For Roberta Guatelli, EMBA ‘2022, motorsports is elementary. Like simple arithmetic, understanding the marriage of engineering and motorsports comes naturally to her; she’s quick to embrace the elegance and the allure of both.
“Working in motorsports is very nice because you work on the things that people love,” she says.
“People are passionate about racing. It’s nice when you work on the project, you see your creations on track, you see people cheering and happy and enjoying the show. This is magical for me. Something highly complex is racing on the track and I worked on that. It’s a very emotional aspect of my work.”
A sterling track record
She is an outlier, a female engineer in an otherwise testosterone-fueled milieu. Still, with math and motorsports as black and white to Roberta as a checkered flag or dividing by one, she couldn’t picture herself anywhere else.
“I never asked myself if it was the right choice to be an engineer, and never asked myself if it was right to be in motorsports.”
With that conviction, she’s made a name for herself in the field. She cut her teeth in the Rolls-Royce design workshop. Since then, she’s held a laundry list of gaudy and highly technical titles like Computational Fluid Dynamics engineer and Aerodynamic Technical Project engineer. Having held these roles in both endurance motorsports and Formula 1, the starkness of her professional anecdotes jump off the page.
“When I was working at Toyota, we won the world endurance championship in 2014, both for manufacturers and drivers’ categories. In a long race, you have to engineer something that lasts for hours. Yet, very often it doesn’t,” she says. “So, you never know who’s going to win.”
“My current company is in Formula 1. I decided to come to Alfa Romeo F1 Team ORLEN because it’s the pinnacle of technology in motorsports. In my career I’ve learned that I work better under pressure. I need to feel that adrenaline, focus, and try to solve problems in the quickest time possible.”
A new comfort zone
Her need for speed led her away from her technical comfort zone. In her role at Sauber Technologies, the adrenaline flows from challenges that lie further and further afield of precision engineering. She’s now in a customer-facing role, which means focusing on a whole new gamut of challenges.
“When I started to work with customers, I realized that I wanted to know more about marketing and about the product development, assessing and segmenting the market.”
Indisputably on a successful and fulfilling professional path, she nevertheless found herself at a career crossroads. It was a crossroads strewn with questions. She had ten years of high-level experience, but doubts remained. Still, ever the optimist, she felt those doubts could be mollified by graduate management education.
Her first instinct was to look for an MBA program. In doing her research, though, she very quickly realized that an Executive MBA was the better option.
“At the beginning, I thought the answer was going to be doing a traditional MBA. I discovered I had ‘too many’ years of experience. The more I researched, the more I realized that an EMBA was a better choice for me; it represented a better fit and balance for both my professional life and personal life.”
She sat down with us to discuss how that epiphany brought her to where she is today, with another career accomplishment to add to an impressive résumé: HEC Paris Executive MBA.
You’re an accomplished engineer in an esoteric, specialized field. Why do you need an EMBA? Why HEC Paris?
Roberta Guatelli: As Senior Aerodynamic Engineer, I have a highly specialized and technical profile. After about 10 years of work experience, I realized I was missing something: everything related to the business side. When I started to work with customers, I realized I wanted to know more about strategy, how to expand the market, how to widen it.
I know when you do an MBA or an EMBA, it’s all about the network, so you have to be careful about where you establish this network. I wanted to try to enter the best network for me, so I looked at the rankings, and I saw that HEC Paris was always near the top. Didn’t matter which paper I was reading—it was always there. This means that quality through the years is maintained, which is quite impressive for me.
Finally, a big reason I chose this program was the Luxury Specialization. At least in Europe, I couldn’t find another school proposing an EMBA that allowed me to devote part of my studies to luxury.
Of the five track possibilities, you selected the September track. Why? How did its format suit you most in balancing your career, family life, and studies?
RG: At the end of my selection process, I was taken by other schools. A key factor that led to my decision to choose HEC Paris was that the structure and timeline of HEC was a better fit for my expectations and daily routine. As such, I selected the English end-of-week track.
I wanted to make sure both that my class was as international as possible, and that I could be present at home during the week; when I began at HEC Paris, my daughter was only a year old. The EMBA allowed me to carry on both my work and family life without any compromises, I would say. For me, it was a key balance.
I think that meeting with the class essentially every other week helped us create a cohesive relationship. We were really a very united and strong group, from all around the world with diversified points of view. We were very international and open-minded, not a single voice, but a choir of voices. The fact that so many of us were international made us more critical and having the habit of questioning everything. The lesson wasn’t just a lesson; it was almost like a debate with the professor.
What are some of the key takeaways you got from the MBA? How did your time in class help you at work?
RG: First of all, there was always positive energy in class. There were always so many questions. So many discussions provoked deep thought and sometimes my point of view changed entirely.
A class that really helped me was Negotiating and Influencing, part of the Leadership module. It gives you a method to create a map of relationships in the work environment. Understanding the relationships between people helps you facilitate your changes when you want to make them.
Maybe because I have a technical background but having such a tool really helps me. In fact, something that I was missing in my skills gap before the EMBA was the political and diplomatic part. I used to that politics in industry was a negative; now I realize that it’s totally normal, because companies are people, and people create politics.
How did the HEC Paris EMBA program facilitate your professional growth as a corporate leader?
RG: What I found at HEC was the possibility to talk with many women in leadership positions.
Before attending HEC Paris, I never actually thought about my leadership style or the importance of being a leader. I only ever associated this word to the heads of departments or to directors; I discovered that anyone can be one. I would define leadership as a state of mind. It’s the ability to do your work well, and to foster the growth of people around you, and to help them to change and evolve.
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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