2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Emma Kearney, HEC Paris

Emma Kearney

HEC Paris

Age: 45

“Never conventional, rarely standing still, sometimes adventurous, often creative, always curious, happiest innovating together.”

Hometown: Tyrone, Northern Ireland. More recently, Paris, France.

Family Members: Parents, Sheena & Kieran, siblings, Anne, Kevin & David

Fun fact about yourself: I sent a rocket to a comet!

I worked for a short time as a software engineer. The company that I worked for had contracts with the European Space Agency, and I helped out with their work validating the onboard software for the Rosetta mission.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • PhD Tissue Engineering, Trinity College Dublin
  • PgDip Statistics Trinity, College Dublin
  • MSc Bioengineering, Trinity College Dublin
  • MSc Computing & Information Systems, University of Ulster
  • BMedSci Biomedical Science, Queens University Belfast

Where are you currently working? I’ve been in the cosmetics industry for over 13 years, working across research, innovation and development, as well as a skin care expert for marketing. Most recently I was the Head of Clinical Innovation for Advanced Research at L’Oréal Research & Innovation. I am now in transition, and keenly anticipating what the future has in store to leverage my newly acquired skills and knowledge, particularly in luxury.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Expert Advisor for the HEC Paris Incubator, Station F

Volunteer for Rouskey Community Centre

Outstanding Master thesis awardee, MSc Bioengineering, TCD

Excellence Scholarship Awardee, HEC Paris EMBA

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Other than receiving a Best & Brightest nomination for Poets & Quants, it would have to be the career transition group that I started along with some EMBA peers. The academic learning during the EMBA is only one dimension of the learning journey. I am very proud to have been a founding member of this group, which prioritizes learning from each other’s diverse experiences and strategizing around managing new career opportunities. The objective was to share, support, advise and learn from each other on the spectrum of activities and challenges that arise during career transition. The rewarding part is actually when members leave the group thanks to finding their next opportunity, and it is always being enriched by new executives transiting through.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Whilst I was working in clinical evaluation at Oriflame R&D, Dublin, I was selected to join a panel of international skin-care experts, to support regional marketing. This would bring me to all corners of the world, to explain the science of skin care direct-to- consumers. It was an exceptionally unique experience for a scientist to have such direct access to consumers. What I learned fundamentally changed the way I saw the purpose of the science I was producing in the research lab, growing and incorporating consumer-centricity. In fact, it was the seed that became my purpose of prioritizing the business relevance of science, and ultimately why I am here today becoming a business graduate.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Across several industries, the concept of personalization and customization is key nowadays since it responds to the demands of customers. In education, it is no different. When I learned that HEC Paris offered a three-dimensional approach of generalize, customize, and specialize, this strongly appealed to me, as I felt that I could graduate with the most tailored profile for my specific career ambitions. Through the courses, I structured this by taking a deep dive into Luxury, and customizing my Leadership curriculum.

Also, I wanted to learn at HEC Paris because I wanted to be amongst the most talented group of executives. Holding such a high and sustained ranking is sure to attract this group. It didn’t disappoint. The possibility for international learning was another important driver for my choice. On a practical level, factors included location and rhythm of the classes.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I have a strong academic streak. Without doubt, the steepest learning and most impactful experiences were made outside the classroom. Participation in a two-day Outdoor Leadership Seminar, closely simulated the emotions, the reactions, the interactions, and the relationship management to any workplace situation. The learning was intense because we benefited from live coach and peer feedback across a variety of leadership challenges.

I include as well in this category the insight, the growth, and the networking that resulted from the international learning that I did. I participated in international mobility two times: once east to Doha, Qatar, and soon after west to Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Together with the module on Leading Across Borders, as well as the international mix of my own cohort, this experience compounded in an immense progression in my Cultural Intelligence. This global mindset is one of the most valuable takeaways that I am equipped with for new international roles.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Your peers are going to be your continuity from this experience once you graduate. Be the person who bonds your cohort for a lifetime of connection. Get to know each other well NS support each other. It is your peers whom you will rely on when you face trade-offs or experience deadline pressure – and they are the ones who’ll share the joy of having accomplished each step of the way together. And don’t overlook the value that new friendships are going to bring you in getting through the emotional highs and lows of the EMBA experience.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? With some research, you will understand the level of academic commitment required: don’t let this dissuade you. Everyone finds a way. There are almost always different ways to reach the same goal.

The EMBA is transformative, and this transformation goes beyond academics. Be ready to embark on a personal journey through leadership development. Rhere is 360-degree support for this from world-class lecturers, career coaches, and even your peers. You will be experiencing it in a very safe environment.

Realize that no one has had the same experience as you. Understand that sharing your experience with others, whether that’s in the classroom, group work or through other means, is invaluable to their learning journey, and is expected of you.

Finally, it is a very unique set of circumstances that has enabled you to be in a position to take this decision. Remember your privilege, be humble, and show up at every occasion to give something back.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That you are crazy to go back to school!

And it couldn’t be more to the contrary. Being back in the classroom reminded me how much I enjoy learning, and this eased the demands of finding the time for the commitment required.

We are entering the fourth industrial revolution, with the rate of change in the world accelerating, and the magnitude that it is having on people’s lives. In that respect, mid-career learning seems almost like a critical step to take in order to stay relevant and truly future-proof your career. A mentor once advised me that you should always be preparing yourself for the position after your next one, and I believe the tangible and less tangible dimensions of my EMBA have longevity and are going to support me reach these goals. Of course, I’d do it all over again. Despite the significant commitment and investment, I recommend it to everyone with a growth mindset without hesitation.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I have talked about the importance that I place on building peer relationships through the EMBA journey, and that part of our term overlapped with the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the consequences of this was that not everyone could travel to be present in class for each module. However, it was during class, or more-so during the breaks and after class, where the relationships were built. Whilst our group was very creative to ensure inclusiveness, I would have valued having more personal time and group work sessions with those joining online.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I have been extremely lucky to be a part of a very special cohort of executives. We developed an indescribable bond that made this learning experience a joyful one, and revealed the best in each of us. It is for this reason that I see each and every member of our cohort as the best and brightest in their own way. Each has their unique and individual characteristics that I not only admire, but try to learn from. The relationship of our cohort is thanks to the open-mindedness of each individual; we made an emotionally safe place for people to share ideas, vulnerabilities, aspirations. As we approach graduation now, this relationship has brought us to launch a venture that will serve to ensure our legacy: watch this space!

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? Whilst I made a commitment to upskill and return to education, it was important to be able to do this in a compact format, to benefit from the career growth quickly. Therefore, this ruled out part-time alternatives. Even though I felt out of my depth going for and EMBA, I wanted to make the most of the relationship building opportunity with peers, professors and guests on the program, so this ruled out an online alternative.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My priority for my professional life is to make an impact. Given my experience, drivers and passions, this will be where science, beauty and business overlap. Sustainable living and “giving back” will be woven in to this canvas. What the EMBA experience has brought me is the language and codes for interacting impactfully beyond my core expertise with all business functions. Therefore, a strategic position driving growth through innovation is where I feel I can have most immediate impact. Longer term, leading an organization to exceed expectations for all of its stakeholders is on my horizon.

I am very aligned with the views of Michelle Obama’s views on success:

“Success isn’t about how much money you make but the difference you make in people’s lives.”

So, too, do I understand that success is not static. I am ready to adapt to the unpredictable workplace evolutions that are around the corner.

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

“I have known Emma Kearney through the Luxury Specialization.

Being the Director of this Specialization, I am eager to select people who come from non-business backgrounds who bring their own perspectives to the discussions, for the benefit of all.

Emma Kearney comes from the scientific part of R&D and production. And yet, she quickly became involved in the business side of cosmetics. In addition, she brought her unique perspective, very positively, in analyzing what is realistic or not in bringing more sustainability in this sector, how to change the business models.”

Dr. JN Kapferer, Ph.D
Emeritus Professor HEC Paris
Academic Director EMBA Luxury major HEC Paris

“As Professor of Leadership for Emma’s HEC EMBA cohort, I had the pleasure of teaching her over the course of a year, from her very first lesson to her last. During that period, she not only found her unique place in an already extraordinarily strong group, but also made a clear mark in various dimensions.

By education, Emma is an academic scientist with a PhD in Bioengineering, who has already transitioned to, and grown in stature and responsibility in the applied science of the cosmetics industry.  As such, she brought rigor and method to her EMBA studies, along with innovation and development team management experience.  Initially also, her contribution to the group was diffident and reflected the comfort zone of that experience: method, process, and science.

One of the hallmarks of this cohort was the intentional way in which the more confident members deliberately encouraged and supported the initially quieter participants to find their place as strong contributors in the group.  So, it was particularly powerful to see Emma stepping quickly out of that comfort zone to herself become a confident questioner and challenger – not so much just for the sake of challenging, as also to encourage and harness her peers into debate; and in doing so bringing others with her into that public space.

In the amphitheatre, Emma was a reliable discussant for me to turn to. In group work, she led comfortably from behind and was a thorough (and often humorous) rapporteur. In personal co-development sessions, she was at the same time eager and humble.

So much for the behaviors, all invaluable to the collective growth of the cohort.  But Emma played– and continues to play– another role very powerfully: she was a very effective ambassador for ethical and sustainable practice in the cosmetics industry.  Her commitment and advocacy are plausible and compelling, both as a personal narrative, but also as a strategic vision, adding a strong and welcome moral and purposeful rallying dimension to her contribution to the cohort.

A scientist, a raconteur, a force for cohesion and collaboration, and an advocate of purpose – Emma stands out as a rounded leader who will go far.”

Professor Piers Cumberlege


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