INSEAD Participant Interview

Sparking confidence, curiosity and inspiration on the Transition to General Management programme 

Sarah Pricaz

International Marketing Vice President 
L'Occitane en Provence
Switzerland

"After the Transition to General Management programme I had much more confidence, as well as a lot of curiosity and willingness to change. Having spent seven years in operational marketing I felt ready to take more risks and seize new opportunities."

Can you please introduce yourself?

I am Marketing VP at L’Occitane. It’s a recent role I’ve taken on. Before this, I was operational marketing director within a business unit, a role which had much more of a regional focus. Marketing VP is a much broader role and I am now in the HQ within an international team which decides on product development worldwide, customer experience and communication. Essentially, everything related to the go to market of our products.

Was this a role you had been contemplating for some time or was it inspired by the Transition to General Management programme?

I’ve been working at L’Occitane for the past 14 years. I started working on the commercial side of things and have a lot of experience in that area. I then moved into operational marketing. I am very skills orientated as a result. This is why I was very interested in the Transition to General Management programme as I wanted to move to a GM position and broaden my role. I felt that the programme, combined with my existing skillset, would put me at an advantage.

I didn’t seek out my new position. After the Transition to General Management programme I had much more confidence, as well as a lot of curiosity and willingness to change. Having spent seven years in operational marketing I felt ready to take more risks and seize new opportunities. The morning I got back to work after the first module, I was told that the existing marketing VP had left the job. I decided to apply that evening.

I felt I could bring something to the organisation and the role thanks to my new knowledge and past operational experience. I was ready to take on a much more strategic role. I guess you could say it was an alignment of stars! 

How did the programme prepare you for the move?

It gave me a lot more confidence. I know that I am good at what I do, but what the programme did was provide me with feedback from the others in the class. That feedback, from people who didn’t really know me, showed that I can also lead teams in areas and situations I am not as familiar with. That I have the skills and the knowledge. It gave me lots of confidence to say that I have leadership skills that can be adapted to very different parts of the company. This was very beneficial and an important revelation. It was a very strong part of the programme. 

Also, the programme sparked my curiosity. There was so much diversity in terms of the topics covered that it made me realise that everything interests me. Not just marketing, per se.

All of this encouraged me to say: “Even if I am not the first choice for the position, let’s try anyway. I think I could love it.” It gave me a lot more confidence to take the risk. Before the programme, I was more likely to say: “Am I really the right person for the job? Is it the right thing to do?” When I came back, I asked myself: “Do I want to do that? And yes I do!”

So the programme helped you understand yourself better?

Yes. The coaching part acted like a mirror and helped me see a reflection of myself. It helped me understand myself better. That I can maybe understand very different problematics and how I communicate and act with people at work.

Once you have spent some time working in a company, in a position, there is a risk that you become comfortable with what you have and you get tunnel vision. You don’t necessarily see that you have skills that could fit other positions. 

What the programme helps do is show you that your leadership skills, which are already good, can be used in other strategic positions and not just in operational positions, as was the case for me.

How impactful is the leadership development on the programme and is it something you would not have gotten if it weren’t for the Transition to General Management programme?

Absolutely. The programme pushed my leadership development. It is really the strength of the programme and is what makes the difference. What I loved is that all the people on the programme were in a very similar moment of their lives, but very different in terms of their backgrounds. Their feedback was very, very valuable. It was the first training session I’d attended in which I learned so much from the others.

When you are in a coaching session in your company, you have known the people in the session with you for a long time. This means you have bias. What this means is that you don’t get real, straightforward, generous and constructive feedback like you do on the Transition to General Management programme. This is the strength of the programme. The atmosphere was excellent. The authenticity of everyone was really, really interesting. The diversity in terms of nationalities and backgrounds is really an asset. Everyone is ready to share the same fears, problems, strengths. It was very interesting, rich, fruitful and very pleasant.

You are surrounded by participants who come from different backgrounds and who have their own experience. It’s a platform you can share safely in. With regards to peer-to-peer coaching, the advice is always positive. There are no politics. No negotiations. It’s only win-win. The feedback is very honest with no biases.

Did the programme give you the confidence to take more risks?

For many women, once you reach a more senior position, confidence is something harder to achieve. You feel guilty of having achieved the position. Do I deserve it? 

The programme helped me address this. As I’ve already mentioned, others on the programme gave me great feedback. When doing exercises, they said I ran it in a great way. That I had great ideas. That they loved the way I structured the team.

Yet, I wasn’t doing anything differently to what I would normally do at work. It was the first time I’d heard such feedback and it was very powerful. It was strong and exceptional and was very nice to hear. It gives you confidence in your abilities and in your position within the company.

At the end you think: “Ah, maybe I can make the difference in a more senior position. Maybe I can be more successful and finally allow myself to take risks without too much fear.” With this, the programme really helps.

Was the gender balance on the programme good?

The class was made up of 40% women. This made for a good, balanced relationships. It was very harmonious and less competitive.

Such a balance can empower women. Especially when everyone is of a similar professional level. Having this parity and diversity really helps foster equal treatment between men and women.

This parity and balance is something I found the programme to be very strong in and it is done really well.

Does the programme allow for a deep space for reflection?

I think that space for reflection is needed in your career and the programme allows for this.

If you really want to make the most of the programme and really enjoy it, you absolutely need to take the time to reflect and introspect. Everything is done to help you with this.

Being immersed in the group and in the programme is part of the programme’s great success.

Over the two modules of two weeks, it’s not easy to switch off. It’s not easy in terms of organisation and business pressure. But, the length is great. The one month experience is very strong. The fact you are in another world with the group is very strong and very helpful.

To stop working for a moment and reflect on the different subjects was really amazing. It was a big breath of fresh air and exactly the right moment to do it. It was intense, but very energising. 

Did the programme give you a different mind-set?

It allowed me to realise that I am used to naturally doing some things at work and doing these in the right direction. Rituals, if you like, in the way I manage teams. It was a good way to confirm that I am going in the right direction.

My background being in marketing, communication and negotiation, the content on those parts of the business was particularly interesting. The strategy and management parts were very, very useful and left me with concrete tools that I can share and apply with my team. 

In terms of pure mind-set, the programme gave me a lot of energy and a lot of positive spirit. It encouraged me to seize new opportunities with regards to marketing efforts, new markets, new ideas and unknown territories. Whereas before they would be risky moves, now I see them as opportunities.

Value creation is an important part of the programme learning. What did it teach you about this?

It taught me that the idea of value creation is present in, and affects, all areas of the business. Not simply finance and sales, for example, but also marketing and strategy. The programme taught me that all areas of the business are complementary and should work together as a whole to create value.

What did you think of the modular format?

After first two weeks I was very happy to see my family. It’s an intense programme during which you are cut off from the outside world.

Being able to go back to work between modules allowed me to start sharing the tools and concepts early on. For example, fair process leadership. My team was very happy as it’s a very powerful tool. 

Overall, I think that two weeks is a good rhythm. It allows you to manage your time on the programme and your job. 

L'Occitane sends many people to INSEAD. Why do you think that is?

Our main shareholder and his son have both been to INSEAD and are Alumni. As such, they are convinced about the benefits of attending in terms of knowledge gained.

So, the fact that we send so many people is really down to them. I think it’s great for people here to have such an opportunity.

It shows that we capitalise on people and we build their knowledge in the long-term. This Transition to General Management programme is very serious and is really something they believe in. If people were chosen to do the programme it’s because they were flagged as having potential. Personally speaking, it was a big recognition.

In return, they expect us to share our new knowledge and to take more risks. It’s in keeping with the spirit of the company. They want us to apply what we learned on the programme.

What kind of connections does the programme create?

We have a WhatsApp group and not a single day goes by without someone commenting. Even if it’s just to say hello. It’s really nice.

What I found is that the programme creates much more than just colleagues. It’s real friendships with people from all over the world. Some have already travelled to Japan to meet up. It’s all natural, authentic and simple. Is frankly amazing. Being able to meet people in a deep, meaningful and nice way is not so obvious. You don’t meet people like this easily. It’s a treasure after the programme.

We If we have a business problem, we will easily talk to each other. With one person, I have a monthly mentoring call. It’s good to just talk about business and management and our difficulties. It’s a moment to listen.

With regards to our coaching group, we keep in touch for sure. We have a monthly call  just say where we are. Where we stand in our positions. Our next meeting is in June 2019 in Europe. 

Visit the website to learn more about the Transition to General Management programme

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