2023 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: EMILIE AFFRE, HEC Paris


HEC Paris

Age: 41

“French by birth, Italian at heart. 41 on paper, 15 in my heart, and 6 in my head.”

Hometown: Paris, FRANCE

Family Members: Denis and Christiane (parents), Alexis and Sophie (siblings), Armel, Lucas and Gabin (nephews)

Fun fact about yourself: You are likely to find me upside down.

I’m a yoga instructor with a penchant for handstands and arm balances.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Cambridge Judge Business School: Circular economies and sustainability strategies

Master’s Degreefrom Marne la Vallée University – Gestion des industries du luxe (Luxury Management)

Where are you currently working? I’m a luxury fashion senior executive, with a merchandising career at Christian Louboutin, Fendi and Roger Vivier. Throughout my career, I’ve become a footwear expert. I had the opportunity to work for independent maison and experience French luxury with LVMH, Italian luxury with Tod’s group and American management with Capri holding. After spending the last 3 years at Jimmy Choo Ltd in London as VP of Merchandising, I am now exploring different career paths, including start up advisory roles, academic teaching, and consulting.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I certified in Warrior and Vinyasa Yoga in 2021 and 2022. Initially I wanted to dedicate more time to my own practice and expand my knowledge and skills. Very quickly, I was given the opportunity to share the expertise acquired with the training. During the EMBA, I taught a class per week to my cohort, first as a gift to my peers and later as an effort to balance work, school, and personal pursuits. I am now volunteering at a non-profit which facilitates social inclusion through yoga, specifically to asylum seekers in France. They are facing a range of challenges and providing them with access to yoga can have a positive impact on their physical and mental well-being. This is my way of giving back to the community, by sharing my knowledge and experience in yoga. I am not only helping others, but also furthering my own personal growth and development. It takes courage to step outside of one’s comfort zone and volunteer in a new environment, but the rewards can be truly life-changing for both the volunteers and the recipients.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The leadership seminar was a challenging but rewarding experience for me. As a soldier’s daughter, I was really looking forward to it. This kind of experiential learning can be incredibly powerful, as it allows you to put theory into practice and see how your leadership style works in real-world situations. Not only I could explore my leadership skills in action, but I confronted my fear. I can’t tell what it was, but I can tell you there was tears of terror involved and that I did it anyway!

Looking back, I realized that this experience had not only helped me develop my leadership skills but had also taught me an important lesson about confronting my fears. I know that this experience will stay with me for the rest of my life and would help me in both my personal and professional endeavors.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Moving to Rome for a new job was a bold move, especially as I didn’t speak Italian at the time. Despite being assured that everyone spoke English in the Rome head-office, I quickly discovered that everyone was communicating in Romanesco! This posed a significant challenge, as the role required close collaboration with many departments within the organization. One of my colleagues from Australia went so far as to declare that he had no intention of learning Italian, stating that people would simply tell him things in English if they were important. I took a different approach. I realized that the most important conversations were likely to happen during the morning espresso break, where people would naturally speak Italian. Determined to learn the language, I immersed myself in the culture and language of Rome, and within three months, I had become fluent.

This new-found ability to speak Italian opened many doors for me, including the opportunity to present in Italian to Pietro Beccari, the CEO of Fendi at the time. Even now, speaking Italian remains a crucial skill in my industry, and my decision to embrace the language has had a profound impact on my career. Moreover, my experience in Rome also marked the beginning of a love story with the Eternal City.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Christelle Bitouzet for her guidance on CSR strategies. Christelle allowed me to present my company’s sustainability strategy, a topic I’m passionate about. Her feedback and advice were crucial in helping me to refine my approach and to identify areas where we could further improve our sustainability practices. She challenged me to think critically about our approach to sustainability and to consider new and innovative ideas for how we could make a positive impact on the environment and society.

Thanks to Christelle’s guidance, I was able to gain a deeper appreciation for the matter, and I was inspired to pursue further opportunities to work in this area. It surely planted a seed for my future career projects, starting with my capstone.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Choosing the HEC Executive MBA was a well-thought-out decision for me, and it definitely proved to be the right one. Of course, the quality of the program content was a major factor in my decision-making, but it wasn’t the only one. I was also aware of the value of a strong professional network and connections, and I knew that HEC’s program offered an excellent opportunity to build these relationships. Throughout the 18 months of the program, I was fortunate to meet and learn from a diverse and talented group of peers, all of whom brought their own experiences and perspectives to the table. The collaborative nature of the program encouraged us to work together, share knowledge and ideas, and challenge each other in a positive way. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I learned from my classmates, and how much their insights helped me grow both professionally and personally.

Overall, I can confidently say that the HEC Executive MBA not only gave me the knowledge and skills I needed to advance my career, but it also provided me with a valuable network of contacts and a sense of belonging to a community of like-minded professionals.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? When it came to navigating politics and negotiation, I had always told myself that it was not my strong suit. I had a preconceived idea that it was something I couldn’t handle, and it had been holding you back for a long time. It wasn’t long until I got on opportunity to practice the deciphering politics learnings and I started seeing results. I’ve found myself able to navigate difficult conversations with colleagues, and I even started to enjoy the process of negotiating. I now feel empowered and confident in my abilities to handle these types of situations.

Looking back, I realize that your preconceived notions about politics and negotiation were holding me back. By confronting my fears and taking the time to observe and process, I was able to overcome those limitations and become better at something I once thought was out of your reach. It’s a lesson that I carry with me and apply to other areas of my life, knowing that with the right tools and mindset, you can conquer anything.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? It can be incredibly challenging to balance a demanding work schedule and the demands of an executive education program. In the case of my specialization week in Milan, it was particularly difficult for me given the timing: we were presenting the new collection in showroom the week after. Leaving the office for five days during a critical period of collection development could have put a strain on my work responsibilities and added pressure on my schedule.

However, the support of my peers during that challenging week made all the difference. Their encouragement and support allowed me to manage the workload and complete the assignments on time. Not only did they help with the workload, but they also provided a much-needed emotional boost during a difficult time.

Having that network of support is an essential part of any executive management training program. The shared experiences, mutual support, and collaboration with fellow students can often be the difference between success and failure. Your peers not only provide support during that week but also remain an ongoing resource for advice and guidance as you navigate your career.

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

Prioritize; let go of what’s not serving you.

Dream big and do it your way.

No one is an island; give back.

Enjoy! it goes way too fast.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? “It’s crazy to go back to school after 40! It’s such a big commitment. How are you going to make this work?”

Truth is… you don’t know how you are going to make it work until you do.

While it may seem daunting, I never really doubted my ability to make it work. It’s important to remember that taking on challenges can lead to growth and new opportunities. And even though you may not know exactly how you’ll make it work, taking that first step and committing to your education can be a catalyst for positive change in your life. While it’s true that going back to school may require sacrifices and adjustments to your lifestyle, it’s important to remember that it’s a worthwhile investment in yourself and your future. With the right mindset and support system, you can find ways to balance your studies with your other responsibilities and commitments.

Ultimately, the decision to go back to school is a personal one, and it’s important to do what’s best for you and your unique circumstances. But with determination, perseverance, and a positive attitude, you can make it work and achieve your goals.

What was your biggest regret in business school? The Executive MBA is a pretty intense journey, and it can be quite overwhelming. It’s common for people to experience moments when their emotions get the best of them, and it’s natural to feel regret in hindsight. However, it’s important to remember that emotions are a natural part of being human. It’s also important to acknowledge that sometimes our emotions can be overwhelming, leading to actions or decisions that we later regret.

I’ve learned from my past experiences and have developed strategies to better manage my emotions in the future. I’ve also come to realize that regrets are counterproductive and that focusing on the present moment and moving forward is more beneficial. It is an ongoing process, and it’s okay to acknowledge areas in which I can improve without dwelling on regrets or past mistakes. By focusing on the present and the future, we can continue to learn and grow as individuals.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? With all due respect to the other tracks, the March intake is special. We have developed a strong bond, a connection that will go beyond the MBA year. I can’t just name one person, so many of them will have an imprint on me and some became close friends. GOBO is a testament to the power of collaboration, learning, and connection. The most valuable aspect of any educational experience is the people with whom we share it. I met the most incredible human beings, and I can only hope that I gave them as much as they gave me.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? As far as I remember, I’ve always wanted to go back to school. Doing an MBA was a long-time dream of mine, but it felt out of reach until I found out the march track format. It combines the face-to-face sessions with online learning experience. It found it the best way to juggle work and personal imperatives with the educational journey.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? As I advance in my career, I have realized the importance of working in an environment that aligns with my personal values. Hence, I enrolled in the executive MBA program to commence the second chapter of my professional journey. My aspiration is to contribute to the next revolution in the luxury industry, where the focus will shift from traditional “business as usual” to more transparency, accountability, and innovation that extends beyond just product-centric strategies. As a leader, my goal is not only to drive business impact but also to inspire and develop my team members, helping them to unleash their full potential.

What made Emilie such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Is working in luxury merchandising and acting as an agent of change in the field of environmental and social responsibility in the sector antinomic?

To juggle an 18-monthEMBA, an Executive’s agenda within a large luxury group (Jimmy Choo), the development of an Executive Project with another large fashion brand (Versace), sharing her experience with undergraduate students in Fashion Business (Istituto Marangoni), or the facilitation of yoga classes for refugees in situation of exclusion and who need a bubble of well-being.

Can’t you do it?

She did it. Emilie is proof this is possible, and has shown it to her cohorrt, driven by the search for projects motivated by the impact they can have on people’s lives. And this investment also takes the form of supporting a start-up on the value of AI and tech to streamline the approach to non-renewable resources in the fashion industry.

Driven by passion, fueled by her professional experience and interactions with diverse audiences, Emilie has brought to HEC Paris real value: sharing and finding cohesion around fundamental topics such as sustainability, the need to rethink the care we take with resource consumption, products and what we do with them when we want more.

Emilie is a true luxury expert, a merchandising super specialist who seized the opportunity of an academic reboot, with a lot of rigor, to become a real change agent working on a wider spectrum leading to reinvent a sector that needs to think while measuring its impact.

In short, Emilie has embodied the HEC ethos of “The more you know, the more you dare,” and most importantly, by becoming more daring in how she applies this knowledge to advance urgently needed improvements in the fashion and luxury sector.”

Professor Christelle Bitouzet
HEC Paris


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