2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Céline Heemskerk, ESADE Business School

Céline Heemskerk

Esade Business School

Age: 31

A truly European Hybrid, passionate about cross-cultural communications, technology, and people.”

(I am Céline. I was born to Dutch parents in the Alentejo Region in the South of Portugal. I was raised tri-lingually, and was fluent in Portuguese, Dutch, English (and Spanish) at a very young age. At 14, I left Portugal to study in England and I spent 8 amazing years there. In 2012, after my studies, I moved to Beijing; in 2013 I moved to Lisbon and in 2014 I moved to Dublin, where I am now and have been for the past 6 years. I consider myself a “third culture kid”, “a mix of Latin and Nordic”, and don´t feel 100% Portuguese or Dutch. I love to say that I am European (a real hybrid). My identity is a combination of my international experiences and has a little bit of all the countries I have visited, worked and lived in).

Hometown: Lisbon, Portugal; Dublin, Ireland; Amsterdam, Netherlands

Family Members: Parents, Paul and Beatrix; Sister, Elyse and Brother, Paulus.

Fun fact about yourself: My academic background is in science. I studied Biology at university and worked 2 years in the Biotech Industry before starting my Communications journey at American PR firm, Burson Marsteller, in Lisbon, Portugal. When I was living my Biology Dream, I also spent 5 months living on the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador), as a Biologist. One of the highlights of my life!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Royal Holloway, University of London, BSc Biology (2012); Instituto Politécnico de Beja, Portugal, Post Graduate Degree in Agronomy (2014); Post Graduate Degree in Communications, European Institute of Communications, Dublin, Ireland (2016), Executive MBA at Esade Business School, Barcelona, Spain (2021)

Where are you currently working? Communications Lead, Microsoft Business Operations International (US, EMEA, Asia)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Recipient of the Esade Women and Business Scholarship; Head of Communications Girls in Tech (Irish Chapter) 2018-2020

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During my time at Business School, I made a lot of important personal/life decisions. I changed jobs and started working for Microsoft, I also moved from Dublin to Amsterdam. I realised how important it is to listen to our heart and needs, and to be bold in our decisions!

In terms of extracurricular activities, I have been involved in Mentoring young communications talent, and this is something I really enjoy.  

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am proud to have built a career in global corporate communications, having worked for some of the biggest names in technology after having studied Science at University. I am proud to be able to use “both sides of my brain.” I hope that my MBA will add the extra layer to my mixed academic and professional background.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Finance Professor Petya Platikanova had the most contagious positive energy and was able to make everyone excited and involved in Financial Analysis (a subject which is hard to teach!). And Pedro Parada – he was one of the most interesting, warm, and kind professors I have ever had the pleasure of learning from!

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program?

Esade has a very special culture, which is heavily underpinned by strong sense of collaboration, inclusion, and “doing good”. This “je ne sais quoi” is also called “The Esade Spirit”! Going to Esade means that you will become part of a global family – pre and post MBA – from your colleagues to your professors, to the academic staff, to the alumni network… There is a strong sense of belonging at Esade. it is a warm environment, where everyone is respected and where differences are celebrated!

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I learned what was really important to me! When you have less time, you automatically need to be more disciplined; to prioritise how and who you spend your time with. By doing this, you will learn to appreciate your free time, the people you love, and the little things in life! I learned to approach work in a similar way – work hard, prioritise, get everything done at a high standard, and know when to step away, and know when to pat yourself on the back! I think that I learned to be kinder to myself during this almost 2 years process!

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I spent 18 months of juggling a busy job (including a job change), an Executive MBA in a different country, a personal/family life, and the personal and professional impacts and consequences of a Global Pandemic. I am grateful for everything that I have learned and implemented, in order to move forward, stay healthy, focused, and balanced during this journey.

This great HBR article, outlines a number of strategies on how to survive and thrive, when you have to be fully committed for a prolonged period of time:

– Use Premack’s principle
– Compartmentalise
– Save small scraps of time for mental rest
– Add physical decompression rituals to your day
– Pair pleasure experiences with other activities

“Just to be clear: I’m not saying that you can life-hack your way through being a permanent workaholic. But, during those times when, on balance, overworking makes short- or long-term sense (or is a necessity), you need some harm minimisation strategies. It’s important to pace yourself and not let your obligations consume you.”

I am really looking forward to having my full weekend off, very soon!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program?

  1. Be prepared to develop at a personal and emotional level. You need to be open and prepared to be vulnerable and to share. To become a good leader, you need to get to know yourself first – good and bad!
  2. Make sure you have a clear understanding with your employer regarding the commitment required by the EMBA (be open and honest and avoid working during EMBA classes).

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth is that it will be more difficult because now you are older. The learning methods have changed, and you will do less “old school” exams. However, you will have a lot of group work and will learn a lot by doing and by analysing case studies of well-known companies. You will also learn from your EMBA colleagues, not only from the professors. The sharing of experiences with your classmates is a unique and truly enriching part of an EMBA.

What was your biggest regret in business school? No regrets! There was an adjustment period at the start of Covid in March 2020, where we realised that we had chosen to invest in an EMBA during a global pandemic. The experiences that we had taken for granted, such as travel, dinners out with colleagues, and sitting side by side in a classroom, were no longer happening in the same way as we initially thought. After the adjustment period, I was able to enjoy the full EMBA experience and adapted to the Hybrid Learning format – which by now has become second nature to everyone. You can say that this was the ultimate “leadership test” with ourselves in a “real VUCA world”.

Throughout my life, I always adapted to the circumstances around me, I got used to be out of my comfort zone, and it always worked out for the best.

As Darwin used to say, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” I strongly believe in this and adapt to my life where and how I can – it keeps me going.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire my colleagues Giovanni Rampinini and Ellen Smits the most. They are very different, but have made a complete difference to my EMBA experience. Giovanni went from being a stranger, to being a good friend, to being my neighbour in Amsterdam during this experience. Ellen is one of the strongest (women) people I know. They are both very special and very loyal friends. I am very lucky to have gone through this growth experience with these two people, and to call them my friends for life now!

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I was interested in being in a class with more years of professional experience. I wanted to learn from people´s real life experiences. Looking back this has been very valuable.

I also like the fact that an Executive MBA is more practical and less theoretical – it is a different way of learning and applying knowledge. I was able to learn something one week and go back to my job and implement what I learned straight away. This was very empowering and rewarding.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal?

  • Be a good leader, able to inspire others.
  • Build my own company with my own mission, vision and values and bring others along on my journey.
  • Specifically, I am currently setting up a company with my sister Elyse – and look forward to what the future will bring us!

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

“Celine is a great example of humble, successful young executive. Her multi European characteristics are reflected in her open minded and objective mentality. The professional path she follows shows how eclectic and adaptable she is. She played an important role of fairness in some complex (and understandable) dynamics generated in the group due to the pandemic.”

Michele Quintano
Associate Dean for Executive MBA Programmes at Esade Business School




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