Polishing our soft skills with Charles Bennett

By Ariel Gendelman, Global MBA Luxury Brand Management major 2019-2020

This week, the Luxury Brand Management majors finally had our first meeting with Charles Bennett. Our Strategy & Management counterparts had already had their two sessions, so we were eager for our opportunity to pick up tips and tricks for navigating the ambiguity of professional networking events. We headed to the ESSEC campus at La Défense and filed into the red stadium seating of the cozy classroom, eagerly awaiting the evening before us.

To get things started, Charles asked us to introduce ourselves by stating our names, where we’re from, and a fact that no one knew about us. It was a great reminder that even though we’ve spent the last two months bonding and feel like we’ve known each other for decades, we’ve just barely scratched the surface—there’s always something new to learn about a friend.

After that, we jumped into the good stuff! For starters, Charles urged us to redefine small talk in our minds—instead of treating it like idle chatter, use it as a teaser to entice your audience so they’ll want to know more. By using small talk as a forum to ask open-ended questions, you create the possibility of sparking a deeper conversation. To do this, you must perfect your 30-second pitch by honing in on your USP (Unique Selling Point); the thing that makes your personal brand special.

Everything you do is relevant; you just have to find the way to apply it.

We practiced our pitches on each other, complete with video recordings. Charles explained that we often have little unconscious habits that can put people off, so watching and analyzing videos of ourselves allows us to reflect on how we come across to others.

After making the connection, we were advised to follow up the pitch with a question like:
  • Tell me about your experience in this company. What has been your career path?
  • What has been your experience with this company?
  • What is the mobility like within your organization?
  • What are the current needs of your organization?
  • What are you expecting this current year?

We were given lots of practical advice about everything we’ve been struggling with during our previous networking endeavors: how to enter tightly sealed circles, exit strategies for stale conversations, and guidelines to setting boundaries for those who have none. 

Charles closed the evening with some sage career advice:

Never be afraid to ask for what you want. Remember everyone needs to start somewhere. You are your own unique brand so don’t try to be like anyone else. Don’t be afraid to reach out and always offer value first. 

If you don’t share what you’re bringing to the table, who will?

Dress for Success Workshop with Charles Bennett

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

This week, Charles Bennett conducted his second workshop titled “Dress for Success”. We were happy to have him back to talk to us about key soft skills that MBA participants need for their career development. This time, he focused on the dress code and other codes of conduct in various professional conditions. 

Before the actual workshop, Charles invited everyone to talk something unique about himself or herself. As a group of MBA participants, we are very familiar with each other professionally. Hence, during this exercise, we spoke about our personal interests, hobbies, or anecdotes that we never shared with others before. It was a great moment that allowed us to be more connected with each other with empathy and understanding, after sharing our stories and ideas from our heart. 

After that, Charles moved on to the main topic of the day, the dress code. The dress code “Business Casual” is a frequently-seen required dress code in different professional events such as networking sessions, “Casual Friday”, company dinners, etc. Yet, the actual definition of “business casual” is not well-defined. The challenging part of the definition is that the line between business formal and business informal (or casual) is not clear. The company culture, or the general culture of a country, is unique. The dress code in a company or a country may not be acceptable in another. 

During the workshop, Charles discussed various rules to follow and here are just some takeaways:

  • Our dressing is part of our identity and value. Hence, it is important to be consistent in our dressing and our behavior.
  • Dressing in the correct way is also showing respect to others. 
  • If you are new to an event and curious about the dress code, ask the HR for guidelines. As an alternative, you can always ask and learn the dress code by observing other people at similar events.
  • Over-dressing is always better than under-dressing because it is easier to “downgrade” your dressing rather than “upgrade” it.
  • To match the colour of your dressing/suit is less critical. The golden rule of “business casual” is to dress as close as you can to business formal, but adding your own style. 
  • Looking good does not mean spending lots of money. The trick is to buy something relatively affordable, and get a tailor to make it perfect for you. 
  • Your tie node is important. It is the “face” of your dressing/outfit.

Besides speaking about dress codes, Charles also mentioned various codes in other professional situations and here are some highlights:

  • In France, being polite and formal in emails and phone calls is extremely important. You can only earn respect from others when you respect others in the first place.
  • Whenever your supervisor asks you for a coffee break, go for it. It is a good chance to enhance your professional relationships.
  • Patient is always the key, in both emails and meetings.
  • Always be punctual for any meeting. 
  • Don’t use your mobile phone during meetings.

There are also many questions during the Q&A sessions and Charles answers all of them with his insights. We look forward to meeting him again for the third session.

Integration Week in France | September 2019

Current participants Sarah Chen and Chitra Birole reflect on the Global MBA Integration Week in Chablis and share their key takeaways.

Sarah's Reflections on the Integration Week

This year, the cohort beginning their MBA at ESSEC's France campus, along with some of the alumni, spent 4 days at the scenic countryside of Chablis, Burgundy, in east-central France, a famous region for producing white wine. We felt immensely privileged to have been able to visit the Abbaye de Reigny, the Caves Bailly Lapierre, and the Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard to understand the wine industry more in-depth as a semi-formal introduction to the luxury industry as well as to get to know the French culture better. 

Even more exciting was having Station F professionals join us on our last day for a Sustainability Leadership seminar, where we learned about the triple bottom line and how sustainability impacts all sectors, and gave team presentations on strategies of how to handle PR issues in the luxury industry in connection with sustainability.

Fund Manager & Global MBA alumna Theany Bazet teaching us about
how sustainability plays a role in finance and economics.
The Caves de Bailly Lapierre and the Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard offered us first-hand insights on how the wine industry in the region was developed and how it is run today, the most interesting aspect being how they’re combating weather instability due to climate change and the strategies they’re implementing to stand out in the market (i.e. organic wines, biodynamic wines). We came to learn and appreciate the art and process of winemaking.

Tour led by Julien Brocard at the Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard
The Abbaye de Reigny is a beautiful and historic monument constructed in the 12th century by Cistercian monks as a refuge for other monks coming from neighboring regions; at one point, it hosted over 300 monks and it was them who developed this wine region. Most of our activities took place here, from learning how to play Pétanque (a game/sport born in Provence) to participating in play-pretend auctions, group activities (i.e. strategy games, blind-folded challenges, and barrel rolling competitions), and where we undeniably embarrassed ourselves by performing songs we wrote on the last night we spent at Chablis! All in all, it was a very memorable and fun experience where we got to know our peers better and we can’t wait to see how the year ahead of us unfolds.

Chitra's Key Takeaways from the Integration Week

1. You need to understand the person more than understanding his/her language.
During the week, I had the opportunity to work with people from several nationalities with whom I have never had the chance to interact with before. Initially, it was a little challenging to understand their thoughts and approach to certain problems. However, as opposed to many networking events I attended in the past, this experience made me realize how taking the time to understand the person is so important in exchanges with others. This practice also made us aware of everyone’s natural leadership style.

2. Focusing on improvement
When we were given tasks such as barrel-making and blindfold driving, all we had to do was focus on giving our 100%. We learned the power of unity. It taught me how we could make a great team of completely different people work just by understanding the objectives of the task and the strengths of each individual. Even in our victories, we could have done some things better.

3. Look out for each other
Working as a team through several activities, we learned that we all had our individual strengths and weaknesses. We leveraged our strengths to the advantage of the team but we also ensured that we covered for each other. For example, some from the team were great in creativity and some were stronger in analytical thinking We made sure that every team member is encouraged and supported. We learned that every individual is answerable to the sustainability of environment. We must work in a team to create the beautiful world for our next generations.

Into the Wild

By Mia Cara Mendoza, Global MBA Student Ambassador 2019 – 2020, Strategy & Management Major, Singapore

The ESSEC Global MBA 2020 cohort went on a one-of-a-kind learning experience that took us to the jungles in Northern Sumatra.

After an early morning flight from Changi airport and a 4-hour van ride through the bumpy roads of Indonesia, we arrived at Bukit Lawang. Bukit Lawang is a tourist village located on the edge of Gunung Leuser National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the Sumatran orangutan. Racing through the village is the river Bohorok, where locals and tourists alike can take a leisurely swim or ride on a tube through the river’s rapids. The winding streets were lined with a mix of jungle foliage, small inns and restaurants, tourist shops, and glimpses of the Bohorok river. Our group carried our luggage on a 10-minute mini hike through the village until we reached our home for the next four days – Hotel Orangutan.

The ESSEC – Hotel Orangutan team wasted no time to kickstart our Jungle Innovation experience. After settling in and having lunch, we immediately dived into to our first workshop on Design Thinking. Here, we were taught to reframe our problem-solving minds and focus on being human-centric. Over the next few days, we would be living in and experiencing Bukit Lawang in the way the locals and visitors do. We were challenged to talk to the different people we meet, learn as much as we can, and come up with an innovative solution on how to make Bukit Lawang more successful.

ESSEC also arranged for us to meet with DBS’s former Chief Innovation Officer and the owner of Hotel Orangutan, Neal Cross. Neal is considered as one of the most disruptive CIOs in the world; and, within minutes of meeting him, we could tell that a passion for learning and a drive to do things differently was ingrained in him. Neal talked about his unconventional background – coming from years of martial arts training. He shared with us that what he learned then – and all his experiences since then – he takes with him wherever he goes. Whether it’s in the boardroom or in the jungle, Neal challenged us to find learning opportunities in every situation and to never limit ourselves to what we think a certain field of knowledge should be. He told us to never call ourselves an “expert”, because that means we already know all there is to know. And that’s never the case.

Jungle Trek

Our second day was dedicated to exploring Bukit Lawang and its most visited attraction – the jungle. We went on a 6-hour hike through Gunung Leuser National Park; and, with the help of our guides, we were able to spot different species of monkeys, birds, as well as the endangered Sumatran orangutan. Coming from a big city to being in the jungle made us realize that it can be so easy to forget that we share our world with many other living things. Seeing these creatures in their natural habitat was beautiful and inspiring, and allowed us to experience nature in a totally different way.

Our guides were so at home in the jungle. They shared with us their tidbits of knowledge that they learned over years of experiencing the jungle and its inhabitants first-hand. They spoke about the environment with much respect and reverence. The jungle was an integral part of Bukit Lawang’s community, and you could feel that the locals knew and appreciated that.

We capped off our jungle trek with a refreshing swim in the river and a trip down the rapids heading back towards Hotel Orangutan. Before ending the day, we took our new jungle knowledge and combined it with insights we gained from talking with locals and tourists both in the jungle and in the village. We were ready for the next day’s Jungle Innovation challenge.

No More Monkey Business – Time to Get Serious

In the process of Design Thinking, we were taught that it’s difficult but important to learn how to let go of your initial good idea and pivot to something new – especially if the stakeholder research points you in that direction. It was vital for us to keep remembering whose problem are we solving, what are their considerations, and how would they use our solution. People. People. People. They are the center of our ideas, and our groups had to tweak, adjust, and refine our solutions to better address their concerns.

We ended up with one group pitching a platform to push ecotourism in Bukit Lawang and another group developing a program to empower the locals to play a bigger part in improving their economic situation. Two powerful and interesting ideas centered on the same goal – how to make Bukit Lawang more successful. At the end, we learned that every proposal has its loopholes and even great ideas can still have a lot to improve on. Our workshop facilitators gave excellent feedback on our pitch and our overall discussion strategy that made the exercise that much more enriching. 

Bonding & Building Blocks

The journey we undertook to discover Bukit Lawang and meet the people involved in making it what it is was a one-of-a-kind experience that our MBA cohort now shares with one another. The lessons and memories that we took from this trip was an excellent foundation on which we’ll build the next 12 months. ESSEC showed us that learning doesn’t just take place in the classroom and that we can draw insight and learning from everywhere.

Enjoy this short video clip prepared by Lemuel Chua, GMBA Student Ambassador 2019-2020: HERE