Poets & Quants for Executives

From Mon Capitaine to a Global Asia EMBA

by Mica Bevington

EMBA Global Asia_Class of 2012

David Flament, the self-styled "poet with a gun"

There is a buzz to David Flament. His current title is topical: International Affairs Specialist, French Armed Services (focus: African political, financial and military issues). When he’s not being called up for service, he is Chief Budget Officer at the African Development Bank’s Tunisian headquarters, where he has worked since 2003. (He was close enough to Tunisia’s January riots “to enjoy our share of tear gas.”) And he’s a student in the EMBA Global Asia Class of 2011.

David took his last MBA elective in early January, packing four classes into December and January in order to be able to report for duty on January 23 (he’ll finish this tour in May). “Needless to say this little “hobby” of mine keeps me well busy these days,” he recently quipped by email. “Just as well North Africa waited for the end of my last elective in London before erupting in total chaos.”

Since 2009, he has travelled every few weeks to Hong Kong, London or New York to study management on EMBA Global Asia. The program is run jointly between Columbia and London Business Schools and Hong Kong University, and is an expansion of the decade old EMBA Global Americas and Europe program that Columbia and London offer.

So far, David has tallied more than 202,000 miles of travel. The time changes have been brutal – sleeping pills are a practically a course requirement. Still, it’s been an experience that has trumped his undergraduate years and has helped him make a name for himself around the Bank.

His Story:

I call myself a poet-with-a-gun. As a product of the French education system, I was coerced into studying hard-core maths. Brain washed as I was, my initial “choice” of study – an MEng degree from Strathclyde University in Glasgow – never really was one. It took me a couple of years to realize that I hated studying thermodynamics, fluids mechanics and electronics. I clenched my teeth and completed the course but vowed not to ever work as an engineer.

I joined the Army when I left university and served as an Artillery Forward Observer for a couple of years. I was encouraged to focus on the specific technical aspects of my trade (ballistics, topography). Then, as a consultant and as a budget officer, I had to train myself and become an expert in accounting an IT. All these paths are highly numerical in essence.

Yet, by nature, I always was a deep lover and a fine craftsman of “le verbe juste”. For many years I forced myself to be someone I wasn’t and to develop skills in domains for which I had no particular talent. Like those born left-handers and converted into being right-handers, I have become eerily strong and agile in areas universally seen as mutually exclusive.

As a poet-with-a-gun (or “un sabre et une plume”), I like to think that my work is appreciated both for the elegance of sophisticated prose and for the brutality of thoroughly researched and analyzed facts, figures and numerical evidence. This attitude also allows me to gladly operate outside of my comfort zone, take risks and wholeheartedly engage in new endeavours, knowing how scenic the panorama always is from the point of no return.

I began considering an MBA many years ago, having embarked on a career path rooted in analytical accounting without having an ounce of academic legitimacy. Getting an MBA did not just mean acquiring skills in finance and accounting. It also meant asserting my willingness to reach a position of authority.

I sat my GMAT in 2007, and then sat on the result (730) for a year before applying to any business school. I was eager to avoid the mistakes of my high school and undergraduate years. So it was important for me to identify an MBA program that would fit my personality.

I originally had considered studying full time. From a practical, logistical point of view, it first made a lot of sense. Yet meeting with a couple of alumni from Wharton and INSEAD, I started to ponder whether such programs would meet my expectations. I had 12 years of professional experience, and I was slightly put off by the low – or even absence of – experience prerequisites for full-time programs. Moreover, what these programs offer in terms of international exposure compared unfavourably with what I was already getting from the African Development Bank, where the headquarters boasts 75 nationalities.

So I quickly revisited my assumptions and aimed at the most impractical (from a logistical point of view) and most demanding “exec” program I could find – EMBA Global Asia.

The first block week in Hong Kong was amazing (apart from the bit about not being able to recover from the jetlag… why oh why didn’t I take the blue sleeping pill?). I particularly enjoyed the class on executive leadership. In one week you get to learn a lot about yourself and about your fellow course mates and about your team back at work. It turned out to be a fantastic laboratory and a binding experience.

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  • Ben H.

    Thanks for this story. I have been doing a great deal of research on EMBA programs and it is great to get an insiders view of the program and requirements. The EMBA-Global Asia program sounds well worth it even though I would be community from Boston, USA.

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