how important teamwork, communication, and respect for one another is in achieving a common goal. This was especially true for our cohort, which is a diverse group of individuals from different backgrounds and nationalities. While a small, close-knit group, we realised we had so much more to learn from one another, and that this was just really the beginning.

On the second day, we kick-started our whole-day culinary adventure with Hello! Singapore’s signature food tours. The trip began in the East Coast at Soon Soon Huat’s famous curry puff, which instantly became one of the group’s favourite delights. There, we tried and learnt about the differences among local kopi and teh drinks and how to order them according to our taste preferences. 

Our next stop was at Kim Choo Kueh Chang, which is a Peranakan heritage shop specialising in nyonya (rice) dumplings, nyonya kueh (traditional cakes), and other snacks. Apart from this, the shop also has several souvenirs available such as batik and other handicrafts, and even has a special archive on the second floor featuring Peranakan articles and artifacts celebrating its unique cultural heritage and value. The archive contains items like traditional ceramics, textiles, shoes, jewellery, clothing, art, and furnishings, and we were also treated to a brief tour from the family who has been running the business for two generations.

After this, we were off to try Katong Laksa at Roxy Centre, which I was unfortunately unable to try due to allergies, but according to the others, the taste was different from the other laksa they had tried in the past. Laksa is a traditional Peranakan spicy-sour soup dish with rice, wheat, or vermicelli noodles in a base of coconut milk, curry, or both in the soup.  As we were told, there are several versions of this “original laksa”, but that this one is the most famous one. 

Next, we headed over to the Bugis area and went to Albert Food Centre, which was filled with plenty of choices for lunch time. Our group was full by this time, but that didn’t stop us from trying out a variety of dishes and drinks, as well as some ice-based desserts that were perfect for the hot afternoon that day.

To walk off the morning’s calories, we explored a little more around the area in Bugis by briefly looking around in the open markets, as well as observing the temples from the outside. After this, we continued on with our tour and stopped by the Kampong Glam area, and explored a little of both the Malay Heritage Centre and Haji Lane’s colourful street before trying out some mubarak and prata for a quick break before our final stop in Little India, where we had our last dish of the day, which was dosa.

Even though it was just one day, I was very happy to have been able to explore some of Singapore’s rich cultural diversity, and it was great to have been able to do this through food. I believe there is so much to be learnt and appreciated through food, as there is so much depth behind what one can see on one’s plate. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to understand the history, appreciate the culture, and experience everything through the various flavours, textures, and aromas on this day.

Finally, we were treated to a wonderful evening with a gorgeous view of Singapore for a special dinner with some of our alumni, who offered stories about their experiences after getting their degree, and advice to our questions about life after the programme. 

Despite only being here for three months, I can say that it has definitely been a valuable period of learning, not just for me, but also for the entire cohort. Our first term was not what we expected when we decided to embark on our MBA journey, but we are all moving forward nonetheless. Our paths are all different, but at the same time, we are going through similar challenges. What these past days have taught me is that while the journey may be difficult, what matters is knowing what motivates you, understanding what you can do to make things happen, and learning to work with others through extending your understanding of them with empathy and respect so that you can achieve your common goals.

2020 has certainly been a year unlike any other. Amidst all the challenges and significant changes brought about, we have seen how just one event can have such a profound impact on our lives. We have understood for ourselves how change must take place through both thoughts and actions. And we have experienced how valuable, and wonderful it is for people to come together and work tirelessly towards healing the world. With everything that has happened so far, I am grateful for the opportunity to be with this group, and I am personally very excited as to how our own stories, experiences, skills, dreams, and passions will shape our journey and transformation towards becoming our best selves.


Enjoy the short video clip here: 

Jia Lynn, student of Luxury Brand Management track shares her experience on the collaboration for a study on Shanghai Luxury buyer market

  1. What's your story? 

I am from Shanghai , I always lived in Shanghai before I moved to Paris. For most of the women in my country, turning 30 feels like the biggest milestone ever, and for me, starting my MBA in Luxury Brand Management at ESSEC Business School as the cherry on the top of this new decade. 

I have worked in the Luxury industry for almost 5 years. In my previous experience at Tod’s and  Stella McCartney, I know I learnt a lot and the experience was enriching but there was always something missing, and I knew I needed to find that something, and this MBA seemed to be my missing link and pushed me to quit my comfortable job, to take up this challenge.

  1. Tell us about the project you worked on and why was it so close to your heart? 

I worked on a project in collaboration with Spark Ideas LLC to find out what’s the impact of Covid-19 on the sentiment and behavioral change among luxury women shoppers in Shanghai. Our first mission was to identify the Shanghai women who are luxury shoppers and willing to participate in this study because this was different from a regular Q&A type of survey. The idea was to go deeper and engage with these women which was time consuming for them and hence we needed full commitment. 

And as I’m a native Shanghainese and a luxury insider, I was sure that no one else could’ve been a better fit to pursue this project. The project ran smoothly and very quickly we finished all the recruitment and went on the study part. I gained some fresh perspective as I moderated the case and was directly talking to the different women and I learnt a lot about the Shanghai luxury market, which is always going to serve as a great asset to me for the future. At the same time, it was also challenging to work in a global set up with the different time zones, since Malinda, the founder of Spark LLC was in New York, I was in Paris and our participants were far away in Shanghai, but that was the fun of it and we managed to complete the study in one month. It was truly an unforgettable experience.

  1. How did you find this opportunity? And what are your key takeaways from this experience? 

Picture : Soft skill session before their networking soiree

All this goes back to the beginning of march, when Covid-19 hadn’t hit us yet and we had one of our “Get-Out-of-Cergy” networking soirees, organized by ESSEC,  where we get the opportunity to network not only network with fellow students, alumni but also Industry experts and that’s where I met Malinda, the Founder of Spark Ideas LLC. We had no discussion about the project then, but we had a swift and engaging conversation. One week later, thanks to our director, Patti Brown,  we learnt that she is looking for someone from Asia and with an understanding of the Asian market (specifically Shanghai)  for their opinion of their new mobile platform, and I readily accepted and caught up with her very quickly. We hit it off instantly and she asked me if I would be interested to join them for a case-study on Shanghai Luxury market and I am so happy that I  kept an open mind and was willing to take it up as this was a great experience overall.  

  1. Tell us about your present experience during the MBA?

I still remember that one year ago, when I chose ESSEC as my final choice, I knew it was a great decision as we would have a lot of opportunities to connect with luxury brands, and it turned out to be a lot more than just that.

Thanks to our career services director Anthea Davis, for the  savoir-faire sessions every two weeks, visits such as the Hermes scarf factory in Lyon, the Atelier Lesage with Chanel, and VCA jewelry workshop among others. I wouldn’t have had them anywhere else as the heritage that ESSEC Business school brings along cannot be replicated.

Back in the class, I was still amazed by how diverse our cohort is, it’s always good to learn from others and their culture. And I’m glad that we could have some professors who not only had the knowledge of the luxury industry but also the rich experience from the real business world which helped us understand the practical business implications as well.

We never get bored as there was always something to do be it the capstone project, the different networking events. We met a lot of people, not just alumni but also the different industry experts from varied industries with different professional & ethical backgrounds and Patti, our director was always training us and finding the best people to train us to approach these experts in the most professional way. I learnt a lot and I am still learning and this MBA has been a life changing experience ! 

Station F - The world’s largest startup facility!

By Visakh Ram, ESSEC Global MBA 2019-2020 Strategy & Management major

Station F has its name derived from a former rail freight depot called La Halle Freyssinet, which was remodeled into the present-day Station F. The facility expands over 34000 square meters and houses around 1000 startups.

Station F’s partners include:

  • Facebook, 
  • LVMH, 
  • Google 
  • Microsoft
  • among other big names.

Our ESSEC #GlobalMBA students got an opportunity to visit this enormous campus and got a chance to interact with the leaders of some brilliant and innovative start-ups.

The day started with expert talks from the Station F program called founder’s club. Most of these ideas already received funding from investors. The first speech was by Marc Prempain who is the founder of Vibe. The company focuses on Tech support through video conferencing. Then we had Blaise from Nyctale, a blockchain and business intelligence firm, Simo from an apple refurbished products company (RefurbMe) and Dan from a video classifieds company (Pop Eye) explaining us their vision for their respective companies. It was amazing to see their passion and energy to discover and solve real world problems.

In a program modelled around the popular show the Dragon’s Den, we had to listen to pitches from 8 start-ups from the Station F program called the Fighter’s program.

·       The first pitch was by Yama on SensAi, the startup he created so that he could help teach boxing to kids from Afghanistan, his home country
·       Chanssee is a startup created to give amateur footballers a chance to be seen. It connects them with mentors and football clubs
·       Montasser spoke how he would like to revolutionize the online job searching and recruitment industry by advanced location-based matching in Handy Catch
·       Lovel knew that the biggest problem of the online dating world is ice-breaking. Lovel solves this by creating challenges based on interest to let its member connect quickly with their dates.
·       How many of the expatriates and tourists are scared to visit a Doctor in France because of the language barrier? Do you think too many? Alia Tech tries to solve this very problem with its advance translation system optimized for Medical context.
·       Are you a musician who wants to book a studio at affordable prices or a studio manager who wants to avoid ‘no-shows’ after booking? BookMyStudio is there for the rescue
·       MyShowPass is a startup that help create a subscription to let you enjoy more concerts, expos and spectacles at affordable prices
·       Sometimes it’s better if someone else could tell your crush that you are a good match for him or her. Josh could become that someone. The app gives anonymous suggestions to help you out.

While most start-ups decide to talk or present, there was one which found another way of pitching – Food! Meet my mama served delicious Iranian food during the cocktail. The startup trains and brings together woman skilled at cooking to deliver great food.

We went across the amazing campus. Some of us even have plans to become Entrepreneurs or work for companies at the Station-F.  It was a great visit. Thank you ESSEC, along with Carina and Yama for organizing this.

Takeaways from our Entrepreneurship Course

What is entrepreneurship? Is it for me? How do you assess the potential of an idea? How to develop your idea into a $1M opportunity? How do you develop a business plan? How can you be an entrepreneur in a corporate environment? Should passion be the main factor motivating you, or is there a point to stop? How do you run a business with a small budget?
These are a few of the questions which the course on Entrepreneurship by Prof. Jan Lepoutre helped us to answer.

The course started with everyone talking about their previous entrepreneurial experiences. Entrepreneurship is not just about establishing a new business; it’s about exploring an opportunity, learning in the process of doing and managing risks simultaneously. Running a successful business is not just based on chance or luck. Failures or hurdles are the part of the process and one should know how to tackle and implement appropriate contingency plans.

Developing an entrepreneurial mindset - Keeping the ultimate goal in mind
We learned that entrepreneurial thinking is effectual as one needs to imagine possible new ends using a given set of means. If there is an unexpected situation, then turning that into an opportunity serves well. The goal is to maximize profit for the whole value chain (all the people involved), not for an individual to whom the idea belongs or who stated it.

Always trying to put things to action is the best way to ascertain your ideas and helps you understand the feasibility and viability of the plan. Therefore, start with whatever resources are available in terms
of knowledge, competencies, budget, and network. When it comes to business, risk is a huge part of pursuing anything new. One should know how to manage that risk over time. Uncertainty could be managed by talking about ideas.

Importance of your network
Another observation from the course was that your network plays an important role as through these connections one could leverage the knowledge they could offer, expand collaborations, and grow further.

Anything is possible!
From the ideation stage of trying to find a need of an expat in France, we learned that it doesn’t take many resources to start with something. There were various needs like finding a hairdresser familiar with your taste, finding people with similar cultural backgrounds to connect with, getting things from your home country which are difficult to find here, etc. I am inspired by the abundance of opportunities out there.

We also had an opportunity to interview some successful entrepreneurs. The common learning was that all of them started with the minimum resources available and were able to successfully grow
because they pursued regardless of the hurdles by figuring out ways to make things work.

From learning about how to gather resources for running a business to how a powerful pitch should clearly state the concept and consequence, the course covered everything. It’s important to emphasize how the idea creates value.

To conclude, I would say that the course has been a surprising and inspirational journey. It has pushed me to pursue something cause close to my heart in the future.

We would like to thank Professor Jan Lepoutre for making the course interactive and insightful.
#ESSECGMBAExperience #MBACareers

Interview Practice Sessions in the ESSEC Global MBA

By Terrence Huang Yu, ESSEC Global MBA Strategy & Management major 2019-2020

Interviews are one of the most important aspects of the job search. The key to success in interviews is mainly about how to present yourself and your strengths, knowing the company well, and demonstrating how you can bring value to the role.

As part of the Global MBA at ESSEC, there is significant training and coaching on the career aspect offered by the school. One of them is a training on interview skills. There are several rounds of interview trainings, where we practice the general interview, the fit interview, the case interview, and salary negotiation.

Marie-Laure Dahan, our Career Services Consultant, manages the Career Services activities and initiatives for Global MBA participants, and also gives several workshops on various topics. During her seminar on interview skills, she went through the skills and tips for various forms of interviews including online interviews, group interviews, assessment centers and so on.

To prepare for an interview, there are several steps:

  • Know yourself and your values
  • Research the company
  • Practice the interview with your peers and professionals
  • Prepare your attire and know what to bring on that day

After the interview, it is always good to send a follow-up note thanking the interviewers for their time.

In terms of fit questions, one of the best strategies to answer them is the STAR approach, meaning situation, task, action and result.

  • Situation: Describe the situation you were in or the task you needed to accomplish
  • Task: Describe the challenges and expectations.
  • Action: Elaborate on the specific action you took.
  • You then conclude with Results.

Many candidates often forget to mention the results. However, the results are very important. The interviewer wants to see what you've achieved, in order to assess the value you can bring to the company. A solid record of past achievements is a huge competitive advantage.

Besides the interview skills training sessions, there are also mock interview sessions with recruiters from the industry. After the session, the recruiter gives us feedback on our performance with regard to five criteria:

  • Business attire/Grooming
  • Posture/Body Language/Eye Contact/Smile
  • Enthusiasm/Energy
  • Clarity/Conciseness/Structure
  • Concrete/Specific Arguments & Facts

The interviewer will also give feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the interviewee. These comments are very valuable for my future interviews. I enjoy such activities and my career plan has become clearer after all these exercises.