Archive for ‘Class of 2018’

30 March 2017

Five MBA students just made it clear why Italy is known as il bel paese (the beautiful country). Determined to go beyond the pasta and pizza stereotypes typical to their homeland, the students—Federico Mussini, Alessio Scipione, Tancredi Fichera, Francesco Iannelli and Joonatan Portman—created two events for last week’s Italian Professional and Cultural Week that showcased the best of Italy.

The results were truly unforgettable.

The first evening focused on “Business Leadership in a Time of Disruption” using a TED Talk format. Five experts from Italian businesses came to the HEC Paris campus to share their experiences about everything from opening the first gelato franchise in France (Amorino co-founder Paolo Benassi) to taking advantage of the American automobile-industry crisis (Fiat Chrysler Group’s Jerome Monce).

“Coming from Singapore, I never had much exposure to Italian companies,” says Kuan-Hung Liu, MBA ’18. “Before hearing from these CEOs, I didn’t really have the impression that Italy was at the center stage of Europe in terms of business. It was quite an eye-opening event.”

The next evening provided students a chance to mingle with those same business leaders in the striking environment of the Italian Cultural Institute. Located in the 7th Arrondisement in Paris, the stately 18th century building once served as the Italian embassy, regularly hosting notables such as Napoléon Bonaparte and the legendary French writer Chateaubriand.

During Friday night’s event, our MBA students networked with more than 70 professionals from a variety of Italian businesses and institutions, including Giandomenico Magliano, the Italian Ambassador to France, and representatives from Italian Executives in Paris.

“It was a huge success,” says Melinda Aulie, MBA ’18. “Canapés and Campari aside, I had the chance to hang out with my classmates in an unusually elegant setting, practice a little Italian, and get the inside scoop about a company I was interested in from one of the Italian guests. Hats off to the ragazzi who made it happen!”


As part of Italian Culture Week, several of the country’s most prestigious business leaders came to campus to speak to our students about how to lead in a time of disruption.

Here’s what we learned:

 

Read next
27 March 2017

Varad Deshpande wants to increase his business skills before expanding his restaurant chain

portrait Varad Desphande

Varad Deshpande, MBA ’18

Varad Deshpande likes to dreams big. The HEC Paris MBA student was only 19 years old when he co-founded his business, after realizing the potential in an egg seller’s cart parked across from his undergraduate business school.

“Even though they served only two or three different egg dishes, it was really popular,” Varad explains. “I went there with my best friend, and we waited over a 1/2-hour to be served. The customers were mostly men around 18-25 years old. For instance, my friend’s girlfriend wouldn’t go there – women didn’t feel it was the cleanest place to eat. That’s when I sensed a need. Why not create an egg specialty restaurant that caters to everyone?”

Two partners and seven years later, Varad’s restaurant Yolkshire has grown into a three-location franchise in India. Though someone else has taken over as CEO during his studies, Varad still reviews the weekly sales figures. From his dorm room on the HEC Paris MBA campus, he remains ultimately responsible for the breaking and cooking of an estimated 2,400 eggs every week.

“Everything that we prepare is exclusive; our recipes aren’t the type of egg dishes you would cook at home,” he said. “That’s the concept. Our menu features egg recipes from all over the world—Lebanon, Mexico, France.”

But even as Yolkshire’s popularity grows in India, Varad is thinking bigger. He envisions a multinational chain, on par with McDonalds. “Why not?” the 26-year-old says. “The food we serve is better. I think having one in every city would be a realistic dream.”

To reach that goal, Varad enrolled in the HEC Paris MBA last September.

“I can try something new in my company today, and if it doesn’t work, I can always go back to what we were doing before,” he says. “That’s very easy. But I want to expand – imagine that I’m running a thousand outlets. I can’t take risks in the same way I’ve been doing – I have to look at marketing; I have to look at strategy and all the other things that come with it. That is perspective which I will gain only by coming to a school like HEC Paris.”

Despite his current passion for business, Varad didn’t always dream of making it big as a restaurateur. As a child, another idea consumed him: becoming a top-ranked tennis player. “I saw Sampras, Federer, Nadal; they inspired me,” he says. “As a nine-year-old, I started playing with the goal of being number one.”

The original Yolkshire is located in Pune, India.

The original Yolkshire is located in Pune, India.

Growing up, sports took priority over school for Varad. At his peak, he ranked 43rd in all of India, and was playing in international tournaments.

But at 17 years old, the realization struck that he, most likely, wasn’t good enough to be the next Federer. “I had to make a decision,” he says. “I don’t have the build of a typical tennis player, and I didn’t want to be a coach. So I stopped playing tennis and enrolled in the local business school in Pune.”

And the rest is business history. But now that he’s made the decision to do his MBA, is it possible that his dream might change once again?

Varad says that anything is possible. For the moment though, he remains dedicated to improving his restaurant acumen. He tries one new Parisian restaurant every week, and revels in having the time to reflect on what he’s already accomplished.

One of many exotic egg dishes

One of many exotic egg dishes

“All my professional life has been about getting up at 6 am and doing things,” he says. “It was not about taking things in, or learning something new that day. Running a business takes a lot of energy, but it doesn’t actually help you to grow as a person, to reflect on what you have achieved. That is something I am doing at the HEC Paris MBA. In one year here, I think you grow more than you otherwise would in three or four years. It’s about being here with the other students, and the discussions that you have with them.”

“Being a part a team, interacting and persuading each other – that is the most important part of what I am learning here at HEC. Leading people who have an opinion—maybe a different opinion that is as valid as yours—that is where I’m being challenged today.”

After graduation from the HEC Paris MBA, Varad would like to experience working in the restaurant industry in Europe before expanding his operation in India. After that, he says to watch for a Yolkshire restaurant coming to a town near you.

Read next
20 March 2017

watercolor map of world

In front of a filled-to-capacity classroom, Othmane Khelil is describing the start of the Arab Spring. “After Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire, the people of Tunisia moved to a clear message: ‘We want freedom, we want dignity’,” he says, switching from a photo of the emblematic Tunisian vegetable seller to one of a massive street demonstration.

What is most interesting about this presentation isn’t the vivid images, or Othmane’s impassioned insights into the Arab Spring’s impact on Tunisia up until the present day. Instead, it’s the fact that as an MBA student from Tunisia, Othmane is speaking firsthand about events that rocked his homeland.

Using students as a powerful source of information about their own countries is the crux of a new speaker series organized by the HEC Paris MBA’s International Affairs Society (IAS). The brown-bag sessions, held Tuesdays at lunchtime, allow students to learn about geopolitical issues from their peers while sampling a traditional dish from whichever region or country is being discussed (in Othmane’s case, a spicy Shakshuka).

Two HEC Paris MBA students discuss India-Pakistan relations

Jawwad Ali Syed and Siddarth Gurnani discuss India-Pakistan relations.

Started in January, the weekly sessions are a big hit with our 92 percent international class. As an entirely student-led initiative, they are free (except for those who order a meal), and cover subjects suggested by MBA students themselves. Every Tuesday brings a hard-hitting new topic—recent ones included the French presidential election, the Venezuelan oil crisis and India-Pakistan relations.

“These talks perfectly complement the business side of the education that we receive at HEC Paris,” Othmane explains. “They analyze the geopolitical contexts that affect business and market dynamics.”

As a member of the IAS core team, Yee Theng Ng, MBA ’18, finds such interactions offer more value to MBA participants than bringing in outside speakers (though the IAS still does for formal evening events). The big advantage she sees is that students are more likely to dedicate a lunch hour to learning if they know the speaker. She also says that students ask questions more freely. “We know each other by nationality,” she explains, “but sometimes we feel like we don’t know enough about our respective countries.”

A HEC Paris MBA student discusses events in his native Tunisia.

Othmane Khelil, MBA ’17, talks about events in his native Tunisia.

Others appreciate the opportunity to share—and correct misconceptions—about their homelands. Othmane volunteered to talk about the Arab Spring because “not many of my classmates knew that it started in Tunisia. I wanted to clarify incorrect ideas about the country’s safety and terrorism problems—problems that exist in many European countries, too—and to promote tourism in my country,” he explains. “My dad has his business in tourism, and the industry was massively affected after several attacks.”

The IAS began in 2014 as a student-led initiative within the HEC Paris MBA. Events are planned by a team of 10 to 15 MBA participants. The group’s faculty advisor, Affiliate Professor Jeremy Ghez, says, “It’s a great initiative that explores the intersections between business and geopolitics. When they interact with each other, with professionals and with diplomats, the MBA participants are better able to understand the overall business environment. In their professional careers, they will never make a decision in a political or geopolitical vacuum. Therefore, it’s crucial that they understand those dynamics.”

Along with the brown-bag series, the Society has two upcoming events on this year’s calendar. The group will invite speakers from outside the HEC community to discuss the Iranian Presidential Election in April, and One Year after Brexit in June. To learn more, follow the AIS Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/International-Affairs-Society-HEC-Paris-MBA-381184955592382/.

 

Read next
16 March 2017

An estimated 700 people came together last Sunday to celebrate the first ever Holi Festival hosted by HEC Paris students and the town of Jouy-en-Josas. Dating back as early as the 4th Century, Holi is a Hindu festival typical to India and Nepal. Otherwise known as the “festival of colors” or the “festival of love”, it signifies the arrival of spring and the victory of good over evil. The festival has its origins in a Vishnu legend which honors the eponymous Hindu god and his follower Prahlada.

Along with sampling traditional Indian food, music and performances, participants also splashed each other with brightly colored, biodegradable powders, which signify spring and all the new hues it brings to nature. Photographer and HEC Paris MBA student Baskara Aditama was on hand to capture the spirit of the event:

 

Read next
13 February 2017

Chinese students from the HEC Paris MBA and HEC Paris recently hosted a series of events designed to introduce the entire campus community to different aspects of their culture. To kick off Chinese Cultural Week, the students celebrated the Year of the Rooster with a Temple Fair which offered activities ranging from tea-drinking and fortune telling to trying on traditional clothes and learning traditional games. The next evening at the Lantern Festival, participants shared an authentic Chinese dinner, followed by a show both organized and performed by members of the student body. From traditional and modern dances to a fashion show and music recitals, they displayed their artistic talents and united the HEC community in a fantastic celebration of culture.

The following videos offer a sampling of the week’s events. The first one features MBA students Dengke Li, Vincy Zhang and Leslie Zhu, who were among Chinese Cultural Week’s main organizers. The second includes excerpts of some of the evening performances.

Read next
30 January 2017
Stopping by Condé Nast's Parisian office

Stopping by Condé Nast’s Parisian office

In a uniquely Parisian office with sweeping views of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, Xavier Romatet (MBA ’86) described his rise to CEO of Condé Nast France. Twenty-three HEC Paris MBA students from the MBA Luxury Club listened to him speak about his personal experiences as part of the club’s trek to the French capital last November. “It was very inspirational to hear how Xavier drove his career to head such an iconic publishing company,” Caroline Spegiorin, then-president of the MBA Luxury Club, explained. “While meeting with us, his attitude was, ‘I’m here for you. Ask me whatever you want’.”

Student-led treks are designed to expose MBAs to different sectors within an industry and the particular issues they face, yielding thought-provoking results. During the Luxury Club’s trek, participants benefitted from an insider’s view into the acclaimed fashion and perfume house Givenchy, and visited Skintifique, a newcomer to the high-end world.

Orestes experiences the skincare industry first-hand.

Orestes experiences the skincare industry first-hand.

At Givenchy, Patricia Huyghues Despointes (H ’98) asked participants to analyze whether the upmarket icon should open a new store in Asia. “In luxury, branding and image mean as much as net revenue,” Caroline explained, “and as Chief Financial Officer, Patricia shared with us her own measures of how to strategically select a new location as an investment.”

The group also met with Marie Andrade (M ’05), Director of Digital and Marketing at Skintifique, as well as Dr. Jacques Delort, the company’s CEO. Skintifique was founded in 2012 and is known for its 100 percent pure, non-allergenic and innovative skincare products. The conversation included the company’s plans to expand their portfolio in this niche market.

“It was great to add something tangible to the strategies and concepts that we have been learning in the classroom,” said trek participant Orestes Peristeris (MBA ’18). “By visiting these companies’ offices and meeting their staff, we were able to understand first-hand their ways of doing business.”

For Caroline, the event’s main coordinator, the treks can aid participants in defining their future. “This kind of event is about more than networking,” she said. “Treks are a way for students to immerse themselves in the know-how of a specific industry. They help students gather a broader knowledge not only about the sector, but also about themselves. Many HEC MBAs are career switchers, and these events help them to understand how they can fit into a particular industry and bring their expertise to it.”

That’s why Romatet’s own career trajectory—he went from the HEC Paris MBA to his own advertising agency, then Condé Nast asked him to head their French office—particularly resonated with the group. Along with discussing how the publishing powerhouse changed its business model to overcome digital disruption—partially by opening a Vogue Café in Russia and a Vogue Bar in Bangkok–he gave his personal dos and don’ts on how to break into luxury.

Other Luxury Club-sponsored treks in 2016 included visits to the champagne estates of Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot and Moet & Chandon. The club also has springtime plans to travel to Milan for the MBA Retail and Luxury Forum.

Read next