2018 Best EMBAs: Aurora Martínez Ramos, ESADE

Aurora Martínez Ramos

ESADE Business School and Law School

“I am very passionate, compelling and relevant about what I do and what I believe.”

Age: 45

Hometown: Madrid (Spain) and Miami (Florida).

Family Members: Unquestionably, raising two bi-racial children in two cultures, two languages, and two countries has shaped the person I am today as well as my views and my values about people and life. Living with an incurable condition, my daughter Rebecca has taught me about building resilience and about overcoming obstacles with grace and humor. My son Alejandro, a gifted child, challenges me every day to learn new things and to think about the world in different ways. My ultimate role model, my mom Ana, raised during Franco’s dictatorship, showed me to pick myself up when things were tough, to always fight for what I believe in, and to stand up for myself and others. From my dad Silvestre—a man with a fifth-grade education but with the utmost astute business sense (any MBA graduate would be no match for him!)—I learned about hard work. My brother Juan Antonio keeps me sane and balanced and reminds me every day to have fun along the way—play hard and work hard. My uncle Antonio, who is like a father to me, transmitted to me his passion for education and for publishing, and for how I can make a difference if I set my heart and mind to it. I also have a very loving extended family that has always supported me in any decision I have made. We always work as a team. Our motto: We are on this life’s boat together.

Fun fact about yourself: My roots are in a small agricultural village in the south of Spain where my family still has some crops: orange trees, fig trees, and olive trees. Depending on the season and the time of year, we grew up helping to pick olives, oranges, lemons, almonds, figs. I go there a few times a year and I like to spend time in the fields. It’s good for the heart and soul, as it is the place where I unwind, and it also feeds my biggest indulgence: I eat more oranges and figs by the trees than I actually put in the basket.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Temple University, Bachelor of Arts.

Where are you currently working? Trinity Education Group, Senior Vice President.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Honors: Graduated Magna Cum Laude.

Awards: I have received several awards during my career, most notably two product-of-the-year awards, two editor-of-the year awards, and one president’s award for outstanding contribution, among others.

Extra-curricular activities: I have spoken at various conferences over the years, mainly on the topics of equity in education, the transformation from print to digital, and developing new business models, at venues like the Harvard School of Education and EdTechXEurope conference in London.

Community Work: Over the years, I have also performed community work in Philadelphia and New York, supporting adults in learning English and bettering themselves to succeed in the US. While attending graduate school at Columbia University, where I successfully consolidated my undergrad learnings and experiences, I taught English to adults in Harlem. I have also mentored inner-city schoolchildren in New York as part of a mentoring program that provides role models to adolescents. For the past seven years, I have been a member of the advisory council of LitWorld, an organization that focuses on eradicating illiteracy worldwide through the power of story. I would argue that these endeavors have been most formative and enriching experiences of my life.

Leadership Role: I have held various leadership roles and managed different teams through acquisitions, mergers, reorganizations, promotions, etc., but my most salient characteristic is that I have held these leadership roles while being thousands of miles away. Leading teams whose members are all over the place takes a lot from me and from my team members, but ultimately the success of my teams has been based on building a culture of trust among us. Another thing that was extremely rewarding for me was to manage very diverse and cross-cultural teams—that richness in diversity enhanced our collective thinking and our learning. As a result, I believe we built better educational materials. I take great pride in this, and the sensitivity I bring in this regard as a leader, having been a minority myself in the US.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My fellow classmates unanimously elected me as a class delegate for two consecutive terms—the maximum allowed—which reflects their respect and recognition for the job performed. My and my co-delegate’s joint efforts went toward building a united team with such a heterogeneous group of people. While ESADE has made huge efforts to become the #1 school for female executives in Europe, the male-female ratio in my cohort is still low for women (there are only 7 of us in a class of 35!). For this reason, having been elected for this role is of particular significance. From a purely academic standpoint, I have strived to give my best in every course and to learn as much as I could while contributing to the learning of my classmates by being a very active participant (and, of course, maintaining a high GPA!). At a more personal level, I have supported my classmates as they went through job changes, family issues, births, and the passing of loved ones (we have become a big family!). A bonding and yet tragic experience that will stay with me for years was spending a night at a hospital in Shanghai accompanying one of my classmates as she was being treated for a serious condition (it took us a while to get an ambulance and to find a hospital where they spoke English, but we did it with grace and by staying positive!). Needless to say, the biggest accomplishment is to be nominated for this recognition. It humbles me and honors me at the same time.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am privileged to have been able to build a legacy through the publication of educational materials that have literally touched millions of students and thousands of teachers over the years. I have been promoted numerous times and have received accolades for my work and, therefore, my professional achievements are many.

However, the legacy I am most proud of is the work I did in South Africa in 2010, successfully implementing a new educational program that I had originally built for the US market. South Africa was still recovering from the harshness of apartheid and their educational needs were still many. We therefore needed to work with our counterparts in the country and take a bottom-up/top-down approach. This involved working with deans at the schools of education in the universities; government officials responsible for education in the various provinces and at the federal level; administrators and principals in schools; training the teachers who ultimately taught students; experts to inform the direction and the research base for the product; and finally with our local teams to create the product needed to serve South African students and teachers. A monumental endeavor! The program we started eight years ago, customized and adapted for the local education market, is still impacting students today and growing strong. This experience taught me to think globally when it comes to the concepts of studies and education in particular. No promotion, no award, no accolade can be as rewarding as knowing that this work is impacting children, teachers and schools.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite course was “Supply Chain Management.” I knew absolutely nothing about this topic and, admittedly, I had never given it too much thought at work. Within the first hour of the course, I realized how little I knew and how much I had to learn. After reading and discussing the related case studies such as “Li & Fung” and “Zappos.com,” I began to acquire a birds-eye view of the subject matter, and my mind went absolutely wild with ideas. In the past, I had spent countless hours and days focusing on developing the “new” cutting-edge product, the “new” technology, and the “new” business model to remain competitive in a saturated market. All along, I should have been thinking about how to innovate in the supply chain. After reflecting on the course’s key takeaways, I came to the realization that it is indeed all about the supply chain! Biggest insight of my life!

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose ESADE for two important reasons: 1) its core values and 2) its international profile. At my job, I was fortunate to have a CEO who believes in conscious capitalism. Being highly influenced by this work when I researched MBA programs, I wanted a program that shared these values and whose values matched my own. Hands down, ESADE was it. I believe that what makes good human sense can also make good business sense, and our training at ESADE is clearly permeated with this principle. We focus on how to best serve our customers and our employees, on how to be good corporate citizens, and also on how to best serve society as a whole. And these values are wrapped up in how to do this in a global context. We are trained to be global leaders and, as such, our class comprised people of a panoply of backgrounds, ages and abilities, hailing from 15 different countries.

My schooling and my professional experience had always been in the US and I wanted to challenge myself at a top European business school in order to prepare myself for the global market. Once again, hands down, ESADE delivered. I thrive in the richness offered by my classmates through the diversity of their thinking, on how they approach issues differently, solve problems creatively, and respect and value each other’s contributions in spite of coming from such different backgrounds. This leads to fruitful cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives between classmates; and yet, we are all united by our shared core values. We have become our biggest asset, and the experience has been priceless.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The list would be so long! I have always had a keen interest in interdisciplinary studies, but—bottom line—business school fulfilled two important needs, allowing me to enjoy this experience to its fullest: 1) the need to satisfy my never-ending curiosity, and 2) my thirst for knowledge.

Travelling to Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, Helsinki, Boston and Washington DC as part of our program piqued my curiosity to no end – not only on how to do business in these regions, but about the culture, the language, the people and the interaction between these factors. Each experience was unique and rich and made me even more curious to go to other uncharted territory. I make no excuses about being a book junkie, which means that the breadth and depth of courses offered fed my need to read and learn for many months (and more to come!). I am always learning. Probably the most enjoyable part of attending business school is the opportunity to also learn about myself – to be reflective about who I am, what I stand for, and what kind of business leader I want to be. What we do in our work comes with responsibility, and we need the time to learn to know ourselves deeply so that we can serve our stakeholders better and so that we can build organizations that mirror our values. I truly enjoy the focus on this in business school. Lastly, I enjoy the friendships I have made that will last a lifetime. To me, work and life are about human capital.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I struggle to answer this question because business school was a turning point for me in terms of how I approach work. Overall, the program has given me a great sense of fulfillment and the lessons are too many to count. I came into the program as a corporate executive. However, with ESADE’s strong focus on entrepreneurship, I learned that you can be an entrepreneur within a corporation. Carving out a space for me at work so that I can actually be an entrepreneur (too!) has been the biggest lesson I have applied to my work. And more importantly, I am in the early stages of starting my own company and being an entrepreneur.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? August of 2017 (halfway through the program) was a time of dealing with many changes all at once. I had a new job in DC (I live in Madrid); a new school abroad for my daughter that required us to travel between continents (she went to Canada to study for a year); an intense week-long elective and optional program with ESADE in Boston taking place right after our July module, which resulted in delivering my very first pitch to investors (a competition I won!); wrapping up assignments due for end-of-July classes while prepping for beginning-of-September classes (in Barcelona); and my mom’s rapid health decline, which resulted in her being placed in a senior care center. Juggling all these things at once in such a short period of time when decisions needed to be made at the speed of light required several things. I needed to have extraordinary emotional self-control first, which included a clear plan to prioritize and re-prioritize, and the discipline to manage my downtime at the hospital or on airplanes or at home, so that I could focus on my work. To say I did all of this alone would be to undermine the strong support network of family and friends I have that surrounds me and that always helps me get through. My success is their success and is directly correlated to their support. I believe that “it takes a village to raise a child,” and for working moms it is crucial to build a support network that can help. We cannot do everything alone. And in this case, I did manage to plow through, but I did it by asking for, getting and managing the help I needed.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? First, I would say: Choose well. Choose a business school with a culture that matches your personality and working style. Then choose a program that is aligned with your values and offers courses and programs that match your interests. Think about your long-term goal. Then, once you are in, I would say: Bring down all the walls, all the preconceived notions you have about what you want to do and allow this time to explore, to learn about others and about yourself, and to be curious about other areas of knowledge. Be open-minded and enjoy the ride!

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I think the biggest myth is that you will magically become more efficient with your time and will be able to get to everything. This will not happen. Going back to school is about prioritizing, prioritizing, and prioritizing. It is about letting go and about focusing on what you are passionate about, so that you can be the very best at it.

What was your biggest regret in business school? From an academic perspective, I regret not having taken more classes focusing on investment and financing, as these were never my focal point during my previous academic endeavors. From an experience perspective, I regret not having traveled to Australia and Singapore to attend the programs offered there by ESADE. From a human perspective, I regret not having done more networking (but you almost need another year to do this!), and not having spent more time getting to know some people more deeply. As I have mentioned throughout, the human capital of our group and that of other alumni is our biggest asset. While I tried to get to know everyone, there is always someone who I wish I had spent more time with.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is like asking who you love more, mom or dad. It is a tough question because I have learned something from all of my colleagues—everyone is unique and inspiring in his or her own right. I have a lot of esteem for each of them for different reasons. There are multiple traits I admire from one colleague in particular whom I hold in high regard. His name is Daniel Schlager. He is a strong listener, a fabulous team player, and a formidable collaborator—always generous with his time. I value his curiosity for learning and for experimenting with different ideas, showing a high level of intelligence. I also appreciate his good temperament and encouragement to get to the finish line, motivating people along the way and always displaying a positive can-do attitude. He also knows how to challenge people and the status quo and how to get the best out of people—I know this first hand (my best projects have been done working side-by-side with him). I will never forget his efforts in keeping me awake at 4 a.m. in the hotel lobby as we were finishing an assignment due the next morning! Lastly, he is genuine and true to himself.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was placed in a leadership track and given the opportunity to attend leadership classes offered by my company. I wanted to join an Executive MBA program earlier in my career but life, children, health issues, the passing of loved ones, etc., postponed what I knew would be the next step—better late than never. I am resilient, persistent and determined, and will keep pushing until I have reached my goal.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…doing my job following my intuition, which has served me well up until now (I am my father’s daughter after all!), and I would not have been doing it based on the sound business principles I have learned at school. Intuition can only take you so far. Intuition coupled with training can take you really, really far and, along the way, training builds confidence.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate long-term goal is to hold a position where I can be an entrepreneur—either in my own company or in a corporation that allows for innovation. I would like to build or to work for a company with an international reach that has clear values and a clear mission to do good in society.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like to be remembered as someone with a high level of integrity and high ethical values and morals, and as someone who can inspire others to act with “good human sense and good business sense.” In my professional capacity, I would like to be remembered as someone who always strives to maximize her potential in order to achieve the best result possible.

Favorite book: Asking an editor to name just one favorite book is a really challenging question! One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez is one of my favorites because of the mix of realism with fantastic stories (and of course the emotions elicited by thinking of living in a town like Macondo and the respect I have for Úrsula, a clear example of a strong woman!). And…Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, a classic, is one I have read multiple times because the character Emma never ceases to intrigue me. Emma is tireless in pursuing her dream and she embodies the phrase “well-behaved women seldom make history” (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich)—a quote I actually have on my WhatsApp status.

Favorite movie or television show: I do not watch much TV, so it will be a movie. One of my favorite movies is The Pianist—one of the few in which the movie does justice to the book. It is a horrific account of the polar opposites of humankind—the worst we can be and the best we can be with one another. Szpilman’s perseverance and his passion for music are moving and remarkable traits to emulate.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? To successfully run my own company and to live by the ocean.

What made Aurora such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“Aurora is an experienced Spanish executive with a long-standing professional career in the US who has great experience in managing diverse teams around the world. With an outstanding background in the education industry, she is responsible for building a legacy through the publication of educational materials that have reached millions of students over the years. She was even able to successfully implement in South Africa a new educational program built originally for the US market, which is still impacting students today.

Always eager to learn, she decided to challenge herself out of her comfort zone and sign-up for our Executive MBA programme, part-time, monthly format. A mother of two, she represented the class as delegate for half of the programme. Her passion, along with her natural charisma, helped the group become stronger, more united, and aligned with the programme’s basic principles and values.

True to her values, her community work in Philadelphia and New York – supporting adults in learning English and bettering themselves to succeed in the US – and her global fight against illiteracy through the advisory council of LitWorld are also remarkable.

After a careful selection and consideration of several options Aurora changed jobs during the EMBA. She currently holds a senior VP position in the education industry where, I am sure, she will do very well thanks to her international experience and managerial skills.

As an ESADE EMBA alumnus, she will be an outstanding role model and representative, and a great help for new applicants and students.”

Esteve Mogas
Executive MBA – Director

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