2017 Best EMBAs: Juliana Mardon, University of Oxford (Saïd)

Juliana Mardon

Saïd Business School – University of Oxford

Age: 37

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Trustworthy, balanced, creative, pragmatic, listener, persistent, happy, responsible, sportive and still amazed by beautiful things.

Hometown: Tours, France and Brasilia, Brazil

Family Members: Both parents and one brother living in France, as well as cousins, aunts and uncles living in Brazil and in the United States.

Fun fact about yourself: When I meet people for the first time, they have hard time believing that I was born in Brazil, because they always have in mind the pictures of the sun worshippers on Copacabana beach that are regularly shown on TV reports, while Brazil is a country of great diversity in physical aspects, starting with me.

Undergraduate School and Degree: After my Baccalauréat in Sciences (Maths) in 1997, I studied for 2 years in the “Classes Préparatoires aux Grandes Ecoles” (CPGE) in Economy and Sciences for my undergrad and then after the national business schools exam, I was accepted at the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce et de Management (ESCEM) Tours-Poitiers (ESCEM Business School) for my graduate studies where I graduated in 2002 with a Master’s degree in Business Control and Strategic Management.

Where are you currently working?

I am currently working as the Budget Officer for the Emerging Security Challenges (ESC) Division at the NATO International Staff (NATO IS) in Brussels (Belgium).

The ESC Division addresses a growing range of non-traditional risks and challenges and is structured around Counter Terrorism, Cyber Defence, Economics and Security Assessments, Science for Peace and Security, Strategic Analysis Capability, WMD Non-Proliferation Centre, and Nuclear Policy Directorate.

In my capacity of Budget Officer, besides implementing and overseeing the budget execution for the Division, I am mostly in charge of following closely the funds granted to scientific projects within the Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme. This is a key policy tool for enhancing security-related practical cooperation and dialogue with all Alliance partnerships, based on scientific research, innovation, and knowledge exchange. SPS promotes and contributes to finding civil solutions to a growing range of contemporary security challenges, including among other things, terrorism, cyber defence, energy security, and environmental concerns, as well as human and social aspects of security.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I must admit I did not have any extracurricular activities or community work or leadership roles while attending my executive MBA, although I have been for the past year mentoring some of my junior colleagues at work.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? It is not an academic or extracurricular achievement as such, however I do consider proudly what it is the direct result of my attendance to the executive MBA Program of Saïd Business School – University of Oxford. In my previous job with the NATO International Staff, we had an intern join the team in March 2015, I was not initially supposed to mentor him; however I started doing it progressively as of November 2015. During the first year of the course, with time and applying what I was learning and as part of my own coaching sessions, I changed my management style.

I started giving him instructions to perform tasks from A to Z, which I knew he was capable of achieving and from which he would learn, telling him that I had full confidence in him and that I would always be available just in case. While checking with him from time-to-time on his work progression, I often reminded him that “confidence does not exclude control” and that “professionalism comes from learning from mistakes.” As a direct result, I saw him change progressively from a “graduate student doing just an internship” to a young competent professional. I watched him mature, grow, gain confidence, and become the professional he is now, fully capable and not afraid to apply to my previous position. I wish him to be successful in his career.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?

In my professional career, there is one achievement for which I am the most proud of because it earned me a commendation letter from the French Navy Chief of Staff – Finance Branch and later an overseas assignment as the Head of Administration and Finance Services at the Joint Chief of Staff for the French Armed Forces in the Caribbean seas (EMIA Antilles), as the direct result of my work.

In February 2006, I was assigned at the French Navy Chief of Staff – Finance Department, in charge of the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) called Sirene which was supposed to provide all the analytical costs of the French Navy military units. Unfortunately, it was only partially functioning, barely only 30% of the costs initially entered in system were allocated to cost centers at the end as outputs. When I left the service in 2008, 95% of the costs were allocated to cost centers and the annual financial statements were given in less than 6 months instead of 18 months previously.

I was able to achieve this because I took the time to read all the available documentation, and patiently tested different scenario in conjunction with ERP training. One week in late June, I followed my hunch and on Friday evening, I found the solution and I could not believe it after previous multiple non-conclusive attempts. It was so unreal that I had to ask my predecessor, who had come back to help me at the time, to test himself the solution to confirm the results. I still remember how the two of us, both young second lieutenants, were happy and relieved as the ERP was finally delivering and would be helping the Chief of Staff to answer any questions on French Navy activities at any moment in time.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite class was about leadership because I was able to understand better all the different styles of leadership and how they could be perceived and applied differently depending on a company’s culture and history. The course made me understand what lately was really frustrating me at work, with my managers, my colleagues and work itself. Once I understood that, I could apply some of the concepts learned in class so I could take a higher perspective on things happening and moving forward and not let workload or colleagues put me down. The most visible result for me was that I applied successfully for a new position at NATO that I consider to be a promotion for me. This is a position where I am now the happiest at, because I have a leadership role to play and responsibilities to exert in budgetary matters.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose to do this executive MBA program for a few reasons. Firstly, I already knew both the University and the business school as I studied there for a post-graduate diploma in Financial Strategy in 2013. Secondly, I fell in love with Oxford, the city, the University. Oxford has that particular atmosphere that makes you want to become better as an individual and as a professional, to excel even more in your specialty field, and to discover and learn new fields.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? My classmates and the way they were pushing the debates in class, because they are bringing different perspectives and angles into a subject, which make me think and refine my beliefs.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? It was at the end of the first year of the course, around October-November-December. At that same short period of time, I had to transition into my new job at NATO. I was still working and delivering at the previous job where (among other things) I had the NATO IS 2016 Civil Revised Budget to prepare, analyze and submit for approval to Nations as well as preparing my hand-over to colleagues. At the same time, I had to start serious revisions for the upcoming accounting exam, getting acquainted with my new role as a class representative, dealing with both the school administration and faculty, and my fellow classmates. While on the family forefront, I had to deal with some issues abroad.

It was a very short and very intense period of time. However, I managed to go rather successfully through it for many reasons. Firstly, I remembered that I could eat the elephant in seven steps. No matter what the size of the work pile ahead of me, the mere fact of being organized (and not running like a headless chicken around) and chunking work in slices, I would see the light at the end of the tunnel. As a result, it freed more time for me to focus on my family and on my studies. Secondly, I had very supportive colleagues making sure that my transition would go as smoothly as possible. Finally, my friends were frequently checking up on me to see how I was coping and lending me strength whenever they saw fit. I am very grateful to them for that, and especially to my friends and mentors, Mrs Lone Kjelgaard and Mr. Manuel Mendes.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s executive MBA program? My best advice to anyone hoping to get into the Saïd Business School executive MBA program is to understand why you are applying in the first place. Are you applying because it is a “must-have” in your company to evolve or because it is for you an open door to many different possible futures? In short, is it the end of your journey or is it on the contrary the start of your journey?

Both answers will probably help get you into the program. However, the studies will be perceived completely differently. In Oxford, they mostly want you to be prepared for future endeavors rather than validating and comforting past experiences.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth about going back to school as an adult with many years of professional experience is that you will consider it to be an easy ride and that your experience will make up for everything taught in class.

Well, it’s not really the case, because no matter what, you become again that same student you were many years ago, with the same anguish at your classes, at your exams, at your assignment papers, stressing at the pile of homework waiting for you at the end of a long and sometimes stressful workday.

Still, looking back at it, I found it to be worthwhile because I learned and expanded my knowledge. Most of all, I made new friends who, in turn, opened me doors to unsuspected different and possible future professional worlds.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret in business school is to not have given myself more time to deepen and explore further some of the courses I really liked, like analytics and leadership. I think, once the course will be over, I will explore them further.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire all my classmates in many different ways and levels because they all have something to bring, show, exchange, teach and lead to the cohort. However, among my classmates, the one I admire the most is Nikki Curtis Eberhardt. While doing her executive MBA in Oxford, she managed to continue working on her PhD in Global Sociology at the University of Utah, raise her family, work and promote women empowerment in developing countries, act as a global citizen, and be always modest about her achievements. She is both amazing and inspirational and I am always looking at her in awe and respect.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I understood it was a path to a variety of professional careers; I ended up myself serving in the French Navy afterwards and applying my Master’s degree there.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…a vet.”

What is your favorite company and what are they doing that makes them so special? My favorite company is CrossFit, Inc. This company and its founder, Greg Glassman, developed and designed a fitness program that is scalable, open to everyone, and inclusive whether you are old, young, physically or mentally impaired. It brought back health, wellness, and sport activities to the center of one’s life.

I watched so many people being told they would never be able to lift, be active and autonomous again, gaining back their health and their strength thanks to CrossFit, Inc., its program, its affiliates and its amazing community across the world. What makes the strength and the beauty of this company is the community it fosters, seeing people thriving to be fit within their abilities and being supportive to each other. Back in late 2011, I had just received the greenlight to practice sports activities again following a surgery in my lower back when I started practicing CrossFit. Since then, it helped me in so many ways, inclusive in my professional career.

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the executive MBA experience? If I was the dean for a day, I would change the size of the cohort by downsizing it a little to enable students to have a more meaningful experience with all classmates and not just some of them. There is so much to benefit and learn from your classmates when one can exchange quantitatively and qualitatively with all of them.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I have currently many long-term professional goals. However, if I were to choose one among them, I would like to keep working in international organizations and become one of the financial controllers. Additionally, the possibility of serving in a different capacity as the head of a non-financial department within an international organization is something I consider to achieve as I am currently pondering of doing a PhD in International Relations and/or Public Affairs and Diplomacy.

Besides this specific professional goal, my ultimate goal is to continue developing myself, becoming a leader in my field; contributing to positive impacts (environment, quality of life, work, women empowerment); being of use by eventually teaching in universities; and helping change the future for the better (“Small brooks make the big rivers”).

Who would you most want to thank for your success? There are many different persons, family, friends and colleagues that helped me succeed along my life and professional career that I would to thank for my success. Indeed, whether I was at low or high point in my professional career or life, they were always there, never faltering in helping me, mentoring me, nudging me up, and showing me the way upfront.

Nonetheless, if I had to pick one above the others to thank the most for my success, it would be definitely my mother. She taught me by her words and actions that I should never be limited by my origins, gender, looks or by anyone as a matter of fact.

She often told me that if I always keep my confidence/assurance in myself, nothing would prevent me to be successful and that looking back at my life and actions, I should feel no regrets knowing that I have lived it to the fullest and reached for my dreams.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? That I stayed true to myself, my actions, my words, and by this, I contributed to positive changes in society and people’s lives.

Favorite book: Léon l’Africain from Amin Maalouf

Favorite movie or television show: The Abyss from James Cameron

Favorite musical performer: Trio Esperança.

Favorite vacation spot: Too many favorite vacation spots to just pick one.

Hobbies? Olympic Weightlifting, CrossFit, Trail running, Clarinet playing, Diving, Reading and Drawing.

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

“Julia has combined her role as class representative with a demanding job at NATO and has managed to negotiate the programme schedule and a transfer to a more senior role within the organisation. Her energy and creativity made her the perfect fit for Oxford Saïd.”

Kathy Harvey
Associate Dean, MBA and Executive Degrees