Fast-tracked for management early on in his career at GE, Sylvain Mestrallet, E. 22, used his EMBA from HEC Paris to go from professional to powerhouse, developing the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to take worldwide responsibilities at work. After the program, he gained a better understanding of global markets, a more introspective and strategic approach to problem-solving, and secured a key leadership role in preparing a spinoff company for a January IPO.
His aspirations lay in roles of greater responsibility and impact and in transitioning from manager to executive. He sought the confidence, soft skills, and the ability to see the big picture and think like C-level executives from across business functions and saw an Executive MBA from HEC Paris as the appropriate solution.
The HEC Paris EMBA fully prepared him for taking on a more global scope. The program was fundamental in building his self-awareness, self-confidence, and international business acumen. Through the Executive MBA, Sylvain was able to practice an analytical approach to business and to foster a holistic understanding of global markets.
We asked him about the EMBA and his career path: why, in his early thirties, he opted for an EMBA, how HEC Paris best fit his ambitious goals, and the experience that has led him to where he is today.
Why did you decide to pursue an Executive MBA?
Sylvain Mestrallet: I spent the first phase of my career in operational finance roles. I was fortunate to be given leadership opportunities with global responsibilities from the early stages of my career thanks to key internal sponsors and mentors.
At a critical moment in my career, I decided to pursue an Executive MBA. I wanted to advance to positions of greater responsibility and impact, transitioning from manager to executive, but I felt I lacked something—confidence, soft skills, and the ability to see the big picture and understand other C-level executives.
Needing to expand my skill set, challenge my thinking, step outside of my comfort zone, and comprehend a wider context, I was also interested in areas such as operations, commercial and go-to-market strategies, digital and information technology, and I wanted to gain exposure to these functions, learn key concepts and apply them in practical situations, and lead strategic discussions with C-suite executives and experts.
I believed this program could help in all of these areas of growth. It has certainly made me see and think from different perspectives.
Why did you select the EMBA program at HEC Paris?
SM: I chose HEC Paris because of its excellent reputation, academic rigor, and exceptional alumni network. After speaking with alumni and current members of the program, I realized that the seniority and experience of the HEC Paris EMBA cohort stood out compared to similar programs.
How did the HEC Paris EMBA’s flexible format help you fit your EMBA pursuit into your career and personal life?
SM: The program’s primary differentiator was its vast intake selection. This meant a lot of flexibility in rescheduling classes in case of conflict, also opportunities to join other cohorts, and select multiple majors.
I chose the weekly modular format (about 1 week every two months or so) to interact with the cohort members outside of the classroom in a more focused manner.
This format also helped me balance my work and family responsibilities. Another important lesson I learned from being out of the office for modules was how to delegate, trust my teams, and execute through others.
The ability to stay calm, grounded, and flexible was tested in multiple instances. This was especially true at the beginning of COVID-19, which led to rescheduling a few classes to keep them face-to-face. Personally, I also had to deal with the birth of our third child and a promotion halfway through the program.
This two-year journey was fast-paced and demanding, requiring the focus and energy to balance long study sessions and group projects with full-time work and family commitments. Support from family, colleagues, and peers is critical throughout this journey.
How did the EMBA facilitate your career transition to a more impactful role?
SM: During the program, I switched roles twice. Towards the end of the program, I was promoted to VP of Financial Planning & Analysis for GE HealthCare’s Ultrasound franchise. I started this role at a critical time: we had only a few months left before our spinoff from GE, the IPO is planned for January 2023.
To be successful in this role, I needed to get up to speed rapidly in a completely new industry, while also building a team from the ground up and becoming a trusted operational partner to our leadership team. The skills and confidence gained during the program were critical facilitators.
“I got to understand broad and macro concepts while, remaining detail-oriented in understanding core operational realities. To improve as a leader, I had to understand my strengths, control my emotions and time, handle pressure, create the right environment, and form early relationships. I gained confidence in my skills to apply them in a variety of areas.”
While transitioning from manager to executive, I realized my impact was no longer dependent on my skill, but instead on my ability to understand the bigger picture, to attract and build an effective team, and to influence peers and our leadership team. I learned to see business challenges and problems through various lenses and perspectives. I got to understand broad and macro concepts while, remaining detail-oriented in understanding core operational realities. To improve as a leader, I had to understand my strengths, control my emotions and time, handle pressure, create the right environment, and form early relationships. I gained confidence in my skills to apply them in a variety of areas.
A common misconception about the program is that the diploma, school reputation, and network alone will facilitate a promotion or job change.
The reality is that you are the one in charge of your career. It is up to you to proactively take actions, try things outside of your comfort zone, and open up to others to receive feedback.
Daily exchanges with peers, professors, and guests, as well as a mix of theoretical and real-world applications will help you understand your “sweet spot”, where you need to improve and get complementary talents around you to help.
How did the HEC Paris EMBA that helped you gain a competitive career edge?
SM: The program’s emphasis on technology, innovation, and growth helped me better appreciate key trends that will directly impact my career. With my background in mature industries, understanding risk of disruption by new players if too slow to act and invest in new technologies was an eye-opening experience. Going through concepts first and applying them to case studies and exchanging with the broader group was an efficient way to absorb this in a compressed timeframe.
Through the HEC Incubator and my Capstone Project, I also worked with founders and startup board members and shared my experience on specific financial and strategic topics to help them grow and structure their teams and operations.
How were you able to immediately apply your EMBA to challenges at work?
SM: The program’s format helps bring the concepts and learnings discussed in the classroom and with the cohort to the office. It also allows you to take a step back and take more time to deliberate before deciding— as opposed to the operational urgency often required in the office. It made me realize I needed to be more in control of my schedule and make time to think and communicate with my broader team.
Where appropriate and when possible, I would also share with my teams some classroom, managerial or industry topics that had helped me better address a specific situation at work.
What is it like being in class with 40-50 executives, each with 15 years’ experience?
SM: Being a part of a cohort full of talented and experienced business leaders and subject experts from diverse backgrounds is humbling.
The energy in the room was incredible. As the youngest member of our cohort, I had to overcome the fear of being underestimated or challenged by this incredible crew. Eventually, I realized that we all experienced “imposter syndrome” one way or another that we were all here for a reason, and that we all had something to contribute to the group.
It was an honor to be elected as the class representative, but it also came with the unique challenge of representing our cohort during COVID-19, with its many logistical changes (along with personal and professional disruptions for most participants).
Building a diverse network of friends and mentors from the program is one of its most valuable aspects. I regularly consult with my classmates on specific challenges I face at work. I got strong support from the cohort to discuss challenges related to changes in business, macro environments, and leadership. Their unbiased and transparent views on those topics—combined with their extensive knowledge —was an invaluable resource in attempting to grasp complex situations before being able to make a decision.
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. The Executive MBA at HEC Paris perennially ranks among the best 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, introduce yourself to our recruitment team.