“Inspiration, knowledge, structured thinking, new friends, and fun memories”

“The opportunity to discuss and understand how other course participants have solved their problems provides a valuable store of best practice cases and inspiration for the future,” says Executive MBA participant Helena Gerhardsson, Senior Manager, Customer Product Management at Sony Mobile Communication. We asked Helena what she gained from the 18-month-long Executive MBA program and trip to Africa, and about her thoughts as Saturday’s graduation ceremony approaches. 

Helena Gerhardsson, Senior Manager, Customer Product Management at Sony Mobile Communication, is one of the participants of the Executive MBA class of 2017 graduating on Saturday.

Soon your 18 months in the Executive MBA program will be over. How does it feel?
Wonderful and sad all at once. It has been an enriching period. I gained inspiration, knowledge, structured thinking, new friends, and fun memories. It has given me a very valuable network of smart and successful contacts, which I hope to continue cultivating over time.

You just visited Africa with your group on your International Business Project. Tell us about your assignment and your best takeaways from your visit.
The basic idea of the project was to identify a real business case so that course participants would have the opportunity to apply the lessons and theory from the Executive MBA program to real life. We wanted to see if we could build a business concept sustainable in the long term with the goal of possibly starting a new company.

The project team knew that sugar cane was the main crop on the African island of Mauritius, and it is the most important ingredient in many exciting and attractive products. A quick market analysis revealed that Swedish imports from Mauritius are so few they are nearly nonexistent. To make a more realistic case, the project team chose to focus on the production of rum, which is one of the end products of sugar cane, and not at all marketed in Sweden. The project started by developing a business plan in order to analyze and answer the question of whether the business case was good enough to be able to start a company. That formed the basis for a go or no-go decision.

Best takeaways from the project:
– It has been very exciting and informative to follow the entire flow from initial idea, to a well-documented business plan, and to finally meet suppliers and appreciate their enthusiasm over new business opportunities. Since I work in a high-tech industry, it was amazingly stimulating to meet suppliers of products with completely different givens, a very long history, and great pride. The opportunity to follow the flow from idea to reality has given me entrepreneurial insights that will be valuable in the future.
– In spite of ours being a large group of ambitious participants, it was actually surprisingly easy to develop a business plan with a common goal and shared ambition level. Being able to build closer ties with team members and develop the group dynamic through an assignment that was largely new territory for us all, was really stimulating.

Helena Gerhardsson in action at the Executive MBA program

If you look back one and a half years, is there anything you do differently today compared with before you began the program?
If you work in a high-paced, managerial position it is easy to not see the forest for the trees and get frustrated. When you get a fresh, structured framework, it is much easier to rise above and see the big picture. With a new frame of reference, I feel more comfortable getting involved in matters I might not have earlier. In the course, we constantly practiced leaving our comfort zones, which builds strength we take with us back to work. 

Of the program as a whole, what would you highlight as its best feature?
Sharing knowledge with other senior participants provides a benchmark for one’s own experiences, which has been very inspiring and insightful. It is a unique opportunity to get insight into other industries, with issues different from those I face every day in my industry. Also, being able to discuss and understand how other course participants have solved their problems gives me a valuable store of best practice cases and inspiration for the future. 

What advice would you give to others who are considering taking the course this fall?
Your personal development can really take off with the individual project, so choose it with great care and think through what you really want to get out of it. In general, you’ll have the advantage by coming well prepared to the meetings if you really want to make best use of the time, ask the right questions, and carry on an enriching discussion with the guest lecturers. Then you get more value out of the cases presented.