The arrival of her fifth child was the catalyst that convinced Anne Bougel to fulfil her aspirations and find a way to reboot her stalled career.
“I realised that my career was plateauing. That I didn't have any prospective opportunities, any plan, anything ahead of me that was potentially more exciting than what had gone before. I asked myself ‘How can I rethink my career? Learn something new. What can I change?’” she remembers.
Coming from a family used to taking rapid decisions, a few days after the birth of her daughter, she decided, pushed and fully supported by her husband, to apply for an Executive MBA to prepare herself for serious change and renewal. A decision that proved invaluable in giving her the new perspective and increased confidence that now finds her as the CEO of the Canadian branch of leading international online marketing agency Labelium.
Anne’s resumé prior to taking this decision was already very strong. She held degrees from the Sorbonne and Sciences Po, and had for the previous thirteen years built a career at L’Oreal headquarters in Clichy, in Communications.
She considered other business schools but says: “My heart was set on HEC because, in France, it's the top business school, and secondly it offered the time flexibility that fitted my situation and my professional life... My daughter was one month old. And I still had a full-time job at L’Oreal.”
So, what did she learn from her year on the HEC Paris EMBA program?
Anne admits she applied for the program without really knowing what to expect, just wanting to take some time to learn and think. Having had the vague idea that she was going to learn some new skills, she now says: “It's so much not about what you learn, what you're taught. You probably keep only 30% of it - it's so much information and so rich… It's more about what you learn about yourself and from the people you are learning with.”
Everybody taking the EMBA is in one way or another at a crossroads, coming from very different places, very different backgrounds, they are at a point in their lives where they are asking what's going to come next. “What's gonna come next and above all, what we don't want to come to us. All these people want to have control over it. It's about seizing an opportunity to stay in control of your professional life,” says Anne.
“When you read about and see how women are dealing with their professional life, the imposter syndrome, the after-mom challenges. When you reach your 40s, being a woman in the professional world, triggers a lot of questions and a lot of doubts,” she says. “What really was an epiphany for me is to be in a place where they help you think that you can, that you're capable. That you've got the skills and what it takes to achieve your future goals.”
It is not that the program is specifically pro-women or focused on female leadership issues. It is effective because, as Anne says, “It's infusing. They talk to you as accomplished professionals. It's not about direct empowerment. It's about months and months of listening to new perspectives and sharing experience. It teaches you how to work together, how to function as a team, how to take account of everybody's personality and objectives and backgrounds to finish a project.” It is also about taking some distance from what you thought you were doing previously and how you were doing it, to see things differently, more widely, and more accurately. “You are taken out your own professional silo,” she says.
Learning how to better connect to other perspectives, was particularly important for someone, who, after 13 years immersed in a strong company culture at L'Oreal, entirely focused on marketing, had inevitably developed a narrower way of thinking. Sharing ideas with people with backgrounds such as operations or finance provided a connection to diverse perspectives and gave her a more rounded view of company life and the wider business world, a view further broadened by some time spent at Babson College in the US as part of the EMBA.
Click here to learn more about the Executive MBA at HEC Paris
Developing a broad perspective enables the ‘agile leadership’ which is a very strong theme at HEC Paris. “They really teach you what leadership is about. Not only in terms of mastering something. It's also about listening. All the work they did around the group really opened my mind, to not only new knowledge, but new ideas and new ways of seeing things,” says Anne. “It was an intense personal journey. As a woman, I finished this EMBA thinking that I'm capable. That if I want, I can… And not necessarily all by myself. It’s about finding your path, finding the courage to take it, alone or with people that complement you.”
Towards the end of the EMBA Anne left L’Oreal and moved with her family to Canada, finishing the program there. Within a year she took up an offer to create a new Canadian office for Labelium in Montreal. Starting on her own with one client, three years on the company now has 25 employees in two locations and she is opening a second office. “I now have three businesses in two locations and there are 25 of us. Without the EMBA, none of this would have happened, because I would never have thought I could do it, nor would I have been able to surround myself with the talents I have the luck to work with today.” she says.
She puts her success down both to her increased personal confidence and to her understanding that there are some skills she does not have and the vital acceptance that she needs partners. “I think that's the difference that makes a successful entrepreneur. Having the confidence to surround yourself with great people greater than you. And being OK with that.”
“Sometimes in your job you behave like you're expected to behave. You are what you've always been. The EMBA is a place to be something different, to be another you, perhaps the true you. And I think it's particularly empowering for women.”
She believes that everybody should at some point go back to a place where they're re-empowered, given the tools and the confidence to own their professional life. “I feel like I own mine now, and I feel that I didn't before. My greater confidence in myself has made me more able to put trust in others, to rely on them to build something greater and stronger than what I could have built alone. It started as a personal journey and became a great team adventure.” she says. “And something I have learned here, in Canada is that a good entrepreneur learns and tries. Tries and fails and reboots.”