From Celebrated Academic to Coveted Corporate Decision-maker, the Transformative Leadership Effect of the HEC Paris EMBA on Estefania Tapias, PhD

Like her HEC Paris EMBA classmates, Estefania Tapias, PhD, EMBA ‘23, is a subject matter expert. As is also typical, she has been for a long time, and was well before she began her transformative EMBA journey at HEC Paris. Her chosen field is Smart and Sustainable Cities, a career she began more than 10 years ago.

“I work specifically in the topic of sustainability, and how you can use data and technology to understand how cities adapt to environmental changes due to climate change.”

After completing her PhD research of sustainability in cities, she managed teams and projects in Singapore and Zurich. She spent 7 years within institutions like ETH Zurich and the Future Cities Laboratory, where she continued her academic work while mastering the operational side of publicly funded Smart Cities research projects.

Estefania then took a two-year hiatus, when she co-founded a female-forward coworking space with a friend. After two years, the startup was acquired just before COVID, and Estefania and her co-founder went their separate ways.

“…the EMBA gave me the last set of tools that I needed. In science, when I felt like I needed something more practical, I was just able to switch to consulting. Now, when I’m able to paint a broader picture— why should cities care, why are these things helpful for sustainable development, I needed strategy, business environment, and finance tools. I needed to understand the business behind different solutions.”

– Estefania Tapias, PhD, EMBA ‘23

Estefania found herself in Paris, consulting in Smart and Sustainable Cities (she prefers the term Responsive Cities), all of it far from her Singapore and Zurich-based professional networks.

Though she was back in the outwardly familiar and entirely comfortable professional milieu of Smart Cities, she still couldn’t help but feel a little stuck in her career.

She had gone from the rigor of pure academia to translating that depth of research into practical applications in Zurich and Singapore and was back as a pure subject matter expert in Paris.

But she was ready to take a career jump that combined her academic gravitas with clout and structured leadership style on the business end of things.

HEC Paris EMBA student Estefania Tapias

She found it in the form of an EMBA from HEC Paris.

In doing her research, she found that the program’s diverse curriculum, featuring a mix of classes in strategy, finance, and operations management, would enable her to develop a well-rounded understanding of business management.

One of the key benefits of the EMBA program was the opportunity for Estefania to network and collaborate with like-minded professionals from various industries across the globe. This international exposure allowed her to deepen her understanding of different markets and cultures, ultimately enhancing her ability to manage diverse teams and projects.

Career experts at HEC Talents, who coached her through the job interview process with laser-focused personalization. With the support of HEC Paris career experts to supplement the considerable heft of her expertise, she landed a role with Dassault Systèmes while the EMBA was still underway, bringing her ambitions in line with her experiences.

She sat down with us to discuss her motivations and ambitions that led her to the HEC Paris Executive MBA, the transformative impact it had on her as a business leader, and why the EMBA experience helped her bring immediate added value at work as she started a rigorous new role.

Q: Why did an EMBA make sense in the first place, and how did HEC Paris differentiate itself as the right program for you?

Estefania Tapias: I wanted to acquire tools for business.

I think it’s part of the evolution of my career, and it’s part of an evolution of what I can do with my knowledge and expertise.

When I was in science and academia, I felt like I was missing a more practical part. I thought to myself: ‘how can I use this research to help cities?’ On the other hand, for the year and a half I was in tech consulting right when I moved to Paris, I was missing the depth and breadth of the subjects that I had before.

Finally, moving to Paris with my whole network in Switzerland was a big challenge.

So, I wanted to find ways to accelerate my career. The small taste of having started a business in the past was good, but I wanted to delve more deeply into it.

I decided upon the HEC Paris EMBA because of its reputation and because the March intake’s “end-of-week” program fit my schedule the best. I couldn’t take the time off needed for the modular format intakes. But the HEC Paris EMBA program’s flexibility was perfect for my schedule: the March intake mostly takes place in Paris, which meant I didn’t have to go on campus. Doing so every two weeks is perfect for me.

Three months into my EMBA, I landed a job that fit best my career progression. I moved from pure tech specialist to business development and strategy in Smart Cities.

All my previous expertise and my knowledge on the topic helped a lot, but my EMBA training helped me answer other questions, like: why should cities care in terms of ROI? Why does it make sense for them financially, especially since they’re dealing with public money? They have to have a good sense of it in business terms.

I have to be able to speak to that confidently while being a subject matter expert.

Q: How did the HEC Paris EMBA help you hone your leadership skills?

ET: The leadership journey was a process that lasted the whole year. It is built in a way that you go through different topics throughout the course of the EMBA. You first get to know yourself, find out who you want to be and then you are given tools for you to become the best “leader version” of yourself.

It’s one of the most important outcomes from the EMBA.

When I started, I thought they’d just give me some tools and techniques and then boom, I’d be a better leader. I discovered that improving on leadership requires a lot of deliberate introspection and reflection on who you are and what your priorities are as a leader. The leadership journey was about finding myself, finding who I am, and why do I do the things that I do.

It’s essential you know yourself well to effectively lead other people and lead a team. Now I do things more purposefully. Now I reflect much more on why I do the things that I do. I understand were people come from, why they do what they do, and how you as a leader can support them.

I am more conscious and deliberate about my work.

Q: How did the program help you immediately apply EMBA knowledge at work?

ET: The best example would be in changing my job, which was my primary objective when I started at HEC Paris. I learned from the HEC Talents career seminars we had and improved my interview skills. I believe that help me enormously.

Everything happened at the same time!

I was recruited around the same time I was at the EMBA, and I really took advantage of HEC Talents’ interview coaching, since I was interviewing and doing those workshops in real time.

The other example is using all the learnings and tools given to me in all courses to perform in my new job. Many of these learnings came in handy in many instances. I could say that the EMBA courses accompanied me throughout the first months of my new job.

When I started my role, I was really taking everything I was learning in my courses into my day-to-day job. Some people think that starting an EMBA and starting a new job at the same time is the hardest thing you can do, but for me it was practical— applying the things I was learning right away to my new work environment.

Q: Besides in-class lessons, what other added value did you gain from your time at HEC Paris?

ET: The people you meet (your cohort classmates) is the best career value. Your peers and cohort members become a family and an additional support, not only professionally, but personally. You learn from each of them different things and you treasure every conversation you have. Your cohort peers is one of the biggest pluses of the EMBA.

Everyone has very different perspectives on things in your career. Through those discussions, you learn a lot, and all the time.

My EMBA peers are in many cases doing careers very different from mine, older than me and with a lot more experience.

In sum, the EMBA gave me the last set of tools that I needed. In science, when I felt like I needed something more practical, I was just able to switch to consulting. Now, when I’m able to paint a broader picture— why should cities care, why are these things helpful for sustainable development, I needed strategy, business environment, and finance tools. I needed to understand the business behind different solutions.

The EMBA arrived at the right time in my career.

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.