Philippe Fezans always wanted a dual education in engineering and business, but he knew right from high school that he’d go into engineering first. He would then gain an MBA to accelerate his career further down the track. “Early on I worked with some great companies – Orange, Renault and GE – before moving back into a project management role at Renault Sport, where I managed some excellent and fast-paced projects. Ultimately though, engineering provides limited career options outside highly specialised roles,” he says.
Philippe decided to do the EMBA-Global Americas & Europe to develop new skills and open up professional opportunities outside his existing scope. To advance his career, he needed wider cross-organisational understanding and a less “France-centric” background. The joint London Business School/Columbia programme offered the curriculum toolkit Philippe wanted across two top business schools; a monthly block week structure that suited his working life; and a deeply collaborative learning environment.
“EMBA is intense – you travel, work and socialise together – and you don’t sleep much! The geographical diversity in my class saw people flying in from locations as far afield as New Zealand, India and South Africa. We’re talking about extraordinary people from different cultures and with a broad range of perspectives,” says Philippe.
Being exposed to a community of highly successful people with a strong appetite for opportunity was inspiring, he adds. “Prior to the programme I was very risk averse – a typical French engineer who liked to be in control – but learning about my classmates’ experiences made me take a long hard look at myself, and at my career. LBS’s Executive Leadership module was also key, providing a useful self-assessment framework, and helping me develop new soft skills and risk management mechanisms.”
By the time Philippe finished the programme he had abandoned his original, more traditional plan to head back to a large organisation. Instead, he took advantage of the US training visa that EMBA Global offers and jumped straight in to developing a car sharing start-up in New York City. It was a steep learning curve for a venture that ultimately failed, thanks to the US election results.
“Almost overnight, our project started to stall as uncertainties around policy and funding prevented the governmental agencies we were working with from taking on new projects,” says Philippe. “But as frustrating as it was to pull the plug, I’m pretty relaxed about the outcome of my first start-up experience. I like to compare entrepreneurship to skiing, my favourite hobby – you need to learn to fall, and what to do to avoid it, before gaining momentum.”
This first experience led to an exciting new opportunity with a fellow MBA in an industry closer to Philippe’s computer science background. He’s now back in France working as chief operating officer for a start-up in biometric identification for transactions. A working prototype has been developed, filed and granted a patent. Says Philippe: “We’ve signed our first B2B customers and are in the process of our second round of fundraising, so if everything goes to plan we should have a pilot location in production in the coming months.”
Philippe says he wouldn’t be helping launch a new venture if it weren’t for LBS. “EMBA-Global generated entrepreneurial opportunities that I could never previously have dreamed of. The skills I learned on the programme are invaluable, but in an increasingly more global and mobile world, my best piece of advice is to network, network, network. It’s the network that provides the opportunities to use your knowledge and really shine.”