“The EMBA really enabled me, I think for the first time, to stop and think about how I wanted to live my life more deliberately going forward.”
“Fresh ideas come from the painful process of growth,” muses Bommy Lee, EMBA ’18. The Korean-Canadian transplant, recently ‘’officially French, and very happily so,” is gamely unspooling the red thread of her career path.
“We all have a blind spot. It’s important to surround oneself with mentors and people to help you see things from different perspectives,” she says. The former journalist and mother-of-three is well-versed in sifting through different perspectives.
“I am very independent. I don’t like to ask for help. But I realized that being vulnerable and asking for help can actually be a sign of strength.”
Asking for help also opens doors to new opportunities. And in her experience, “if you are looking for an opportunity, you are looking for a person.”
“Every significant change in my career can be traced back to someone who believed in my potential to grow into a role that I didn’t necessarily have the credentials or experience for.”
Journalism, startups, venture capital: a throughline
It would be premature to suggest that Bommy has reached her full potential. Still, she can afford herself an understandable measure of satisfaction today as Head of Communications at Sofinnova Partners, a leading European venture capital firm specializing in life sciences.
“I believe very strongly in the net good we’re bringing to the world through the investments we’re making,” she says of her work. “It’s a world that I love full of people I admire.”
It’s also worlds apart from where her career began in earnest, at the headquarters of the International Herald Tribune (IHT) in Paris. Today rebranded as the New York Times International Edition, she was part of an experimental nucleus that pioneered the IHT’s digital newsroom. Their beginnings were rudimentary; they copy-pasted print content. Still, the stratospheric potential of digital thrilled her.
Apt, then, that her next foray should be into a startup. That move— joining a nascent French medtech firm and leaving the Times for a role in communications— also meant, as she puts it with tongue more than a little bit in cheek, “crossing over into the Dark Side.”
“When you are a journalist, your number one most important asset is your objectivity,” she explains. “When you cross over into comms, there’s no way you could really go back.”
In no uncertain terms, “once you cross over, the door is closed.”
The way back slammed shut, she adapted, looked forward, and flourished. At the startup, she “fell in love with the agility and flexibility, and the freedom to do anything you could contribute to.” She spent the bulk of her time in marketing and communications roles. She molded her skills to suit her niche. She learned the industry on the fly.
“I felt like I could see the end of what my potential would be. That’s why I decided to do a business program.”
Her next role at Cellnovo Group, a medical devices company, saw her begin to hit her stride. With her background in journalism, her ability to finesse a story was never in doubt. At the business end of the group’s corporate communications, however, she still felt herself reaching for gravitas when it came to the company’s bottom line.
“I was starting to move more organically into these roles where I was having to express and explain business vision and building a business story for the organization,” she says. “It made me realize that I had probably reached a plateau in terms of what I could learn on my own and from the people around me. I needed a more formal grounding on those topics.”
The writing, as it were, was on the wall.
“If I didn’t do that, I felt like I could see the end of what my potential would be. That’s why I decided to do a business program.”
Finding the right fit
“HEC Paris differentiated itself because it checked all the boxes: global recognition, academic excellence, top-rate professors, and an incredible international network.”
She knew she wasn’t willing to venture too far afield to pursue that goal. Firmly entrenched in Paris, she had a family to take care of, not to mention a full-time job. Still, she was spoiled for choice in the region. Upon doing her due diligence, though, the world-beating appeal of the HEC Paris EMBA became impossible to ignore.
“My goal was to gain a 360° view of what it takes to build successful businesses. HEC Paris differentiated itself because it checked all the boxes: global recognition, academic excellence, top-rate professors, and an incredible international network. It also fulfilled purely practical criteria because of the way the January track’s English modular format was structured. It allowed me to maintain a 100% commitment to a full-time job and fulfill my responsibilities as a mother of three, by being able to set aside that school time in advance and concentrate on being fully present when I was in the EMBA bubble.”
As her choice became clear, the final barrier for so many—justifying the move to her higher-ups—propitiously crumbled away.
“I had the luxury of having my manager at the time, Sophie Baratte (MBA ‘2001), who was extremely supportive of my desire to do this. This was key for me. She allowed me the mental space and time to pursue this degree fully.”
Pieces neatly in place, she set herself to the task.
Her EMBA class was characteristically diverse; 50-plus people hailing from over 20 nationalities assured for plenty of perspectives to parse.
“Debates got pretty heated,” she remembers. “It wasn’t easy at times, but it was extremely enriching.”
That enrichment was consolidated outside of the classroom.
“There were lots of sleepless nights completing group assignments or helping each other slog through revisions for an exam. Of course, there was also a lot of post-module fun and shenanigans. We bonded and shared so much throughout those 18 months together.”
Still, there is no glossing over the unalloyed truth of how demanding the experience was. Luckily, she had help. Late-night revision sessions in the rearview mirror, she has no delusions about how difficult the program could have been if not for her family’s total support.
A family effort
“My kids would see me doing homework, and they would do homework with me. Evenings, weekends—everything was poured into making sure these goals were achieved.”
“It was a really intense period,” she says. “I had no life, basically, for 18 months. I talked about my boss giving me the mental space to focus on the program, but my husband gave me everything else. He was on 200%, making sure that the kids were fine and making sure the household was running.”
“My kids would see me doing homework, and they would do homework with me. Evenings, weekends—everything was poured into making sure these goals were achieved. But we knew it was a set period, which made it possible. It’s not something I could’ve sustained over the long term.”
And yet as she rounded the home stretch of her program, disaster struck at work: it was becoming clear that her company was getting to the end of its cash runway and was about to go under. There was a silver lining, though, delivered in the form of her Capstone Project adviser.
The topic of her Capstone project, which had been a new revenue stream for her firm, became a moot point with the news of her company’s imminent demise. At the eleventh hour, she sat down with her adviser, her painstakingly researched project no longer relevant to her professional reality.
“He helped me switch the topic very quickly into a tech transfer opportunity, which is the period we were in at work, trying to find acquirers for what remained of the business,” she says.
“Not only was he extremely supportive, helpful, and understanding of my situation,” she continues, “but he put me in touch with the opportunity that turned into my current role.”
Eyes on the future
She’s been Head of Communications at Sofinnova Partners for nearly two years now. Learning the world of venture capital keeps her busy. So does being a wife and mother. Still, she’ll allow herself the time to take a brief look in the rearview mirror.
“There have been more moments in my life and in my career where I have felt very lucky than otherwise,” she remarks.
“When you start off in your career, I think most of us arrive to where we are almost serendipitously or because we’ve made choices based on some vague idea of what we want to become. At some point, there’s a reflection period—that’s where I was when I started my EMBA. This is where the program has helped me and so many of my peers: to change our perspective, to be open to thinking differently. And of course, to dare to do more, to dare to change and grow. The EMBA really enabled me, I think for the first time, to stop and think about how I wanted to live my life more deliberately going forward.”
More CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies have graduated from HEC Paris than any other university in Europe. Nearly 4,000 graduates are currently CEOs, CFOs, or have founded their own companies. According to the Financial Times, the HEC Paris offers the best EMBA program in the world; click here to learn more.
To get the latest news and information about the HEC Paris Executive MBA delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter.
If you’re ready to take the next step in your EMBA journey, follow this link to introduce yourself .