It’s easy to lead when you’re comfortable.
When the setting is safe and predictable, any leader can project calm and build buy-in. The real test comes when you’re pulled out of your element. When you lack time, resources, and expertise, your true colors get exposed. In uncertain times, leaders often fall back on their worst instincts. They grow impatient and reckless, closed off and indecisive. Their actions undermine their words and their example reverberates down the chain.
This dynamic is one reason why HEC Paris hosts its annual Off-Campus Leadership Seminar at the Saint Cyr Military Academy. A long-standing tradition, the seminar forces MBAs to put all their classroom lessons into practice. Cold and wet – stressed and exhausted – students work in ten-member teams to tackle field exercises like building bridges. Here, HEC Paris MBAs are trained by the French military to master the most difficult tasks in the field: delegating tasks, communicating expectations, fostering teamwork, and managing fear.
Liz Miller, a 2020 P&Q MBA To Watch, believes the Saint Cyr Leadership Seminar was the most valuable part of her HEC Paris experience. “We spent 2 days working together on various team-building tasks as well as individual challenges meant to improve participants’ leadership skills. The program was set up that each activity built in intensity until the final exercises, which involved tasks up to 100 meters in the air. Being extremely afraid of heights, I was very nervous going into the seminar. By the end, I had faced my fears and can’t explain how proud I was of what I had accomplished. I did the zipline, jumped from one platform to another 20 meters off the ground, and walked across a tightrope above a cliff.”
What did Miller gain from these exercises? You could start with confidence. “These activities took me well outside of my comfort zone, which made me make quick decisions and not overthink situations,” she adds. “My mentor during these two days also made a huge impression on me with her wisdom and guidance. Following each activity, we had a group discussion analyzing the task and how we can apply the learnings in our own leadership. I never want to do these activities again, but I’m so grateful for this experience. This leadership seminar shows the importance HEC places on helping people grow the potential in themselves as leaders.”
Ask the Class of 2022 what event excites them most about HEC Paris and the off-campus Leadership Seminar is sure to top the list. That was certainly true for Ari Davidoff, a senior consultant from Mexico. “I think it will be a great experience where I’ll be able to test my decision-making abilities through leadership exercises while learning to react efficiently to modern business challenges.”
FROM PERSONAL HOBBY TO INTERNATIONAL VENTURE
The seminar is still slated to be held this spring. Even without it, first-years will find plenty of programming to stretch their leadership muscles. After all, HEC Paris is known as a CEO factory, Europe’s leading producer of c-suite talent according to Associate Dean Andrea Masini. This rich heritage, among MBAs, includes Jean-Yves Fillion, CEO of BNP Paribas USA, Michel Vounatsos, CEO of Biogen, and Alain Monié, CEO of Ingram Micro. Outside the MBA program, you’ll find HEC Paris grads who have helmed big names like Best Buy, AstraZenca, L’Oréal, and Michelin. Such pedigree certainly left an impression on Luis Raul Martinez, a 2020 grad who worked at Danone when alum Emmanuel Faber took the reins as CEO there.
“An HEC alumnus, he began to quickly make changes in the company in regards to diversity and developing new lines of business. To me, he seemed ambitious, had a social-impact drive, and was always thinking outside-the-box.”
You’ll find that same drive and creativity in the Class of 2022. Take Leonie Freigi. A dentist by trade from Lebanon, Freigi decided to follow her heart. In her spare time, she created hand-made jewelry affectionately known as “Leonie” that have been featured in international magazines and spotted on public figures worldwide.
“As a dentist, jewelry design was merely a hobby, and people around me said it was a fool’s errand,” she remembers. “However, as I am endowed with thick skin and an elastic heart, relinquishing this dream was never an option and so I moved heaven and earth to make this small business thrive. Later that year, I was invited to one of the most popular live TV shows not only in Lebanon, but also in the GCC (MTV Alive) to talk about the jewelry pieces. I was also elected Woman of the Month on the financial emagazine El Nashra, when I was barely 21 years old.”
TRUSTED TO FIRE A MISSILE
You’ll also find Freigi’s entrepreneurial streak in Ari Davidoff. After college, he became responsible for operations surrounding a 24-hour food delivery app in Mexico City. Sound daunting? Add to this that Davidoff had never hired and managed people or applied analytics to evaluate performance. The experience was “trial-by-fire,” he says, a rite of passage that showed him what he was truly capable of doing.
“Looking back, I am confident that my success was fueled by a strong sense of conviction, ambition, drive, and an openness to face new experiences,” he writes. “I have become confident in my ability to learn by taking on new challenges as well as my ability to collaborate effectively with people from different backgrounds. Since leaving Rappi, I have grown by continuing to take on new challenges in the field of consulting and investing as well as starting my own business.”
Haneen Alkharashi also paid her dues. Starting as an analyst, she climbed to being the treasurer of a 70,000 employee company – becoming the youngest person in her role to boot. Aleksandra Socevic expects to lead her family’s confectionary business after graduation. In the meantime, she has been busy closing a new client who will be responsible for nearly a third of the company’s projected revenue. Impressed? Here’s what Stanislas Sebag was doing before coming to HEC Paris.
“I had the opportunity to work with the best pilots and aerospace engineers in the world to build a new missile,” he explains. “During the missile development phase, firing trials are conducted. During these trials, I had the responsibility to authorize the firing. To give the “green light” to fire a missile was for me a real-life achievement. Years of working with more than 300 people are summarized in just a few seconds. To be entrusted with such a responsibility was very rewarding.
A GIFTED PIANIST AND DANCER
Of course, the Class of 2022’s achievements weren’t just confined to the c-suite or the operations center. Case in point: Samuel Deason. At 14, he was able to buy a house thanks to winnings from a piano competition. From there, the prodigy earned degrees at the Glenn Gould School and John Hopkins’ Peabody Conservatory before collecting a doctorate in Musical Arts from Northwestern University.
“My greatest achievement was performing Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations,” he explains. “As one of his longest compositions for the piano (about an hour long), it presents a challenge of both physicality and interpretation to perform. This composition is imbued with interpretive dualities, and structural sophistication.”
Payal Saini underwent a similar moment. In her case, she finished her Bharatanatyam Arangetram – which she describes as “debut solo performance of Indian classical dance signifying a graduation from student to performer.” For her, this was a means to honor her heritage, as well as “showcase years and thousands of hours of training to my friends and family.” Looking back, she adds, it provided an unexpected benefit.
“My training and performance prepared me for business school by teaching me to embrace making mistakes and not be afraid to express myself in front of others. These two things did not come naturally to me but I’ve found they are critical to growth, both as a person and business leader. I can’t wait to make mistakes I can learn from and authentically express myself while getting my MBA.”
SWIMMING WITH “JAWS”
Now that she has mastered dance, Saini hopes to tackle something new on her bucket list: standup comedy. That’s just one of the unique tid bits about this year’s class. In middle school, Stanislas Sebag performed in French movies, while Sven Mengering played professional basketball in Germany. How did Aleksandra Socevic get over her fear of sharks? She took scuba diving lessons and swam with them in Brazil.
“During one of the dives, my friends were way ahead of me and I could barely see them underwater due to poor weather conditions and visibility that day. And there it was – a shark just swam underneath me and I immediately had a scenario of “Jaws” playing in my head. It turned out that the shark was more afraid of me and it quickly swam away.”
“A DEGREE IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS”
This cycle, HEC Paris received roughly 2,700 applications. Ultimately, the school made offers to 18.9% of applicants, making it more selective than Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, and the London Business School. Overall, the class features 295 students in the fall intake, who bring a 690 average GMAT to the school.
In terms of professional experience, consulting and finance and banking each represent 20% of the class. Information technology and eCommerce accounts for another 13% of the student body, followed consumer products (8%), energy and utilities (6%), and industrial (6%). The remainder of the class includes healthcare, media and marketing, retail, logistics, military, and public sector professionals.
In terms of demographics, women make up 34% of the class, up three points over the previous year. By the same token, 95% of the class hails from outside France, maintaining HEC Paris’ reputation as one of the most international two-year MBA programs in the world. As a whole, the class is comprised of over 50 countries. In a 2020 interview with P&Q, Cody Overstreet, a 2020 grad and senior consultant at Deloitte Strategy, likens an HEC Paris MBA to a “degree in international relations.” By that, he means the school exposes students to students from all corners of the world and all walks of life.