Israeli student spent a weekend with monks

I always dreamed of going to Paris, to taste the delicious food, to learn the French language and visit places like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the National Museum of the Renaissance. I also knew I wanted to be a leader, to make my own mark on the future of business, and that was the reason I came to France.

Studying for my MBA at HEC Paris seemed like the perfect fit. The school has graduated more CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies than any other university in Europe. In addition, nearly 4,000 of their graduates are currently CEOs, CFOs, or have founded their own companies.

France has one of the largest economies in the world, and is a leader among European nations. As someone whose career never took them outside of Israel, I was keen to live in the hub of continental Europe. Despite being a manager for IBM, a multinational technology company with operations in over 170 countries, I definitely lacked international experience.

I started my career in the combat search and rescue unit of the Israeli army, reaching the rank of a Staff Sergeant. The army exposed me to leadership in its rawest form and I was inspired by the dedication and bravery of my superiors. Without a doubt, this drove me to the management field.

Being an MBA student at HEC has also exposed me to continuous invaluable leadership lessons. The various interesting classes I’ve taken, the special seminars in which I participated, the clubs I had the opportunity to lead, the events with industrial leaders and even just conversing with my peers- these have all contributed to my managerial skill acquirement.

Not only have I been given real world leadership experience but, I was given the opportunity to combine it with a significant amount of traveling across Europe and even visiting the exotic Caribbean islands. In fact, I was fortunate enough to participate in a six-week long French course on the French Caribbean Island of Guadeloupe.

My MBA has also provided me with extremely unique experiences – opportunities that exceeded all my expectations. How often do you get the chance to speak to a Benedictine Monk or have a private conversation with a CEO who manages over 250,000 employees?

As part of the Ethics and Performance Elective module my seven MBA colleagues and I had the chance to visit Chomelix, a medieval village in Southern France. Here we were exposed to new cultural norms, including having our hands ceremoniously washed on arrival by the facilitator for the four-day seminar, Father Hugues.

The trip to Notre Dame of Sereys Monastery also provided us with the chance to meet influential and inspiring leaders, including Vincent Schurr, the CEO of Invelis.  Here we debated the real and tough ethical decisions leaders face, and thanks to my time at IBM and in the Israeli Army, I felt I could contribute.

We also discussed how the business world can confront you with ethical dilemmas caused either by malicious decisions or by innocent human errors. We talked about how sometimes you need to choose between a bad solution and a worse one; and how sometimes being a leader means making painful decisions.

This discussion prompted my seven MBA colleagues and I to talk about our personal challenges and the cultural differences in our experience. This provided me with vital information about becoming a leader in today’s cross-cultural world. I’ve realized that working styles can be very different from what I was used to back home in Israel.

On our trip to Chomelix we also met with Philippe Wahl, CEO of La Poste, a postal tracking company that employees over 250,000 people. In this meeting, we asked Wahl about his moral and ethical challenges, the issues he faces leading such a large organization, the strategy of a postal company in an instant-electronic-messaging society and his work-life balance.

I came away feeling motivated. Not just because of the advice from the CEOs but also because of the time spent with my fellow MBA Colleagues. As a group, we had discussions about ethics and leadership that lasted well into the early hours. I was sad to leave the secluded medieval village the only thing that softened the sadness of leaving was the knowledge that we had beautiful scenery to gaze out upon on our way back to Paris.

I am now president of the General Management and Leadership Club and director of the Technology Club at HEC. I am continually learning and pushing myself to become a better leader. Meeting such inspirational people has given me the knowledge and moral compass to do this, enabling me to become an ethical manager. I want to influence change and my MBA at HEC Paris is giving me the tools and confidence to do this.

About the Author
I left a successful job with one of the world’s biggest technology companies and moved to France to study business at HEC Paris -- even visiting monks to learn ethics!