Émilie Viargues Metge’s (EMBA ’19) career has always maintained a tight orbit around luxury brands.
Recently it paid off in a big way, when at 37, the EMBA alumna was named CEO of Christofle. She’s helming a brand that boasts a more than 200-year-old legacy, a bastion of French luxury and prestige in savoir-vivre that blends heritage and innovation. Such lofty heights, however, belie the gargantuan corporate mountain she had to scale to get there.
In no uncertain terms, she started at the bottom.
She cut her teeth, as she puts it, as “the assistant’s assistant’s assistant.” She worked her way up to roles with progressively greater responsibility at the likes of Paul Smith, Prada, and Chanel. Then, she broadened her horizons via a stint at a start-up that distributes luxury children’s clothing, before two roles of even greater impact. First, she was commercial manager at the Printemps de L’homme purchasing department; then, as French country manager of Urb-it, a Swedish eco-responsible shopping application and delivery service.
Throughout, she battled and dispelled preconceived notions of what was possible in the industry, as well as a bout with impostor’s syndrome. She was able to overcome most of the former with sheer tenacity and power of will. The latter—equipping herself with the tools and self-belief required to conquer self-doubt— took more proactive, self-reflective action.
She walked us through how an Executive MBA from HEC Paris armed her with the requisite shift in mindset that enabled her to take her career into the c-suite.
“I had impostor syndrome. I knew that I had the skills to do it, but I didn’t believe in myself enough to accomplish my goals. The ability to do a job isn’t enough—you also must be sure of yourself. The HEC Paris EMBA gave me that certainty and belief that I’d be able to accomplish my goals. It gave me the wings to fly.”
Q: Tell us a little about your professional background
Émilie Viargues Metge: Ever since my first internship, my career has always been focused on the world of luxury. When I was starting out, I was so happy to work for a luxury firm, I felt like I would have done it for free. I began in very small jobs; being the daughter of two dentists, I didn’t know anyone in the industry, so I started out as a real nobody. That was a good thing though, because in this industry, and I’d say in many others, learning how to be nobody helps a lot.
It was important in my case because people kept telling me I wouldn’t be able to succeed in the sector because I didn’t know anyone to help me get a foot in the door. And for the longest time, I thought they may have been right— I was the assistant of the assistant for such a long time, paid very little to nothing at all.
But I stuck to it.
After a very long time, I got a role where I was making consequential decisions at Urb-it.
Becoming a country manager was a huge milestone for me after the mountain I had climbed. But I had the feeling that I was not quite ready to take the role: my skills were there, but my mindset was not. I was not able to dare.
I had impostor syndrome. I knew that I had the skills to do it, but I didn’t believe in myself enough to accomplish my goals. The ability to do a job isn’t enough—you also must be sure of yourself. The HEC Paris EMBA gave me that certainty and belief that I’d be able to accomplish my goals. It gave me the wings to fly.
Lao-Tzu’s quote, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” drove on that journey. It still does today.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue an EMBA in the first place? Why HEC Paris?
EVM: I faced the fact that as country manager, I had the skills but not the confidence for the job. I needed something like an EMBA to give me that confidence.
Being French, for me HEC Paris already had the cultural reputation of being the best business school. And to be honest, it was always a goal of mine to be able to reach HEC Paris. For many reasons, I wasn’t able to get in before. I think that I’m a doer, and I needed to have the practical experience of working before I could go for it. So it was always HEC as my first choice.
I also considered the HEC Paris EMBA a challenge to myself as a working mother and wife: I wanted to prove to myself that I was able to accomplish such a big goal all at the same time. Failure was never an option.
As I was saying to the MBA Retail & Luxury club, when I started my mindset was that if I went for it, success was my only choice. It was never an option to fail or to lose anything. To be honest, the HEC EMBA program put me into a state of real mental preparation and focus: I had started my career at the very bottom, I worked my way up, and the EMBA represented for me a proverbial cherry on top, the opportunity to reach the very top of the totem pole.
In my mind, if I was able to do HEC while working at the same time gave me the belief in myself to know that I have no limits in my goals moving forward.
Q: Knowing what you know now, what’s most valuable about the HEC Executive MBA?
EVM: The HEC Paris EMBA is a program where you can really learn. Most of it for me was the empowerment via overwhelming trust and belief in yourself.
When you go to HEC, being able to keep up in class means in some ways that you are already part of the elite. But what amazed me was the power of the group. There are so many differences and similarities in the people and professional backgrounds: we are all already working, we have lots of responsibilities, we’re already managers, but we come from so many different origins and sectors from the mix-and-match global melting pot. This makes us strong enough that every problem you can imagine really does have a solution.
I was struck by the very real impact of teamwork. Aggregating everyone’s skills and expertise is a formidable way to solve a complex problem. The most important thing is to share, to listen, to respect each other, and to work together in the same spirit and vision.
Q: What are the lessons and memories from your time at the HEC Paris EMBA that come to mind right away?
EVM: What comes to mind are lessons from the leadership course. “Learn to dare;” this sentence really changed my career. It’s useful that the leadership module was in the very beginning the EMBA. It’s important because the first thing they tell you is that you have to be sure that you can do something. If you embark upon a task unsure of yourself, chances are you will fail.
Secondarily, three useful concrete lessons and memories come to mind:
- Blue Ocean thinking and Professor Laurence Lehman Ortega, who taught me that you can find new solutions and options in any business model. The analysis of business models was new to me. If you change your perspective on a business model, you can really make money on anything.
- Professor Jeremy Ghez, and business environment. This was what helped me to think from an international perspective when I was very French in my mindset. It gave me a geopolitical overview and context that can explain the behavior of local companies. It showed me that small details in day-to-day business in France can be the result of much greater effects worldwide. Opened the door to a new way of thinking with new options.
- Doing the Luxury: Today and Tomorrow Specialization with Professor Jean Noel Kapferer was a real thrill. My entire life, I had been reading and learning from his textbooks, especially during my bachelor’s degree and afterward. It was amazing that 15 years later, the “God of Branding” was my professor.
Q: With your EMBA in hand, what achievements are you most proud of in your impressive career in luxury?
EVM: At 37, I’m CEO of one of the most famous French brands. If you told me 10— or even 5— years ago that I would be the CEO of Christofle, I would never have believed you. I was able to accomplish it, in some ways, because of the HEC Paris EMBA. Of course, there’s also so much work, a bit of luck, and lots of sacrifice, too, in the mix. But HEC Paris gave me the right to even dream of this.
“Apprendre à oser—learn to dare”, means everything.
If you decide you can do it, you can. I needed HEC, for me the best business school in the world, to give me the confidence.
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.
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