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Easing Into a Dream Job

This Hautes Etudes Commerciales grad is in heaven with a job at her top choice, Nike, and the experience and learning to flourish in it

So here's the thing about a 16-month program—it's over before you know it. Especially if you decide, as I did, to spend the last six months doing an "Individual Professional Project." At HEC, students have the option of spending the last segment (after two core periods and one elective period) at an internship, returning to school for monthly seminars that last two or three days.

I chose the IPP option because I must admit that I was ready (desperately anxious is probably not putting it too strongly) to get back to work! I also got my dream job, but more on that later.

I think the IPP is a wonderful idea, particularly for elderly and impatient students like me. It's a great way to combine the focus of a full-time MBA during the first 10 months, with the flexibility of an executive or part-time program. I really, really enjoyed being able to learn specific, concrete concepts that I could directly apply at work, the Monday after learning them!

Perfect Timing

As a bonus, one of the IPP professors (Walid Malouf, who happens to be a recent HEC alum who founded HEC's Net Impact chapter) taught a course on corporate social responsibility. It turned out to be one of the best and most useful courses of the MBA.

My IPP host company ended up being…Nike! I was chosen as a member of the first-ever class of their new Management Development Program (MDP) in their Europe, the Middle East, & Africa (EMEA) headquarters in the Netherlands.

At the beginning of Core 2, I'd already decided I wanted to follow the IPP track. I knew I wanted to do an internship with Nike (NKE), and serendipitously, Nike decided to launch the MDP program in the summer of 2006.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to try out, and after two days of extensive panel interviews (one of which took place on my birthday), case studies, some sort of group assessment activity that I've been sworn to secrecy not to reveal, and weeks of nerve-shredding waiting, I got the offer! It was a bit tricky, since HEC's IPP program had been designed for internships, and the MDP program is a full-time, permanent position, but with a bit of flexibility on both ends, it all worked out.

Rotating Like Crazy

The MDP is Nike EMEA's attempt to attract high-potential experienced talent to the organization, both to benefit from fresh ideas and to groom individuals for leadership roles within the company.

The program requires at least 6 to 10 years of post-university work experience as well as a graduate degree. It is a rotational program, lasting between 12 and 18 months, depending upon the individual program plan. Participants are expected to join the company with a specific area of expertise, and to be assigned to a pre-selected department at the end of the rotations.

The rotations are meant to give participants a broad understanding of the business and to teach them to work cross-functionally. The rotations are also meant to teach how to navigate and influence across Nike's relatively flat, mind-bogglingly complex organizational structure, affectionately referred to as "The Matrix." Or, as I have come to refer to it under my breath, "Oh, the Insanity."

A Fighting Hero

If you've followed my past entries, you may have been struck by the fact that I am passionate about, among other things, social change, living and working cross-culturally, about getting the chance to create better opportunities for women, and about sports. In case you're wondering, my favorite teams are: my beloved alma mater USC's Trojans (Fight On!), my birth city's San Francisco 49ers (it's a rebuilding year!), and Nigeria's Super Eagles.

My favorite athlete of all time? That's a tough one, but I'll say Muhammad Ali. He exemplifies all of the values that are important to me, even in a sport that I generally detest. Elegance, grace under pressure, complete mastery of his craft, the courage to stand up for what he believed in even when it cost him dearly, and the fact that he used and continues to use his platform as a legendary athlete to advocate for social change.

Sport has tremendous power to drive social change in virtually every corner of the world, and I think that its full potential has yet to be explored. Nike represents an incredible opportunity to combine all of those things into one job!

More than that, at this point in my career, I'm convinced of the importance of choosing work environments with extreme care. Through my job at Catalyst, I had the privilege of working very closely with many elite corporations and professional service firms.

Since the work I did was around organizational culture and change, it gave me an excellent window into the inner workings of many companies. I was able to discover much more about the companies than what they wrote on their Web sites, and what I found demonstrated the importance of finding a work culture suited to my personality—my strengths as well as my weaknesses.

First Projects, First Impressions

I had the opportunity to interact with Nike quite a bit while I was in the U.S. and did so even more when I moved to Amsterdam for Catalyst. I got to know many of the employees (particularly senior women executives across the company, and much of the senior human resources staff).

I admired them a great deal and felt a strong connection. I also came to love the brand, and the values, that Nike stands for (innovation, passion for sport, inspiration, and entrepreneurship).

I had already decided that I wanted to work for Nike before business school (although I did consider one other company that I thought had an interesting CR platform, a great brand, and a unique work environment, Starbucks) (SBUX), so my job search was rather limited. Actually, it was a bit like my MBA program application process! I decided on the "one" and went for it! Come to think of it, that's pretty much how I picked my husband, so there's definitely a trend. But I digress.

I started on Aug. 1, and I can honestly say that it is my dream job, even when I'm reduced to muttering under my breath. My rotational program so far includes a strategic project around organizational culture change and employer branding with human resources, a new business concept launch with the e-commerce business and the women's business, a learning and development/manager effectiveness project in the Northern Europe business unit, and a final rotation in one of Nike's product engines (apparel). And, get this: my current amazing, dream project is being a member of the Africa strategy team, aligning our CSR, sports marketing and distributor strategies! One of my specific projects is working on the women's race in Casablanca, the same race that started me on this journey.

Here's the Payoff

While my most relevant experience, in strategic human resources/organizational change management/diversity/corporate social responsibility, is an obvious fit for my first project, I've also found that my other work experience is proving helpful. For example, all my past jobs have been in client services; I've found that having been trained to focus on the client is excellent practice for putting the consumer first! And all the qualitative and quantitative research that I conducted and analyzed around what women want in the workplace is proving handy in guiding my thinking around what women want in the marketplace.

I've also found, to my great shock, that a few of my least favorite business school classes have actually been good for something! Imagine, during the first week of "Nike University" (a two-week orientation into Nike's business), I found myself actually understanding the endless presentations on operations and supply chain. There I was, staying awake and alert (not even having to fake it), and what's more, even having an opinion!

One of the most amazing things about the program, and Nike, is the degree to which the entrepreneurial, startup ethos that is so characteristic of the consumer brand is emblematic of Nike's organizational culture. "Just Do It" isn't just a tagline! I have really been expected to contribute immediately, which is exciting and scary and perfect for me, all at the same time.

The End and the Beginning

I had my very last IPP seminar in December, right before Christmas. It was the seminar on corporate social responsibility, and it was one of the best classes I had during the MBA. So, technically, classes are over for HEC-Paris' September, 2005, class.

We have a commencement ceremony in June, with the January intake, and I suppose that then it will feel much more final. For now, I'm immersed in work, and school already seems like it happened ages ago.

So, as a great man with an unfortunate drug habit and a taste for really tight leather pants once wailed, "This is the end, my beautiful friend, this is the end." Endings are always beginnings, though, and I'm so looking forward to life post-MBA.

In fact, in a fantastic bit of "the circle continues", I'll be traveling to HEC in March to recruit for the second class of Nike's EMEA Management Development Program! Since Nike did not recruit at HEC last year, I'm so pleased to be a part of their first trip there!

I've learned so much in the time since I first posted in this journal. The vast majority of what I learned, I learned outside of the classroom. My decision to go back to school, however, created the circumstances from which I learned.

I got the chance to live in Paris, to run in Casablanca, dance in Rio, cheer in Nuremburg, and learn from and work with classmates from every corner of the world. I'm now working for a company I love, in a position in which I feel fully engaged, and from which I am learning what feels like a million new things every day.

It's been a short, strange, amazing trip, and thank you so much for taking it with me.

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