2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Carolina Schmollgruber, HEC Paris

Carolina Schmollgruber

HEC Paris

Age: 41

Italian-Austrian, nourishing my career with a strategic creative mindset.”

Hometown: Born in Como, Italy

Family Members: An Italian husband and 2 children

Fun fact about yourself:

While I was studying piano at the Paris conservatory, I worked in the film industry as a piano coach to teach actors to mimic perfect piano playing. On one production set, I got to coach Morgan Freeman and Jet Li. What memorable lessons!

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Bachelor Journalism – CFJ Paris

Bachelor of Philosophy of Arts – University of Paris Sorbonne

Bachelor of Fine Arts – University of Paris Sorbonne

Where are you currently working? L’Oréal – VP Global Communications, Lancôme

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:  

* Class representative of the MBA class

* Representative for the parents’ committee

* Environmental commitment: activist & donor for the GoodPlanet foundation in Paris

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As class representative during my EMBA, I reacted to the impact of the COVID crisis on our course. It wasn’t easy; some of my classmates lost their jobs, others had strong health issues, and others were challenged in their job to save the business. My role was to balance all of this while doing my best to assure quality, even going so far as to move back the graduation timeline.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When it comes to speaking about professional success, it boils down to thinking about “People” or “Projects.” According to this paradigm, it is mostly about the people in my team on whose professional life I have left an imprint at an important juncture in their careers. Being considered a mentor is the most long-term reward I can hope for. When I look at their career evolution along with my own the role of adviser in helping them grow— always keeping regular contact over the years and accompanying them with personal and professional advice—this is what makes me confident about my role and my impact beyond what a manager can offer.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Applying for the HEC EMBA stems from my background, having learned from the past and projecting myself into the future.

Having graduated with a degree in journalism (CFJ in Paris) and with two BAs (Math and Aesthetics of Art at Sorbonne University), I could have been satisfied with my job at the L’Oréal Company, where I’ve reached an important role in the Managing Committee and my expertise was recognized.

On the one hand, my educational background is unique in a company typically driven by graduates of business schools. On the other, I am aware of the existence of a glass ceiling, especially when it comes to expressing my point of view on business topics that lie outside of my educational expertise. I am confronted with this, as part of the ManCom, over daily discussions with sales teams. I wanted to be more proactive about this audience, and more confident in playing a significant role. My goal was to go from being an element in the ManCom whose recommendations are considered, to a leader whose decisions are followed.

I wanted to give another dimension to my job beyond my operational expertise. I wanted to acquire leadership skills that impact the teams and the business. I knew that the HEC Paris EMBA is demanding and challenging, but I was determined to make a success of it as my goal was very clear. The international perspectives proposed by the highly qualified professors and the multicultural attendees offered a precious and rare opportunity to broaden my mind and experience within the world of business. I believe in the power of interaction with people to enrich one’s own point of view, in addition to enlarging the opportunities for exchange and creating links worldwide.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? My biggest lesson was to change my posture and no longer act as a leader, but as a challenger or as an entrepreneur. When you are used to working in a large system, you lose certain instincts that you must regain. Having an entrepreneurial mindset ensures an ability to respond to problems through another prism. This is what I am now trying to implement in my job today: exercising my mind to challenge received ideas.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? It is true that one of the most challenging aspects of the EMBA is the management of this commitment which was added to my already busy professional and personal life, with several children and a very demanding job. What is great about the EMBA is the spirit of camaraderie that exists between the members of the cohort. For those who had to manage personal or professional urgencies — and who had not been able to attend classes — we would organize workshops in the evenings and during dinner to make sure everyone had learned the basics. It really was about leaving no one behind!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? First, the EMBA is a personal journey of motivation and determination. Applying to the program is a first barrier to entry and exists to test our willingness to make it happen. It will take great patience and many hours of preparation to put together a rich and personalized file. Taking the oral exam is a real key moment in testing your motivation, in addition to being a springboard to being onboarded in the big HEC family.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Going back to the classroom was a great experience. I rediscovered the pleasure of focusing on a subject and analyzing it in depth, unlike my job where I jump from one subject to the other to find operational solutions. It is true that it takes real effort to stay focused for 8 hours straight, maintaining your attention. The additional group work sessions provide a real benefit for dissecting a theoretical subject and being able to apply it to a real case.

What was your biggest regret in business school? What I regret in Business schools is sometimes the lack of operational implementation of some economic theories the professor explains. Having had a long professional experience before starting the EMBA really allows us to see the concrete implementation issues that this involves, in order to be able to use knowledge in the field.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My classmate I admire the most is Cédric Janjevali, a director in the banking field for 15 years, because of his professional achievements while balancing a very complex personal life. He has two disabled children who he has to take care of. He never mentioned it during our lessons and during the busy evaluation times, and never once complained. I find it very courageous of him to have initiated an EMBA with the demands that his very particular family life requires. However, he has always responded on time to the evaluations, and did so effectively. I find this attitude admirable and inspiring.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? When I chose to do an EMBA, I wanted it to be an important moment for me, both at this certain point in my career and from a personal point of view. The objective was not to be able to list one more diploma, but to have a real learning and transformative experience. Therefore, I chose the face-to-face format, to fully immerse myself in the learning experience and to dedicate time to it, which is the most difficult at this stage.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I would like to reach a position that can combine both business and creativity, to fully continue to develop myself and achieve a certain serenity that benefits the whole team.

What made Carolina such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

“Carolina is a purpose-driven and strategy-guided Communications leader. She has a sense of business beyond her creative activities, drives action, and can engage and energize the team behind her projects.”

“I have had a chance to observe Carolina at the HEC EMBA leading brand-building activities as a team leader and participating very actively to the class interactions. She always adds value and does it in a way that is principle-based and with a right sense of urgency. As class representative, she created a great spirit of collaboration between the various cultures of the class. This is a skill that will which enable her to deploy her leadership across different regions and in different cultural environments.

Besides her professional talents, Carolina is also a very bright and positive person, which makes her a committed and dedicated team leader. She’s a pleasure to work with and her enthusiasm is contagious!”

Affiliate Professor Executive Education HEC



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