How the Quality and Flexibility of the HEC Paris EMBA Program Facilitated these Mothers’ Experiences

Bulu Iraddim Ismailova, Roxanne Crossley, Esperanza Orrego, and Jenni Peltola Toft are typical participants in the HEC Paris EMBA program.

They have achieved much in their careers. They are ambitious, highly capable leaders in their respective fields. The HEC Paris program appealed to them chiefly because of the quality of its offer; in turn, they enrich their respective cohorts with their dynamism and impactful professional backgrounds.

They also happen to be mothers. Peru-based Esperanza and Denmark-based Jenni had small children at home. Azerbaijan-based Bulu and Paris-based Roxanne were well into the final trimester of pregnancy when their programs began.

They chose the EMBA program at HEC Paris for its best-in-class rankings. But they knew the program’s built-in flexibility would be an invaluable tool to managing a delicate balancing act in time management.

The result was that some could complete all modules on-schedule or ahead of time. For others, the program’s 5-track, international mobility-facilitated flexibility allowed them to miss a module and easily make up for it with another group where necessary.

They sat down with us to talk about their backgrounds, why they decided to pursue their Executive MBA at HEC Paris, and how—along with their families’ full support and buy-in— the HEC Paris EMBA program facilitates their work-study-life balance.


Roxanne Crossley, Chief of Staff, Scality (Paris)

HEC Paris EMBA participant Roxanne CROSSLEY

I am currently Chief of Staff at Scality, a data storage software company.

I have learned a lot over the past few years working alongside Scality’s CEO Jérôme Lecat and all of the staff at Scality. I coordinate our management team, working on stretegic projects with the executive committee (which I’m a part of) as well as supporting the CEO in his day-to-day work. I was keen to get all my learnings certified and that’s how the EMBA came about.

Working and living in Paris, HEC made total sense for me. The ranking was a plus, of course, but more importantly the layout of the modules was convenient for me: 10 days or so every other month was easy for me to organize, workwise and personally.

“The ranking was a plus, of course, but more importantly the layout of the modules was convenient for me: 10 days or so every other month was easy for me to organize, workwise and personally.”

Obviously, starting an EMBA at 6 months pregnant is a little daunting. You kind of wonder how you’ll be able to juggle a newborn, classes, group work, assignments, getting back to work. At the time, I also happened to be moving, preparing for a wedding, and so many other things I hadn’t planned for!

The beauty of the EMBA at HEC is that there are 5 cohorts every year and so you can easily catch up a class you may have missed with another cohort. That’s what I did. I missed a module and a few classes as they were taking place when I was due or very early on in Romy’s life. I was able to catch up with another cohort and got to meet a whole new group of EMBA students at the same time!

It’s all about logistics and HEC was very good in communicating dates and locations early on.

Now that my daughter Romy is here, it seems like everything is easier. Even when it gets a little overwhelming or when there is an unplanned event, like when she fell sick during our Corporate Finance class, I simply give her a great big cuddle for my batteries to be full again and for me to find a solution.

It’s a learning curve for sure and for me it’s all about asking for help and support. Luckily, I have the best crew around me, with my future husband, Romy’s grandmothers and other family members and friends.

Bulu Iraddim Ismayilova, Board Member at GESCO and General-Secretary of the Azerbaijan Cybersecurity Organizations Association (Baku)

HEC Paris EMBA Participant Bulu

I was recently promoted to General Secretary of the Azerbaijan Cybersecurity Organizations Association. I plan to concentrate on the development of this organization fully. Being a board member necessitates a more professional and assured approach to business; you need to build a solid professional network and expand fundamental knowledge and skills to accelerate your advancement. That’s why I needed a top-ranked EMBA.

I was five months pregnant when I was accepted to the HEC Paris EMBA.

Fast forward to now, we have just completed the fourth and penultimate module of the program. Looking back, I realize that this path would not have been as enjoyable (or possible) without the support of my husband, family, shareholders, the HEC Paris family, and, especially, my cohort, the September 2021 track.

“The reverent, respectful attitude of professors and my classmates was priceless to me.”

I was seven months pregnant during the first module. The reverent, respectful attitude of professors and my classmates was priceless to me.

Probably because of the HEC family’s vital energy and support, who make catch-up opportunities always available, I have not missed a single module since the birth of my child.

Esperanza Orrego, HR Manager, Alicorp (Lima)

HEC Paris EMBA Participant Esperanza Bernal

I work as Human Resources Manager at Alicorp, one of the biggest Latin American CPG companies. Before that, I worked at Proctor & Gamble for 7 years. I am a trained engineer, but my career path has given me the opportunity to learn about different areas of the business.

Over the past 11 years, I have had different managerial roles in the consumer-packed goods industry in areas like Supply Chain, Human Resources and Operations.

“An EMBA is a once in a lifetime experience, so I wanted to do it in a top school like HEC Paris.”

I decided to pursue an EMBA because I wanted to strengthen my strategic and leadership skills, and gain insights into global business trends and practices, as my aim is to be a leader at the forefront of the business.

An EMBA is a once in a lifetime experience, so I wanted to do it in a top school like HEC Paris.

Despite the distance (I live in Lima, Peru) I chose the school not only because of its solid position in rankings, but also because of the strong sense of community of its active and diverse alumni network, which accelerates business and enables job opportunities. My peers were going to come from all over the world, from different industries and roles.

There are innumerable benefits from studying alongside well-established professionals with different backgrounds, skills, cultures, and experiences. They are as important as faculty members or academic curriculum.

One of the formats that HEC Paris offers for the Executive MBA is modular, which means 5 to 10 full days of face-to-face classes every two months. I chose this format, and it has allowed me to balance my personal, professional, and academic life.

As a mother and wife, my husband and son are an important part of my support system. They know this is a busy period for me and therefore get fully involved in different chores. We make sure we have quality time together and when I travel for the EMBA we do a good plan for the days I will be absent.

Even when I am in Paris during EMBA modules, more than 10,000 km from home, technology helps to stay connected with them. We have quick video calls to know about their day, to share news, and even to help with doubts of school homework.

My 7-year-old son loves telling his friends that his mom is studying – even if kids probably think that I am learning solar systems, multiplications or computing like them.

I clearly note that my son has become more responsible and autonomous during this time.

Jenni Peltola Toft, L’Oreal (Copenhagen)

HEC Paris EMBA Participant Jenni Peltola Toft

I was born and raised in Finland. I relocated to Copenhagen about a decade ago; for the last nine years I have been working at L’Oréal’s Nordic Hub here in Denmark. The journey has been fantastic – one opportunity after another, there has never been a dull moment. In my latest role I was responsible for the brand Lancôme in the Nordic region.

I am currently on maternity leave taking care of my second son.

After working many years in the Nordic region, I wanted to broaden my horizons and challenge my thinking through an EMBA program. I was in a right spot iun my career and personal life where pursuing this program made sense. For me, it was important to find a school that would not only offer a great program, top professors, and network but also flexibility and support.

I made a thorough comparison between programs and decided to apply to HEC Paris because I felt that this program would give me maximal input with a manageable number of days away from home.

“I am, for example, taking two courses in Doha, which gives me more flexibility.”

I traveled with my whole family—including my children’s grandmother— to my first in-person module in Jouy-en-Josas.

This gave me the chance to get a softer landing to the EMBA journey, with the support of my family nearby.

 I think the key is that I was never away from home for several consecutive weeks. This would not have worked for me. I’m not saying it’s easy – it takes a great amount of planning and support from your support system, but it’s manageable. Another supporting fact is the mobility option:  I am, for example, taking two courses in Doha, which gives me more flexibility.

Everything is possible if you want it. It looks like a lot (and it is intense) but it’s doable when you plan and have the right support – this is a key. Talk to your family, your employer, and the school about your aspirations.

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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