When he started at the HEC Paris Executive MBA, Luca Zaccagna was, like many of his colleagues at the Whirlpool Corporation, a company “lifer.”
There, the Italian national would rise to Head of Supply Chain Operational Excellence, spearheading EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) supply chain strategy. “It was like home,” he says of Whirlpool, where he spent 12 successful years. In order to prepare himself for the next phase of his professional journey, however, he decided to step back out of his EMEA comfort zone, and into the EMBA classroom at HEC Paris.
“I wanted to give a boost to my career,” he says. “You can master the processes within a corporation, but that doesn’t make you a good business leader.”
Leading the change
“The program helped me to have a much more flexible mindset.”
He chose the January track at HEC Paris “after a deep evaluation of all the options.”
Luca, who today is Global Engineering & Operational Excellence Director at Philips, used his course’s two-week modules to their fullest. Incorporating concepts, strategies, and lessons from classroom and classmates alike, he implemented “bits and pieces” of his lessons into the appropriate parts of his job at Whirlpool. Whether that meant confidently vouching for initiatives at work –having already been party to their benefits in cases during his EMBA– or taking a chance on novel concepts (he’s spearheading a push on-demand talent at his new firm), he embraced an openness to new ideas that hadn’t registered before.
“The program helped me to have a much more flexible mindset,” he explains, noting that his background as an engineer in a large corporation conditioned him to operating within rigid structures. “In large corporations, you are used to designing a 3-year plan, which I don’t think matches the current business environment,” he explains. “That’s important because the most important lesson I learned from the EMBA was the importance of keeping a connection with what’s going on outside of– and seeking challenges and opportunities for– your company.”
Noticing the benefits
In between modules, his Whirlpool colleagues noticed a change in his dynamism and thought process. One of those colleagues, Whirlpool EMEA HR Director Fabio Colombo, had a front-row seat to the developments.
“As HR leader of the company, I had the opportunity to see how Luca was able to develop his executive presence, strategic thinking, and his ability to influence senior stakeholders. This made me interested in understanding how the EMBA helped Luca to progress further in his leadership development and strategic thinking.”
When Fabio began mulling over pros and cons of worldwide EMBA programs for his own career development, he knew exactly who to ask for advice.
“When I started thinking about enrolling in an EMBA, I went through different programs,” he explains. “Luca and his experience helped me focus my attention on HEC Paris. He helped me choose the right EMBA per my aspirations and needs.”
Counsel and confirmation
“…being able to discuss with Luca abotut his experience certainly helped to gain a clearer idea of all the benefits behind this transformational experience.”
Natalia Sellibara, a Marketing Director at Whirlpool, also found comfort through the clarity of Luca’s counsel. “Before deciding to embark on this journey, I wanted to be sure about the value of an EMBA. Being able to discuss with Luca about his experience certainly helped [me] to gain a clearer idea of all the benefits behind this transformational experience,” she said. “I went through a long process to pick the right school for my EMBA, and Luca helped to assure me of my decision.”
“It was a process,” Luca says of the role he played in his colleagues’ eventual decision to pursue EMBAs at HEC Paris. A key aspect of this was that on top of his work responsibilities and his EMBA work, he made sure to apprise his colleagues of his broder impressions. “It’s hard to understate how many doors HEC opens for you,” he says. “HEC has a lot of real benefits, like the start-up incubator and its broad network. It was nice to have a truly international network.”
All was music to Natalia’s ears.
“I was definitely interested in understanding how international the environment was. I was also interested in the professors’ profiles, and how supportive HEC would be to make sure I could accomplish my objectives,” she explains. “Luca was a strong resource, and I was able to learn from his experience. Since the beginning, he has encouraged me to take this development opportunity.”
Making sense of things
Marco Merolla, formerly Marketing Director at Whirlpool Italy, and another former colleague of Luca’s, saw his interest piqued over time via casual discussions with his co-worker.
“Simply listening to him about his experience, and about the people he met and the things he learned made me think a lot about doing the EMBA,” he says.
Would Marco have pursued an EMBA in the first place if he hadn’t spoken to Luca first?
“Most likely not.”
A colleague’s influence
Ultimately, Luca’s advice for Marco, Natalia, and Fabio– who are now in the swing of their own EMBA journeys– was straightforward.
“I told them to approach the experience with an open mind, and to take advantage of every opportunity to learn something new, to learn something different,” he says.
“I told them in particular to pursue things that are different from what they’re doing today. This is the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. All of the sudden I moved from an environment where I felt totally in control to an environment where I don’t understand anything. I immediately felt like it was a chance worth taking.”
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.
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