Going Beyond Borders: Why the HEC EMBA Was My Next Logical Step

Diversity of participant experience is a hallmark of the Executive MBA program. In his rich life and professional experiences, the well-travelled René Azeez, a member of the English Modular 2022 cohort and Director of Venture Engagement at Toronto’s vaunted MaRS Discovery District, embodies that idea perfectly. He explains why the HEC EMBA is the right school for him.

“I grew up in Guyana, a small English-speaking nation in South America that culturally identifies with the Caribbean.

Although I am from very humble beginnings, I had the gift of determined parents that saw education as my best ticket to a more prosperous life. I left Guyana for the very first time in 2003, for the University of Toronto in Canada. There, I studied Developmental Biology, a broad life-science discipline that would give me the technical footing for a career in innovation.

My undergraduate degree was a rich experience. In addition to being an academic eye-opener, university was also my first real taste of a drastically unleveled playing field; I had no choice but to skip courses – outside of graded lessons and exams – in order to work to pay for school. Had I known then what I know now, the journey may have seemed far too daunting, but sometimes what we don’t know is as instrumental in our path and ultimate success as what we do know.

Finding a Way

That said, my appetite to cross borders in pursuit of knowledge could have been

HEC Paris EMBA participant Rene Azeez has called Toronto home since 2003.

Toronto has served as Rene’s base of operations since he moved there from his native Guyana in 2003.

foreshadowing a collision course with the HEC Paris EMBA, a program that rewards diverse perspectives and requires an open mind not encumbered by geographic limitations. I graduated from the University of Toronto in 2010, but the growth I experienced from overcoming very real challenges has strengthened me in ways that will separate me from the crowd for the rest of my life. Further, I believe that my previous experience emboldened me to approach the HEC Paris EMBA with the requisite courage to benefit from its transformative power.

Innovating Where it Matters

Even though I am one of the fortunate ones to break my way into a vital role in innovation in the world’s most diverse city, it’s clear that the uneven playing field I witnessed during my undergraduate years predictably extrapolates to the senior levels of industry. Only by continuing to challenge these barriers can we truly optimize economic, social, and environmental progress. Representation matters. My own journey has given me a personal sense of responsibility. I came to the conclusion that I had no choice but to strive to make the strongest argument for my inclusion at the leadership table in industry if I am to play a role in opening the door for others in the future. Committing to continual improvement to meet the moment, I acknowledged the fact that I needed to bolster my business acumen, to further broaden my perspective, to expose myself to unfamiliar industries, and to expand my network.

Hitting His Stride

 In this context, the HEC Paris EMBA emerged as the next logical step. It is of course true that HEC Paris’ global reputation would improve anyone’s credibility by association and sharpen their business acumen through the rigor of the curriculum, creating access to previously unfathomable opportunities. However, more importantly, participation in the HEC Paris EMBA serves deeper needs. First and foremost, the ability to learn from and develop kinship with a truly global cohort of exceptional and diverse business leaders is second to none. At HEC, a unique perspective is the norm, as opposed to the exception. As a globally top-ranked European business program for Executives, the unique participants attracted by HEC Paris have allowed me to build on my strong North American foundation, and develop meaningful connectivity to Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and beyond, bolstering my own leadership skills along the way. Only in rare circumstances would I have had an opportunity to come into direct contact and share such an experience with world-class business leaders of 38 nationalities and spanning such a variety of industries. The ability to think beyond oneself is key to driving inclusive innovation in business and the HEC Paris EMBA pushes you to consider and appreciate alternative points of view.

Sculpting a Future

Further, as a participant of the HEC Paris EMBA, the control over your experience through both your choice of an immersive major and the design of your capstone project allows you to be brave, to push the boundaries of your limitations, and to facilitate personalized and intentional transformation that accelerate progression towards your wildest dreams. Testing new ideas might be uncomfortable, but the voyage is unavoidably enriching. The HEC Paris EMBA goes above and beyond to create a safe environment that encourages experimentation. It is grounded in real world business fundamentals and supported by the strength of the distinguished HEC Paris alumni network, advisory teams, and resources. In this sense, every participant has their own unique version of the program and the scale of results on industries, economies, societies, and cultures is immeasurable. The potential exists for anyone to harness that energy towards both personal and societal objectives.

“The HEC Paris EMBA goes above and beyond to create a safe environment that encourages experimentation.” 

This isn’t merely another program.  Used correctly, I believe it can catalyze one’s most lofty aspirations, as long as that person is willing to put in the time and effort and embraces transformation. The sky is the limit.

The HEC Paris EMBA allows me to be optimistic about the possibilities for both myself and the world around me.”

René Azeez is a seasoned analyst, consultant, strategist, and innovation evangelist. He is currently participating in his HEC Paris Executive MBA and works at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto as the Director of Venture Engagement for Growth Venture Services. There, he works alongside a formidable team to leverage and deploy considerable resources and competencies to advance over 1300 Canadian technology start-ups.

This essay has been edited for clarity and style. 


More CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies have graduated from HEC Paris than any other university in Europe, and nearly 4,000 graduates are currently CEOs, CFOs, or have founded their own companies. According to the Financial Times, the HEC Paris Executive MBA is ranked #1 in Europe and #3 in the world; click here to learn more about this world-class program.