2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Beda Merkelbach, IESE Business School

Beda Merkelbach

IESE Business School

Age: 40

“A passionate global leader who gets energized by driving change in challenging environments.”

Hometown: Antwerp but currently living in Bangkok.

Family Members: My wife, Aurélie, and my three daughters, Capucine (11), Eglantine (9) and Garance (6).

Fun fact about yourself: After five years of no sports, and not being a runner at all, I joined our GEMBA’s running group and made a promise to run 15 km during graduation week. Today, with still several months to go, our running group unexpectedly reached 10km during a morning run at 5.00 am in Central Park New York. It’s the most surprising impact of the Global Executive MBA.

Undergraduate School and Degree: A Master in Commercial Science in Ehsal Management School in Belgium with a specialization in International Relations, including a one-year Erasmus Program in La Sapienza University in Rome. After my Master, I achieved a Post-graduate Master in Corporate Strategy and Business Intelligence from Toulouse Business School in France.

Where are you currently working? In January, I was promoted within my current company Yara to Senior Vice President for Thailand & Myanmar, which together with China are the key markets in Asia. Yara is a global crop nutrition company with 17,000 employees, operations in over 60 countries, and with revenues in 2020 of USD $16.6 billion USD. My aim is to transform our organization to bring the new aspiration of Yara Asia & Africa alive: “To contribute actively to food security in an environmentally sustainable manner by driving inclusive and mutually beneficial growth with our employees, farmers and aligned stakeholders.”

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Moving every three years means that my activities mostly depend on where I live. For instance, since moving to Thailand, I have become part of the Board of Governors for the Thai-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce. I always try to create a direct impact through my work towards our employees, farmers and community. Now that I have Myanmar also under my responsibility, I try to support our employees in a time of war and hope I can add value and help them during these challenging times.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Getting a better understanding of the ecosystem of start-ups and venture capital during our module in San Francisco on “Driving Innovation”. As part of a Steering Committee that is deciding on a spin-off of a new venture (a venture which will also be supported by venture capital), I was able to immediately apply the frameworks and learnings within my company.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Setting up the new Supply Chain organization for Yara in Tanzania and Rwanda. It was my first experience abroad, and I moved with my wife and two young kids (one aged two-and-a-half, the other just 10 months old.)

In Tanzania and Rwanda, I brought into operation the largest fertilizer terminal of Africa, initiated new logistic flows and managed our ten warehouses. I was able to set-up the new organization and change the company culture to a safe and lean environment, which was recognized by winning the Yara Global Safety Award. The fact that the changes made real impact on people’s life, working conditions and the community makes it one of my greatest achievements.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Eric Weber, because his teaching and presentation skills are remarkable. He is demanding, but the learning was exceptional. The two subjects he taught, Management Control and Managerial Accounting, had the right approach for a Global Executive MBA and are directly applicable to my work.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? IESE is one of the top Global Executive MBA programs in the world, and targets senior executives with a minimum of 15 years work experience. Working with the case method and a global program (as IESE does) were a must for me, as I wanted to understand more about the world from various perspectives. The unique focus IESE has on leadership development, the connection with some of the alumni, and the value-oriented approach of the school were also key factors. This last approach is embedded in the mission of IESE to develop leaders who strive to have a deep, positive and lasting impact on people, companies and society. This combination made IESE the best fit for me.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” is something that I really experienced during the Global Executive MBA. The stories of people we met that started business ventures really convinced me of this saying. We also experienced it ourselves in San Francisco when contacting people as preparation for our in-company project. It is fairly easy to reach out to people and make appointments. You should use your network and keep developing it. Reaching out to my current network and to further build my network to achieve my goals is definitely one of my main learnings.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Until my promotion, my work-family-education balance was quite ok. I was just over 2 years in my role, having established a new European Business Service Center which ensured the order fulfillment of around 2,8 billion € in products by more than 350 employees. My direct reports handled day-to-day business and I was able to focus on new projects and GEMBA. However, after my promotion, it wasn’t possible to juggle all three. I needed to set priorities. After discussing with my wife, I decided to place work first, GEMBA second, and finally family third for the next 9 months. Whilst I moved to my new working location in Thailand, my family stayed in Lithuania (my previous working location). This allowed stability for the kids as they were able to finalize their school year in their current school whilst giving me the opportunity to focus on my new role and GEMBA. In addition, a certain amount of flexibility is needed. Having business meetings during the middle of the night after having classes or a midnight meeting with fellow GEMBA students were not an exception. But then again, if you’re passionate about something you always find a way!

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That it is just around 20 hours extra per week. This might be true in time studying but in reality: you are thinking about your meeting in the evening with a GEMBA colleague, or you are trying to implement new concepts you learned directly into your working environment. And maybe you are reflecting on cases with your partner. The Global Executive MBA is integrated in your work and personal life – and that is what makes it such an impactful program.

What was your biggest regret in business school? That our first module was during the pandemic in Barcelona, and all the restaurants were closed. We didn’t really socialize, only during the first weekend some of us had a beer. I regret that I didn’t get to know my fellow students from day one due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Our group did make up for the missed social events in our next modules: from a beer garden in Munich and a club in Toronto tp endless walks in our destination cities or a Broadway musical. Such a diverse group comes with multiple ways to connect.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Mehdi Berrada and Irina Bodrova. Mehdi is a great GEMBA colleague, and I admire his values and the way he stands in life. He will always free-up some time to support his classmates and his broad knowledge level about many subjects is remarkable. Irina is highly disciplined, balancing her work, family and GEMBA life. She is going in depth through all subjects and not afraid to defend her point of view which is often the opposite of the class. Both have a good view of which direction they want to go, and I trust them as sparring partners for my own challenges.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? An MBA program was something I always wanted to experience, to be part again of a group of like-minded people that want to broaden their horizons and are not afraid of a challenge. Doing an online alternative was an absolute no-go as it would not have given me the friendships and connections I made now. It was essential for me to do it with a diverse group from over the world with face-to-face interaction.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To be a leader who can turn around an organization for the better of its employees and the community around the organization on larger scale to create a bigger and long-lasting impact.

What made Beda such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

“Beda is a smart, driven, and hard-working person that contributes to the class dynamics in many ways. Not only is his academic performance and active participation in the class discussions outstanding, but also his willingness to support his peers, his open mindedness and positive approach to teamwork and problem solving is impressive.

Beda is a well-rounded person with a wide international career, who has lived and worked in Belgium, Tanzania, Indonesia, Lithuania, Thailand, and others. His exposure to different cultures, countries, and even continents, adds to the diversity of the class.

During the GEMBA, Beda was promoted in is company Yara to Senior Vice President Thailand & Myanmar, which meant moving from Lithuania to Thailand adjusting to a new continent, new work responsibilities, and new teams. His resilience in managing these changes and challenges while combining family, work and studies is impressive. Beda has the qualities of a good leader; he leads by example, he leads with values, he cares for people, he is professional and committed, he seeks for excellence and aims to have an impact. I have seen Beda grow personally and professionally through the GEMBA journey, and I cannot wait to witness the things he will achieve in the coming years.”

Elena Santodomingo Berry
GEMBA Admissions Director
IESE Business School


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