2017 Best EMBAs: Sonia Sánchez Plaza, IE Business School

Sonia Sánchez Plaza

IE Business School

“I try to be happy and I am tenacious, I do not give up easily.”

Age: 43

Hometown: Madrid, Spain

Family Members: There are three of us: my husband, my little boy and me.

Fun fact about yourself: I draw just as badly as when I was six years old. If the application tests to business school had consisted of drawing anything, today I would not be here!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Journalism.

Where are you currently working? I work in the PRISA Group. I am the head of the Political News Team at Cadena SER, the most listened to radio station in Spain.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I have collaborated with several NGOs, and I have done some work as a volunteer. I would like to do more to help others. I hope to be able to launch some projects in the future that will serve to make life better for people.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I studied letters at university. I only had to use a calculator to do household accounts! I had no idea how Excel works. Getting some good grades in subjects that have to do with numbers has been a real challenge and a great joy for me.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? For many years, I have been working as a journalist specializing in politics. From 2004-2011, my job was to travel all over the world covering Spain’s president for a major TV network. This allowed me to visit places that are difficult to gain access to, such as the Oval Office, the Kremlin or 10th Downing Street, and countries like Afghanistan, Togo, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Algeria and Ethiopia, amongst many others. At 30, I was perhaps the youngest reporter in the president’s press pool.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? It is very difficult to choose: Fernando Sánchez, Daniel Suárez, David Sastre, and Cuqui Cabanas. All of them have awakened my desire to know more about vastly varied issues that I had never been interested in. I deeply appreciate that.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? I liked Direction of Operations, which taught us about how to improve the processes so that a company can operate more efficiently. I have always been very interested in finding formulas to do things better, and now I have many useful tools to achieve that. In Finances, I have learned about how to interpret financial data, which was once a sea of incomprehensible numbers for me. The subjects that I have enjoyed the most, however, are those about leading teams and managing people. I like the human side of business.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose IE Business School for its excellent position in the international rankings and for the school’s special attention to diversity. It is always very enriching to meet people from different backgrounds. It is a great experience.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The most important thing for me has been learning about issues that I had never tackled before in depth. On some issues, such as Finances, for example, my learning curve started from scratch. It has been a very difficult but enormously interesting challenge.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I have a one-year-old baby, and he does not sleep very well. On some mornings before going to work, I’ve been with the computer in one hand resolving case studies, had the baby and a bottle in the other hand, and with cartoons on TV! A baby teaches you that it’s possible to survive sleeping very, very little while still doing many other things at once. That’s very handy when you study an Executive MBA.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s executive MBA program? To remember that it is going to be an unforgettable experience. Study hard, but also spend some time laughing with your classmates because you’ll will find real treasures. And do not give up. Sometimes it is very difficult to finish the huge amount of work that is required, but once you learn to manage the pressure, you’ll find that can do it!

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? To think that it is impossible to find free time within your busy family and professional agenda. It really is possible. When you don’t have time, you make it. One of my teachers, Cuqui Cabanas, told us to think about what we were going to do after finishing the EMBA with so much free time. And she was right. That’s what I’m thinking about now.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not having taken this course a few years earlier.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Juan Pablo González Pinzón, our “Colombian ambassador.” He is a very intelligent person and is very willing to help others. He could have spent all his time trying to be number one in the class — he has plenty of capacity to be — but he prefers to always be available to help his classmates. My classmates and I have been very lucky to have a person like him around.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that it is imperative to have a global and complete vision of how companies work to keep progressing in my professional career.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…less in debt, but very regretful!”

What is your favorite company and what are they doing that makes them so special? First, of course, the company I work for, PRISA, the largest communication group in Spain with a presence in more than 20 countries. Apart from PRISA, I admire many companies for their vision and philosophy (Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Tesla), but, since I am Spanish, I want to highlight Inditex. It is a great example of profitability, efficiency and constant innovation. Its CEO, Amancio Ortega, through his Foundation, also dedicates many resources to help improve the lives of others. I like that attitude in people and in companies.

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the executive MBA experience? I believe that some EMBA programs pay little attention to communicative and negotiation skills. There are many brilliant students with great ideas, but who are barely able to express them with sufficient capacity to convince others. I think more emphasis on this would be a good point of improvement for EMBA’s of the future.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To continue to progress, learn, and enjoy my work. And one day I’d like to run my own company.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I am very grateful to my husband for encouraging me to take this program and for his constant support. Without him, it would have been impossible to be here, especially since we have a small child.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As a good classmate to all and as a good friend for those with whom I have developed a closer relationship.

Favorite book: For being an absolutely amazing book and because I remember some passages vividly many years after reading it, I would choose 2666 by the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño.

Favorite movie or television show: The West Wing, House of Cards…I really like politics, as you can see.

Favorite musical performer: I chose two: for their powerful voices so able to elicit emotions, Antony and The Johnsons and also the Spanish singer, Silvia Pérez Cruz.

Favorite vacation spot: Anywhere I go with the people I love… but if it’s possible a place with a nice beach!

Hobbies? Reading novels (that’s something you miss a lot while you study an Executive MBA) and gastronomy. I love discovering new restaurants.

What made Sonia such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“I start from the reality that I have been teaching at IE Business School for many years, and as a result I have had the opportunity to meet many students in the Executive MBA course. This circumstance allows me to affirm with all rigor that Sonia Sanchez Plaza has been an exceptional student.

Why do I think she has been exceptional? Very simply, I have been fascinated by her progression throughout the course. She started from the most absolute ignorance, given her training and work experience, and from that position she has been climbing, day-by-day, based on three ingredients, which few students practice daily: Concentration, Discipline and Excitement, making them compatible with her family life and work.

I remember her face of shock and surprise, and even skepticism, at what she heard in class. My perception that first day of class told me that that girl in the last row to the right was not going to develop too much in a course such as an Executive MBA. That circumstance and her positive attitude made me look at her, class-by-class, and observe her admirable progression.

I think it is necessary to emphasize that in her attitude in class there was never a single unfortunate participation: she tried to go unnoticed and she never made any “fuss” out of tone. She was committed to her work group and was an excellent companion to her classmates. The final apotheosis of this excellent pupil and person was confirmed by three fundamental aspects for me: her leadership and contribution in the presentation of a Case in group, with a brilliant personal result, her splendid Final Examination, and fundamentally the respect, gratitude and affection she showed towards her companions.

In the last class, I asked her: “Do you think that what you are learning will be worth it for your professional life as a journalist, so far removed from the business world?” Her reply was: “After completing this Master there will be a before and an after in my professional and personal life, the level of contribution for me is very high.”

Finally, Sonia has been for me one of the most motivating experiences of my professional life dedicated to teaching.

For all these reasons, I consider that the development and performance of Sonia in the EMBA and her personal effort to keep up the pace despite her busy professional career, with a high responsibility as a political journalist and her attention to her family, especially her baby, places her in a prominent position to earn the prize for which she has been nominated. I believe, and I return to my long experience, that it is very difficult to find in a business school a student of the character and values of Sonia Sánchez.”

Fernando Sánchez Suárez
Professor of Marketing
IE Business School