‘When you think alike, you’ve stopped thinking.’
At its core, this view reveals the real value of diversity. In business, diversity is often associated with team composition: nationality, gender, background, and age. Reality is, diversity is a mindset that drives people to question. That means digging deeper and exploring every angle, aware of how conventional wisdom inspires imagination and overlooked voices spark innovation. Differences disrupt assumptions and communication quashes conformity. And that’s the dual purpose of diversity: openness and dialogue.
Diversity is also one area that sets HEC Paris apart. For 16 months, MBAs are immersed in an environment where their classmates hail from 58 countries. In fact, 96% of the Class of 2024 grew up outside France. That’s why HEC Paris is an incubator for the brave new world. Here, teams are reminded of an eternal truth: conflict is stoked when people feel shut out or taken for granted. Every day, they lean on peers to identify the details and nuances lost in groupthink – the ones that produce better opportunities and closer connections. Working in teams who’ve lived different regions and hold different outlooks, MBAs learn to slow down. At HEC Paris, you’re only as capable as you are flexible. As a result, students bring everyone together to create holistic solutions.
By embracing diversity, HEC Paris MBAs discover something unexpected…We have more in common than we think.
CELEBRATING THE “AGILE MIND”
Diversity is the differentiator for many companies. Top talent gravitates to firms where they have respect, input, and camaraderie – the hallmarks of diverse corporate cultures. True to form, the Class of 2024 has experience in the world’s most diverse organizations. Take Sophie Shen, who was born in Shanghai and raised in New York City. Before becoming an Assistant Vice President in Barclays’ Corporate and Investment Banking division, she served as an analyst in the Emerging Markets Credit Division. In this role, she collaborated with peers from China, France, Pakistan, Russia, and the United Kingdom. Sure enough, her Russian trader posted a banner year thanks to his insight on his homeland’s debt and corporate operations. By the same token, Shen’s experience with the Chinese government helped her develop positioning with the country’s real estate development debt defaults. And you’ll find similar stories of the diversity dividend at Goldman Sachs, where Copal Gupta last worked as an associate in the company’s Investment Banking Division.
“I worked with teams and people from 5 different regions: Japan, Singapore, India, UK and USA. I believe it is extremely important to understand the different cultural backgrounds of one’s peers. This greatly helps to coordinate work with people in different global regions and aids in seamless communication. Additionally, one can learn a lot from different work cultures of peers across the globe. Moreover, personally, I have been able to pick up a few words from native languages of some of my peers.”
As a Logistics Officer, Idris Bailey operated in one of the world’s most diverse organizations: the US Army. For him, diversity goes hand in hand with adaptability – or what he calls “an agile mind.” “I can’t imagine a better way to build mental agility than to simply spend time around people who think differently than you do, who developed entirely different thoughts and beliefs under entirely different circumstances than you did,” Bailey observes.
Indeed, fostering diversity is increasingly a fundamental and high stakes requirement. Without it, teams will struggle to set expectations, fill gaps, and create holistic solutions. just ask Jan Debets, who was most recently the Head of Operations for Business Angels Europe. After studying in Leiden, Paris, and Oxford, Debets has seen the dangers of misunderstandings – and plans to use his time at HEC Paris to observe, reflect, and practice. After all, HEC Paris boasts nearly 100 nationalities under one roof at one time.
“Miscommunication hides behind every corner, sometimes with very serious consequences,” Debets notes. “Navigating such issues is difficult, especially since it is hard to gauge if someone’s behavior is entirely individual or structured by cultural norms. Understanding how people communicate, based on ethical considerations, is key to achieving business success. The HEC MBA gives me the opportunity to improve this antenna, by giving long and intimate exposure to different cultures and attitudes.”
A PHARMACIST AND A FARMER
In fairness, Debets already enjoys a head start in honing these skills. His baptism by fire came when he literally faced mission impossible: shepherding a group of stakeholders with very different objectives and strategies.
“[I] was convincing 19 leading angel investor networks from 13 different countries (each having an average of 215 angel investors, investing on average approx. €3.5 million per year) to start sharing their dealflow and investors with each other, with the goal to promote earlier scaling of portfolio companies into other countries,” Debets writes, “This meant enthusing a very diverse group of interests to start taking a leap of faith together. I am proud that after a lot of hard work the momentum has been created, and that the first cross border investments have been made.”
Diversity is a priority at HEC Paris – and Sofian Kerrou personifies just that. A Ukraine native, Kerrou grew up in an international family, where he mastered 7 languages. He also studied medicine in Germany and became an ophthalmologist. Considering his credentials, you might be shocked by where he channeled his entrepreneurial spirit.
“My biggest achievement is a chicken farm that my friend and I founded in the Republic of Congo,” Kerrou tells P&Q. “We started as a very small business, but we were sure that our project would succeed. Despite all of the challenges that we had faced we were able to build a farm and to become one of the main local suppliers of chicken eggs.”
Elisa Leehan other Svetlana Toropova both got their start at KPMG, where they climbed the ranks to senior associate and associate director respectively. Leehan’s team focused on cybersecurity, helping government agencies thwart criminal attacks. In contrast, Toropova innovated in model and system development and cash and risk management.
“Together with my team, I developed and implemented a brand new FP&A process for one of the country’s biggest companies, which is resistant to change,” Toropova explains. “It took us more than 3 years, but it was worth it.”
Diverse is one word to describe the MBA Class of 2024. Formidable is another. Before joining HEC Paris, Monica van den Boom worked as an internal auditor for the German Central Bank. Dear classmate, Michael Moison, served as a marketing manager for L’Oréal USA. Her claim to fame? Over three years her team launched 15 skincare products worldwide. Kopal Gupta’s team was responsible for developing a product that resulted in Goldman Sachs’ largest partnership in its corporate cash management business. At Barclays, Sophie Shen’s teams contributed $250 million dollars in profit. In terms of scale, it would be hard to top Seth Hogle‘s contributions as an IBM consultant.
“I spearheaded the data and analytics initiative for the largest automation platform in the US federal government. We partnered with the US Department for Veterans Affairs to better manage the processing speed and accuracy of benefits claims. Our solution decreased overage response time from over a month to under 24 hours, and empowered VA employees to spend more time on high value tasks best suited for humans and less time on manual rules-based tasks better suited for automation technologies. This translates into US Veterans getting timely and appropriate access to the benefits they’ve earned.”
High finance and big data. Name companies and critical roles. thanks to Jessica Schuett, you can add big ideas and flawless execution to the Class of 2024 list. After a stint at Daimler AG, Schuett moved to Via, the Berlin native moved to Via, a startup software firm designed to transform legacy transportation systems. Thanks to Schuett, Via was able to provide access to riders who needed it the most.
“I led the transformation of an unreliable and rarely used transit service for disabled riders into a highly flexible offer that now enables 25,000+ passengers to travel independently throughout a major German city. Many had told us prior to the transition about the poor state of the service. Some riders had even been forgotten in the rain for hours until they were found on the street and brought to warmth and safety. After our effort, we received countless letters and calls from passengers about how thankful they were for the change and their newfound freedom. Passengers can now autonomously book trips through various traditional and digital channels. For the first time ever, they have transparency on the status of their ride, such as the exact pick-up time.”
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Anna Pozniakoff jokes that HEC Paris should be renamed to “Almost Paris.” Fact is, the school is far removed from the City of Lights – think a 50-minute train ride to the forests south of Versailles in Jouy-en-Joses. While it may not be Emily In Paris, the area offers a peaceful alternative to a Parisian life that can often be bruyant, bondé, and épuisant. The campus is anchored by nature trails and lakes filled with ducks and swans. And it’s just a short bus ride from campus to the Paris-Saclay Innovation Center, home to 150,000 researchers, inventors, and entrepreneurs – the largest ecosystem of its kind in continental Europe. It features business headquarters and R&D centers for companies like Danone, Nokia, Safran, and Sanoli. That makes it easy for HEC Paris MBA to tap into expertise and opportunities in biotech, artificial intelligence, smart manufacturing, and cybersecurity.
In other words, MBAs can access high tech and high culture before retreating into the comforts of an intimate and rural community. This combination made HEC Paris an irresistible opportunity for Jan Debets. “I believe the HEC MBA offers the best of both worlds. On one hand, you are living on a secluded campus, where you are constantly bumping into the great pool of talented and ambitious students of HEC’s multiple programs. On the other hand, I am a metro ride away from an extraordinary city that is gaining momentum in innovation and finance, as demonstrated by harboring the world’s largest incubator, Station F. I am excited that HEC is deeply involved there. Finally, I feel the location allows me to get a stronger understanding of France itself, as the location is a window into the fundamental tension that makes it such a special country: that being between la campagne other la capitale.”
Still, it is hard to resist the temptations of Paris. The Paris metro boasts a GDP larger than London. Not to mention, the area includes the highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in Europe, including AXA, BNP Paribus, Renault, and LVHM. Not surprisingly, Paris is the heart of the luxury marketplace, home to Dior, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, L’Orèal, and Chanel. That doesn’t count Champs-Elysées, the iconic avenue that features flagship stores and world-famous boutiques that represent the best of French fashion and culture. In recent years, Paris has also emerged as the top city to launch a venture in continental Europe, with a startup ecosystem valued at $89 billion dollars and VC funding totaling $23 billion dollars from 2017-2022 according to Startup Genome. Tack on another $15 billion dollars, which has been earmarked by the French government to helping startups through 2030.
NextPage: Interview with Benoit Banchereau, Executive Director of Communications, Marketing and Admissions
Page 3: In-Depth Profiles of 12 HEC Paris MBAs