26 January 2015

Michael Thomson, HEC Paris MBA, Class of 2016

What is it like to be a student at HEC Paris MBA? Student Voices is a student contributed section where current students share their first-hand experiences of life on campus and beyond.


As I sit here with some time to collect my thoughts and reflect on the past several weeks, I find myself amazed at how many things I have experienced.  To name a few: I have met many new people from all over the world, I have moved twice, I have taken the wrong train on two separate occasions, and I got married.  I could make a list that would span several pages, but in summation, the events of the past week could be classified in one of three categories: Moving to France, HEC Paris MBA Orientation Weeks, and my Personal Life.


Michael (second from left) speaking with fellow MBA students at the Welcome Buffet

Fun Fact: It is hard to do things without a local address and a local bank account.  Moving from a different country to a temporary accommodation is challenging; do you completely unpack or not before the next move?  Then there is figuring out transportation, making sure you get on the right train and that you are indeed taking the shortest route as opposed to taking a train that is one hour longer.   Or how about being confused at the grocery store because promotional prices aren’t displayed on the screen, but are taken into account at the end of transaction.  You simply have to laugh it off and realize that you are a cultural outsider, but with each mistake you learn a piece of local culture.   If you do find yourself discouraged, take a walk around Versailles or a trip to Paris for some inspiration.


I chose to attend an MBA to not only advance my career, but to step outside of my comfort zone and be challenged to grow.  I had not expected to immediately face that in the first few weeks.  Orientation is packed, exhausting, and at times feels endless, but what an incredibly rewarding experience.  The activities range from adrenaline-filled (NegoSim) to laughter-filled (Act Your Success), but they are all chock full of learning opportunities. Act Your Success is a multi-day workshop that throws you into improvisation acting and we were definitely thrown in.  Through different activities we were called to get into touch with our bodies and our voices to understand how we communicate.  A correlation was drawn between the acting activities we were doing and the business careers we were pursuing.  Through acting, we were becoming better business leaders.  The activities were difficult tasks in and of themselves, but we were also faced with the challenge of doing this with people we had just met.  This challenge was a major highlight of the week.



MBA students acting out scenes for the Act Your Success workshop

You can read all of the pamphlets that show the demographics of each MBA class and you can talk to a student about how diverse the program is, but it is not until you begin to meet your new classmates does it all sink in. I find myself surrounded by people from various industries, innumerable educations, and different countries.  In these first weeks, I have only begun to scratch the surface of this tremendous wealth of experience.  Not only do they bring great experiences to the table, but also everyone is pretty darn cool.

Group Photo Jan 15 FT- Non Official

Full-time January intake group photo, HEC Paris MBA, Class of 2016

These past weeks have been so rewarding and challenging, not only because I decided to attend HEC Paris for my MBA, but also because I decided to have a wedding the day before flying to France.  It has been challenging to spend the majority of the last two weeks with new classmates instead of my new wife, but it has also been amazing to have someone to come home to and share new experiences with.

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15 January 2015

Similar to our September intake, this year’s January intake also took the initiative to put together a student produced video prior to arriving on campus. Introducing themselves to the rest of the class, the students shared a moment from their pre-MBA life, from taming lions to solving a rubix cube in warp speed. As seen in the video below, the new students come from a variety of backgrounds and have had a wide range of  experiences that they will be able to share with the rest of their class.

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27 December 2014

Giovanna Santaniello is the former Women in Leadership Club President, and recipient of the Forté Foundation Scholarship. The HEC Paris MBA Program awards this scholarship to exceptional women who have demonstrated exemplary leadership skills, and a commitment to women via personal mentorship or community involvement. The aim of the scholarships is to improve leadership opportunities for women in business.


“I have always considered women’s economic empowerment as a driving force for the achievement of not only gender equality, but also of overall economic growth and poverty reduction. Before joining the HEC Paris MBA Program, I worked in Egypt for four years, where I put my expertise in the areas of financial and advisory services to use in supporting companies and female entrepreneurs.


At HEC Paris I started consider gender diversity from a new perspective. This time, it was focused on business and leadership rather than on women’s empowerment as a means for development. Receiving the Forté Foundation scholarship has encouraged me to continue to contribute to the efforts of the organization to improve leadership opportunities for women in business. I’m convinced that, at a business level, diversity is a critical factor in improving not just the quality of a company’s leadership and decision making, but also its overall financial, environmental, social, and governance performance, and ultimately, the company’s sustainability.


In my future career in the corporate world, I will aim to balance the current emphasis on short-term profit maximization with a broader focus on long-term sustainability goals. Being part of the Forté Foundation’s network of current and prospective women business leaders will help me to achieve these goals.”


Giovanna Santaniello, HEC Paris MBA, Class of 2015

What is it like to be a student at HEC Paris MBA? Student Voices is a student contributed section where current students share their first-hand experiences of life on campus and beyond.

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19 December 2014

For even the most seasoned traveler, relocating to a new country to study can be daunting, but moving abroad to be with your partner can present a whole host of different challenges. It was with these challenges in mind that the HEC Paris MBA Partners’ Club was set up, providing an instant network of friends, activities, and resources to help partners and children in their transition into life on campus and in France.


The Club not only helps partners acclimatize to HEC Paris life, they want to make sure that the partners make the most of their time spent in France. By organizing regular meals, social events, and trips, this informal network provides a way for MBA partners to share interests and explore everything that Jouy-en-Josas, Versailles, and Paris have to offer.

IMG_3736 (more…)

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11 December 2014

As recent President of the General Management & Leadership Club, Vijay Tirumala (MBA.2015) has played an active role in helping develop his fellow students’ leadership skills by organizing various seminars, workshops and guest speakers. One of the highlights of the club is the CEO Speaker Series where some of Europe’s most influential leaders come to the HEC campus to talk with current students about their leadership experience.

In addition to this event, the club President interviews the CEO 1-on-1 and asks pointed questions about their views on leadership. This fall, Vijay got the opportunity to sit down with the Chairman and CEO of L’Oréal, Jean-Paul Agon. Below, he answers what it was like organizing the CEO Series event and meeting with such a prominent business figure.

 Cf de Jean-Paul Agon -HecParis2014


Why did you decide to preside over the General Management & Leadership club?

The General Management & Leadership club at HEC Paris provides members with an excellent forum and platform to discuss the Art of Leadership in Business and Society. Most of the club members, including myself, are drawn to the objective of providing inspired leadership. By presiding over the GML Club, I wanted to focus the club activities by organizing events such as Leadership workshops and simulations that ideally compliment the St. Cyr Off-Campus Leadership Seminar.

More importantly, the opportunity to work closely with Dean Bernard Garrette and Virginia Sartoretti at the Career Management Center taught me and my colleague, Dominic Taylor – Vice President (GML), the importance of effectively managing time, resources, and building successful alliances across campus.

How was it organizing the CEO Series event featuring Jean-Paul Agon?

It was as exciting as it was challenging. Exciting because as the CEO of L’Oreal, Jean-Paul Agon needs no introduction, least of all at HEC Paris – his alma mater. He was kind to spend the evening and share his experiences and Leadership journey with us.

Challenging because we had to pool together all the resources available at HEC Paris to organize the event. Usually, CEO Speaker Series attendees are between 200 – 300. For Jean-Paul Agon, we had 700+ interested attendees in a short-span of 1 hour. We reserved three large auditoria on campus just to meet the demand and telecast the event on screens for those who couldn’t find seats in the main auditorium. Handling the logistics was a feat in itself and three cheers to the HEC Logistics team for quickly adapting to our changing demands at short notice.

What was it like being able to sit down 1-on-1 with the CEO of L’Oréal?

Incredible. I had the opportunity to spend 15 minutes with him 1-on-1 to learn about what constitutes Leadership from his personal point of view. You will see from his responses in the video below that Leadership is also a calling and aspiration alone is not enough. One needs to find the source of strength within oneself to sustain the lifelong journey along a challenging path not unlike a roller coaster.

 How do you think this experience will help you in your future career?

As an engaged member of the HEC Paris community, Jean-Paul Agon clearly set a high bar for all of us to aspire to. Observing the way Mr. Agon conducted himself throughout the event and the way he engaged every single member of HEC’s reception team before and after the event, spoke volumes about his commitment to the school and the community. But if there is one takeaway for my future career, it would be the courage Jean-Paul Agon summoned to lead L’Oreal Americas in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001.


Watch the entire interview with Jean-Paul Agon below:

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08 December 2014

With 90% of our MBA student body coming from outside of France, HEC Paris MBA is a truly international scene. The tremendous range of nationalities and backgrounds makes the MBA an exciting and enriching experience, but the benefits aren’t just limited to the classroom. The student-led cultural weeks are always highly anticipated here on campus, giving students and staff alike a week-long immersion into the cultures, traditions, and cuisines of their peers.

With 2 consecutive cultural weeks, November was a particularly busy month. The Brits were first up, kicking off the festivities with a beautifully presented High Tea.  For Sitanshu Shekhar, organizing the cultural week was a perfect opportunity to shake Britain’s reputation for terrible cuisine, and the chance to offer something a little more unique: “Instead of the usual dinner, the high tea was all about sophistication and elegance. Though I am not sure how successful it was in its goals, as it probably reinforced the stereotype of snobby tea drinkers.” Snobbiness aside – with champagne, cakes, scones, and a range of sandwiches on offer, the event was a resounding success. This was followed by a screening of Richard Curtis’ classic, ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ in the Piano Bar to round off the night in a truly British fashion.

British Culture Week 2 HEC Paris MBA         Photo 17-11-2014 11 01 12 am

Next came the Indian cultural week, and the chance to celebrate and showcase the richness and diversity of the Indian student body at HEC Paris MBA.  For Aastha Sharma, the week’s events were about showcasing the breadth and variety of Indian culture: “We may all look similar, share an affinity for spicy food and rock the dance floor on Thursday nights, but we also have very different cultural upbringing, from speaking different Indian languages to following different Indian customs – which in itself makes each one of us unique.”

Indian flash mob         Rangoli

A surprise Bollywood-themed flash mob in the foyer of the S building caught students unaware and generated much excitement for the events to come. First came the ‘Mela’, an Indian fair, where students had the opportunity to try a variety of Indian snacks and drinks, and buy some traditional, hand-made arts and crafts. This was proceeded by a dinner and film night in the Piano Bar. Delicious food aside, the cultural weeks serve a greater purpose – as Johan Matthai put it:  One of the biggest intangible benefits of any international MBA is the relationships you build with people from all over the world. This is even ‘truer’ for the HEC Paris MBA, as diversity is one of the elements listed by a large number of students from my cohort when choosing their school. In line with this, cultural weeks provide a unique and ideal platform to truly infuse a country’s culture into the general student body. I was delighted at the interest shown by my friends from other countries, for in between the spicy curry and the Bollywood moves; I do believe they experienced something they’d cherish for some time to come!”


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27 November 2014

Sitanshu Shekhar, HEC Paris MBA, Class of 2015

What is it like to be a student at HEC Paris MBA? Student Voices is a student contributed section where current students share their first-hand experiences of life on campus and beyond.


champagne cup 2014 (3)

Ryder Cup is the premier golf team tournament in the world, and every golf fan dreams of playing in one. So on the weekend of the 2014 Ryder Cup, I thought, how much fun would it be if we could play in similar tournament against INSEAD. So after some inquiries from INSEAD students, I finally got hold of their Golf Captain. He jumped on the idea of a match between the two schools on the rules of the Ryder Cup. We decided to hold the first edition of the tournament on the 2nd of November at their home course, Chateau D’Augerville. We were divided between the name of the tournament – Paris Cup or Champagne Cup, but decided to go with Champagne cup, as the winning team would drink a bottle of champagne from the cup!!!

champagne cup 2014 (2)


With the sun shining on a beautiful Autumn morning, we departed for Augerville in high spirits. The team consisted of Andrew Young, Alfonso Alvarez Prieto, Othmane Benlamine, Yukiko Toyoda and me. After some quick introductions with the INSEAD team, we got down to the business of golf. The course was tough, and INSEAD played some really good golf to beat us convincingly. But, it was not a day of wining and losing, but of making new friends and golf buddies. The day ended with prize winning ceremony, a few rounds of beers and lots of laughs. When I look back at that day, I like to think of it as the start of something historic and special, just like the Ryder Cup.

Champagne cup1


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10 November 2014

The HEC Paris MBA Net Impact Club and Women in Leadership Club recently organized Driving Change, a roundtable in which three exceptional women shared their experiences, explaining how they drive change in both for-profit and non-profit activities.

The guests speakers included: Estelle Mironesco, a consultant and coach in Sustainable Leadership, Christelle Van Ham, a consultant in Social Entrepreneurship, and Emilie Vuillequez, the co-founder of Pro Bono Lab.

The aim of the event was to present unconventional stories. The guest speakers had all benefited from an excellent educational background and had started their careers in business, but, after a few years, they decided to switch from the more traditional finance and consulting sectors into professions which focus on sustainable leadership, social entrepreneurship, and innovation-led practices.

“They are now successful entrepreneurs because they didn’t limit themselves: they wanted to have an impact in society and were committed to creating value; they weren’t afraid of hard times and took risks to achieve their goals.” (Giovanna Santaniello – Class of 2015)

Both male and female MBA participants found these women inspiring, and were eager to learn about their personal backgrounds and career trajectories. They also wanted to discover more about their ways of thinking: the skills they found crucial for driving change in today’s society, and the key challenges faced in making conventional financial services act more responsibly. Looking ahead, the speakers and participants also discussed what consumers and stakeholders can expect from business leaders over the coming years in terms of sustainability.

The event marked a breakthrough moment, with these remarkable speakers being considered not only guests, but influencers and opinion makers.

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05 November 2014

The Career Management Center has put in place a series of bootcamps that give students in inside look into key career sectors from industry experts.

Last month, students had the opportunity to follow a multi-day Consulting bootcamp, full of presentations, case studies and insider tips from  former Executive Recruiter at McKinsey & Co, Nick Oak.

What does he advice students interested in a career with a top consulting firm? Below, we ask him a few questions on how best to prepare the competitive consulting application process.

How important is the preparation process for a career in consulting?

Without specific case interview practice I can categorically say the probability of a career in consulting are low – so very important; however, MBA students will often, realizing this obvious importance, over prepare by attempting to figuring out all “correct answers” via repetition.

This over fixation on practice alone is a huge mistake as consulting firms are evaluating candidates for their ability to demonstrate sound judgement and thinking that produces the right answers and not the correct answers themselves.

What kind of background/skills/qualities do big consulting firms look for in the hiring process?

This changes year to year and depends on the firms; however, let me provide the following list of attributes that standout:

-  Strong undergraduate experience

-  Outstanding professional experience before MBA

-  Competitive internship

-  Academic performance during MBA

-  Leadership:  evidence of leading people, groups and organizations

-  Extracurricular and community involvement

-  GMAT/GRE score

-  Networking, networking and networking

No one item above will get you an interview, indeed, it is the sum total of the consulting firms interpretation of your background that will answer if an interview will happen; however, most weaknesses can be overcome with diligent networking if you are able to find an advocate, especially a HEC alumni, at the firm of your interest.

What do people need to know about the case analysis aspect of the recruitment process?

The case should not highlight only their ability to do cases but should demonstrate they can leverage the learnings from the MBA program as a tool to strengthen and deepen their problem solving skills.  Also, the case is only half of the assessment as the behavioral interviews will need as much preparation.  Some firms will also have a standardized test which will need some attention although not as much as the case and behavioral.

What is important to know in order to succeed in consulting?

MBA students need to start the transformation process to grow now.  Everything they are learning will be useful if they successfully navigate the interview process and get a job as a consultant.  This evolutionary process starts by first applying the listening, thinking and verbalization skills in their classes and by collaborating to learn from not only the professors, but more importantly, from other students.

This deliberate cultivation of  their time at HEC will empower them to do well during the interview process and succeed during their tenure in consulting.  Some obvious issues to focus on are as follows:

-  Don’t pick the easiest answers.  Think critically about possible counterintuitive and unintended outcomes that are discovered by evaluating interdependence (we had examples during case practice).

-  Recast data to realize not only what it tells you but more importantly what it doesn’t say

-  Without listening carefully nothing else much matters.  Start by listening well to your peers.

-  Work on your verbalization and speak in a structure manner thoughtfully.  This means don’t speak quickly with the easiest and most obvious point that pops into your mind – take time to formulate a response that characterizes critical thinking and practice it daily.

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27 October 2014

Thomas Negrel

HEC Paris MBA, Class of 2010

With pre-MBA experience in the French armed forces, Thomas Negrel was looking to change careers. He had strong managerial and leadership experience having previously worked as a French Gendarme and SWAT team leader. He joined the HEC Paris MBA in 2008 but was initially unsure of a specific career path. “I decided to take the big step and join the MBA program, not really knowing what I wanted to do, actually, not having any idea what I wanted to do.”

With an open outlook during the fundamental phase of the program, he had a revelation. “I really loved my Corporate Finance teacher, and I decided that since I understood the subject, that it could be a good path.” This initial interest in Finance eventually led him to accepting a post-MBA job with French bank BNP Paribas in Mergers & Acquisitions.

Since graduating in 2010, Thomas regularly finds himself returning to HEC Paris. Seeing that many MBA students were curious about careers in finance but unsure about how to get a foot in the door, he worked with the Career Management Center to develop a “Finance Bootcamp,” which he now teaches. This introduction to the world of finance gives the students an opportunity to discover more about the field, the types of jobs available, the varying hiring processes and how to network.

Thomas has recently moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where he is now working as Vice President of Mergers & Acquisitions for William Blair & Company.

Click here for the full profile.

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