The power of global lifelong learning

Written by
Mary Appleton

04 Dec 2018

04 Dec 2018 • by Mary Appleton

Four leaders — all graduates of CEMS — from across the globe reflect on their business school education and how this has enriched and augmented their careers, and offer their predictions for the future of leadership.


Suzanne Verzijden, head of HR, BG Health & Wellness, Royal Philips:

Based in the Netherlands, Suzanne studied from 2000-2006 at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, and with an exchange to Esade.

I have a passion for building teams in an organisation and the individuals within it. My whole business school journey contributed to where I am now; in particular, the international orientation, learning how to make complex ideas simple and how to drive strategy and change.

A passion for people is something that you have throughout your life, but mine was definitely aroused by my studies. I lived with so many diverse people, it helped nurture my interest in developing talent.

Global leaders must keep a close eye on the world of today and the future. What I do involves looking at the reality of business both today and tomorrow and creating the change to get us there; for example, moving from products to integrated connected solutions.

It’s important to have a curious mind, to be outward-orientated, and have the ability to understand and work with rapidly changing trends, so you can grasp the opportunities that lie ahead.

I believe in network leaders: it is important to have a large network of all kinds of stakeholders around you who inspire you and who you can inspire, as nothing works in a silo these days. You need to have a certain agility: flexibility, adaptiveness. Don’t be stuck in your own mind and make sure you are orientated to change.

Automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and connectedness will change jobs. I believe that a lot of roles will disappear as connected data will take over. Looking beyond hard skills and formal qualifications is critical.

Social skills (persuasion, emotional intelligence), content skills (ICT literacy and active learning), cognitive abilities (creativity and mathematical reasoning) and process skills (active listening and critical thinking), will be in higher demand across industries.

Future trends – for example AI – provide us a whole new way of getting to new propositions in the world. If you are able to understand what is happening technologically and also where the needs of people lie and match up the two, that is where future success lies.


Guido Ferralasco, managing director, Ferrero Gulf (Arabic Peninsula):

Based in Dubai, Guido completed the CEMS Master in International Management programme in the Netherlands before attending Harvard Business School and Kellogg School of Management.

Experiences at business school are invaluable for the simple fact that they take you out of your comfort zone and enrich you through the lateral thinking and diversity that they foster.

They helped me progress as an individual and reassured both me and my organisation that I was ready for senior positions, including my first managing director role.

I arrived in Dubai two years ago to set up a new regional business unit. We have hired more than 50 people and established a fully-fledged operation tasked to control seven markets and retail sales in excess of $500m.

The speed of evolution can generate an intrinsic sense of uncertainty for leaders. But all the stakeholders we come in contact with (investors, suppliers, customers, colleagues, institutions) are human beings like us. Everyone is moving and evolving through uncertainty, which is comforting.

Debate over the future of work (robots replacing humans and such like) is producing a varied array of theories and speculations. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, winning corporations will create an environment that pushes people to maximise their potential as individuals and members of society.


Michael Maeder, entrepreneur: 

Based in Shanghai, Michael holds a B.Sc. in International Business from Maastricht University and graduated with a M.Sc. CEMS with distinction in International Management from Rotterdam School of Management.

I don’t believe the fundamentals have changed in terms of what made leaders successful ten years ago and what makes them successful now. 

In an international setting, we have always found strong people leadership capacity, high levels of empathy for people across cultures, markets and hierarchical levels, business acumen and a good sense for execution to be ‘timeless’ fundamentals.

Personally, soft and transferable ‘skills’ such as networking, global thinking, project management and people skills, have turned out to be more important for my work as an entrepreneur than any technical ‘tools’.

I would expect the future of work to be more decentralised, international, digital and balancing work with life. As far as leadership is concerned, in an environment and market where certain skill sets become scarce, people leadership is even more important.

While in the past, talent might have tolerated sub-optimal people leadership for the sake of having a stable job, these times are definitely over, and business leaders need to be at the top of their game in order to attract and engage top talent, irrespective of the sector or region.

For example, the industrial sector used to be more forgiving of managers with sub-par management style and behaviours. But in an environment where even managers from the industrial sector need to compete against other sectors for digital talent, they also need to polish and upgrade their people leadership capability in order to succeed.

Valérie Leyldé, Global vice president HR, communication & customer excellence, Mérieux NutriSciences:

Based in France, Valérie graduated from HEC Paris and CEMS in 1995, and from Sciences-Po Paris in 1997 with a major in Human Resources Management.

I see my role as a strategic business partner and am convinced that both my credibility and impact in the company rely on my ability to understand the business challenges and the company strategy above everything else.

My business school background has enabled me to carry out that role, and go beyond my job description. It’s virtually impossible to predict what the future will look like, but it’s obvious that complexity and the pace of change are increasing.

The only way for leaders to prepare for the future is to develop adaptability, versatility, and openness. Applying the same recipes that worked in the past will not help leaders become successful.

The mindset of being innovative, open to new approaches, ready to take risks and try new things may well surpass knowledge and expertise. The future of work will certainly be impacted by new technologies, at-distance and without-borders cooperation, project-based collaborations, co-working, co-building and new leadership styles.

Nevertheless, technologies and the pace of change will never replace human relationships and I am convinced that the key success factor, in any business, will be people rather than machines.

To express this differently, I expect that the link between employee engagement and customer satisfaction/loyalty will become better understood and a more of a reality over the next few years.