Meet IESE Business School’s MBA Class Of 2021

Helena Gräfin von Drechsel 

IESE Business School Class of 2021 at the University of Navarra

“Empathetic, adaptable and constantly searching for improvement and growth.”

Hometown: Munich, Germany

Fun Fact About Yourself: At the age of seven, I launched my first entrepreneurial venture, called DAR, that gathered money for poor families in Eastern Europe. I encouraged my friends to paint pictures with me and we sold them every day on the street. I ran the “business” for three years and was even able to mobilize my class to raise more money at the open days of our school.

Undergraduate School and Major: Universidad Pontificia Comillas ICADE, International Business Administration

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Avantgarde Gesellschaft für Kommunikation, Head of Retail Operations

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My most important achievement has been the development of Avantgarde’s retail division. A long-term client asked us to open and run stores, primarily as a customer engagement and marketing channel, but our company had no prior experience here. We were given one year to show that we were capable of turning this opportunity into a successful story. As Head of Retail Operations, I was responsible for not only managing the daily business of the nationwide team, but also creating an efficient culture and infrastructure for the new organization. The task has taught me a more holistic economic view on our business, strategic decision-making and long-term planning. Even more importantly, I have learned to be a positive leader with great availability. Today, our “start-up” has become one of the company’s most successful projects. I am very proud of its growth, and of the fact that I have become the go-to person for professional development questions of my colleagues, regardless of whether the person worked in my team or even left the company.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why?  Meeting so many open, genuine and collaborative people impressed me right away when I first arrived at IESE; it was like I was already part of a bigger family with the same mindset and aspirations despite the very different professional backgrounds and life experiences.

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? The cases allow us to look into many different industries and to take a more realistic view of each problem, considering many case-specific features. To me personally, the case method represents a great opportunity to challenge my ideas and the way I approach managerial problems through in-class discussions. I believe that the case method enriches our attitude towards a specific problem or situation by also letting us observe how others tackle such issues. It is a great way to get out of the comfort zone and let others challenge you and vice versa.

Aside from classmates and cases, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? From all universities that I have looked at, IESE struck me as the school with the most personal touch. It was clear to me that I would only want to study in one of the top schools: rigid, academically excellent, and together with smart and diverse classmates and professors. IESE not only fulfilled these criteria but also convinced me with its ethical approach and its objective, to transform each individual into a responsible leader out of each person’s talents. The honest personal interest I received from each IESE associate – IESE employee, alumni, or current student – was not matched by any other school.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? As my previous experience was in the retail industry, I am very much looking forward to joining the Retail and Luxury Goods Club. I would like to share my knowledge of the industry and contribute to helping those members who want to transition into this field. The club gives me the opportunity to broaden my insight into the sector and connect with interesting people from the industry.

Moreover, I am also highly interested in the concept of Search Funds. As the first university outside of North America to offer an intensive course focused especially on Search Funds – and as host of an annual International Search Fund Conference – IESE provides me with the opportunity to explore my possibilities to eventually launch my own Search Fund after the MBA.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? I didn’t feel like there was a specific challenging question or that the admission process was difficult per se, because IESE admissions made the process very pleasant. Nonetheless, I was a bit afraid of the assessment day following my interview since I did not know what to expect. During the process, however, I felt more and more comfortable with my fellow candidates and the experience turned out to be very enjoyable.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? After various years of working in Marketing, followed by three years of building the retail division for Avantgarde, I found myself looking for new challenges and the opportunity to further grow. The unique possibility to quickly broaden my perspective by studying different approaches, different views, and different industries made me excited. I am eager to solve real-business case studies from other work areas in a highly international environment with skilled, driven people from many different professional backgrounds and countries in order to better understand the interrelation of business in a globalized world.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I applied also to INSEAD and SDA Bocconi.

How did you determine your fit at various schools?  I think that choosing the MBA program with the right personal fit is crucial. When I started looking at MBA programs I prioritized European universities with an international exchange program and a renowned reputation: a top school with a rigorous academic program that would also allow me to extend my network and give me the best career opportunities. After creating my shortlist, I attended MBA fairs in order to get a better insight of the universities. I believe that personal interaction is the best way to truly evaluate culture and personal fit, as most universities market similar values and goals.

The conversations that I had, with faculty members and alumni of my selected universities and the experiences that I made visiting the different campuses finally made me decide where I wanted to go. I chose IESE for its diverse and collaborative environment, its personal touch, and its true ethical objective. Moreover, I believe it is the school that gives me the best chance to explore all my interests in more depth and determine my future career path.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? During my life, I have always tried to find ways to help others. Hence, when I finished school, I went to Santo Domingo to work with the Jesuits in the poorest part of town. Living and working in the slums confirmed something I have long known: it is surprisingly easy to build solidarity with people, no matter their background. I quickly made friends with the local bike drivers and the ladies at the fruit market. Soon enough, I was navigating the streets fearlessly, exploring trails and housings in areas visitors never see. I heard incredible stories, sometimes very sad, engaged in philosophical debates with the Dominican Jesuits, and even helped organize a demonstration against police crime. Back home, the experience encouraged me to do my first long internship at a refugee relief in Salzburg run by Caritas, exploring the possibility to work in a job where I could make an impact. It has become a constant motor in my life to give back to the community and always be sensitive about others’ problems. I believe that pursuing an MBA at IESE will help me to transmit those values in a business setting.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? Ten years from now, I want to have to set up my own venture. I am eager to explore new ways to become an entrepreneur and would not hesitate to take risks if I was to launch a company. I would like to continue learning how to maximize a company’s results, define its path with innovative ideas, and gain experience in being a responsible leader. It is my desire to build an enjoyable working environment, where people’s skills are recognized and stimulated to nurture their development. I am deeply convinced that this is a key motor for a thriving business.

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