Emefa De Souza came to the HEC Paris Executive MBA eager to make a career transition.
The Engineer and Product Manager had been working at SFR Telecommunications for 11 years where she had carried out different roles and been promoted within the operations, engineering and services teams. After becoming fascinated with the marketing and business development strategies within the organization, Emefa was eager to take on a role in a more business-oriented role.
Despite the fact Emefa had been working at SFR for over a decade and had acquired valuable knowledge about various business units, her efforts to change to her desired departments were repeatedly unsuccessful.
“I tried to move internally to the business development or marketing team but each time I tried I was told ‘no you don’t have business training, you don’t have business experience, you don’t have marketing training.’ After a few years of being told no so many times, I became very frustrated and began looking for a program that could help me to develop these missing skills.”
It wasn’t an overnight process for Emefa to join the EMBA for the mum of three, having to meticulously plan how she would find the time (her youngest child was three when she started the EMBA) and finances to make her EMBA dream a reality. After finally arriving at a place where she could enroll in the program, she had one big question on her mind: ‘how long will this transition take?’
Asking Yourself The Right Questions
Emefa is someone who had already gone through some big transitions in her life. As a young student, she moved from Togo in West Africa to France to study engineering.
Asking this question of ‘when?’ during her first coaching session with her Career Center advisor, she realized she needed to ask different questions to begin.
What was beyond the goal to work in marketing or business development? Where did she really want to go with her professional and personal life?
Emefa realized her transition wasn’t simply going to be a new position or company change, it was going to be a continuous journey, and patience was going to be her ally in helping her to navigate a new career and life.
“I learned to take my time when thinking about my future. If you don’t have time to do that when you’re thinking about the Executive MBA, then I think you’ve lost the essence of the program,” said the business development consultant.
Emefa said there was a maturity amongst the cohort and most people were there for reasons beyond getting a promotion or salary increase.
“It wasn’t just about getting a higher salary, it was about discovering my purpose and knowing how to get there.”
“When you are 40, 45-years-old and you leave your company, it’s not so easy to find another place in France. You need to evaluate the way you position yourself in the market because you are becoming the product yourself. It’s a very high standard of work you have to do professionally and personally.”
A Whole New Energy World
Having arrived from the Telecommunications industry, Emefa enrolled into the Digital Transformation specialization saying it was a natural choice. However, she soon re-evaluated her decision after learning about the different specializations on the first day of the program.
“The Digital specialization appeared to be something I had already practiced, so I told myself I had to learn something different. I discussed this with the HEC Career Center and one of my advisors told me ‘Emefa, if you want to expand your knowledge, the most interesting major for you will be the Energy specialization.’”
“I did some research about energy access in Africa and how it’s improving thanks to the digital industry, and automatically my mind made the connection between digital and energy. I decided this was the specialization I wanted to do and I’ve never regretted it.”
Discovering Smart Cities
It was during the Energy specialization that Emefa discovered the concept of Smart Cities.
A Smart City is an urban area which uses information and communication technologies and data-driven analytics to automate and form a wide range of services, with the aim to improve efficiency, lower costs, improve citizen welfare and reduce environmental impacts.
“Since discovering the Smart Cities concept I have been very passionate about this topic and it’s the main objective in all my work and projects.
“My objective today is to mix my digital skill-set with my new energy knowledge and grow my career within the Smart Cities system.”
Emefa went on to complete her Capstone Project in the area of energy efficiency and was motivated to apply her newfound knowledge to a role in the Renewable Energy or Smart Cities sector.
Six months after completing her EMBA, Emefa was offered a job with Yélé consultancy firm , whose objective is to support the companies and communities in their response to the challenges of energy transition and digital transformation. The new role would allow Emefa to combine her digital expertise and new energy knowledge, and also has strong ties to West Africa with their projects.
Becoming an Expert and Embracing Innovation
There are many verticals which exist and converge within the Smart Cities system, with the main three being Transportation, Energy and Building, and Emefa said the skills she is gaining within each industry are entirely transferable.
Emefa was particularly interested in the transportation element, which she has been able to explore during her current consultancy post at SNCF as Innovation Program Manager, where she is aiding the company in its digital transformation. And the timing could not be more relevant as the importance of smart and safe ground travel has been amplified in the wake of the current pandemic.
“I want my career to move within the triptych of these three sectors. Smart Cities is about connectivity and connectivity is what I have developed in my previous career.”
Emefa realizes how the Energy specialization opened up her career path, making this first step in her career transition possible, and despite the fact she came into this specialization with no prior Energy experience, she says it’s possible to walk away with a new expertise.
“To be honest, the first part of the program was difficult for people not coming from an energy background because it’s about fossil energy. But as an engineer, I understood the key takeaways. The second part of the specialization focusing on renewable energies was new for everybody. I even felt I had an advantage on those people because I’m coming from a digital background, and digital is an essential component to energy transition.”
New Projects for Positive Change
While happily settled in France with her work and family, Emefa continues to feel very connected to her roots in Togo. Concerned by the economic and social issues in her home country, Emefa is in the early stages of developing a community project in Togo to improve women’s access to education.
“I’m very connected to the problems in this part of Africa in terms of development, education, energy access. It’s something very important for me. It’s another reason why I wanted to do my Executive MBA, to help me create this project which I now can see ties into the Smart Cities sector in Togo.”
“I am talking with the local village’s mayor and the women in the community to construct a community program which will involve education for women because there is a discrimination in terms of access to education between men and women in Togo. I know that similar kinds of projects have been developed in India or in Asian countries and I’m researching these to see how this could work in Togo” said Emefa.
Stopping herself as she spoke about her vision for this future project, Emefa said it’s because of the EMBA that she feels empowered to create a project like this and wants to use her position to make a positive impact on other people’s lives.
“I don’t know why I am talking about this project!”, she laughed.
“My goal is to make it a reality in the next 3-5 years because I need time to ensure this project will improve the quality of life for these people. But that’s what HEC does, this EMBA helped me to change my mindset.”
“It’s like I opened a door to a new life and I can make my own projects and I can think about the future not only for myself, but also for people who have stayed in Togo. This project will help me to create a link between them and me who left my country.”
“Yes, the EMBA teaches business, economy and strategy, which are enriching and essential to career development, but for me the most important thing was being challenged about how you see the world. You discover that time is gold, and in the past you were spending your time in a non-optimizing way and that each second, every day, you can do something useful with your life,” said the future entrepreneur.
“The program opens your eyes to what you are able to do, what you can bring to the world, especially for people like me who come from Togo, who can see the difference and be aware of the difference between people who have had the chance to study abroad and complete an EMBA.”
“It’s the biggest step I have taken in my life. My life transition has only just begun.”
To learn more about the HEC Paris Executive MBA see upcoming events here.