INSEAD Participant Interview
A Lasting Impact With the Family Enterprise Challenge
Ada Polla participated in the Family Enterprise Challenge programme in 2014, with her father, three sisters and brother-in-law. She is CEO of Alchimie Forever, a Swiss dermatologist-formulated, plant-based skincare line, and is based in the U.S. Here she shares her experiences of a distinctive and impactful INSEAD programme.
Why did you decide to enroll on the Family Enterprise Challenge?
My sister decided to sign up for herself, then my father and my other sister’s husband – he works in the company too. Then, last March, she sent an email around the rest of the family saying: “Why don’t you join us?”
So you signed up as soon as your sister invited you?
Not at all. The dates clashed with the most important trade show of the year… and my birthday! Plus I’d never heard of INSEAD or the programme. I didn’t even realise the programme would be in English. I admit that I was sitting here in the U.S. thinking: “I know the others are all in Switzerland, but why does my family always have to be so Eurocentric?” But eventually, my father persuaded me and another sister. And we all came away from INSEAD with huge feelings of gratitude towards the sister who signed up first. It was an amazing experience.
Why was your father so keen that most of the family should attend?
It wasn’t that we had a specific problem that we wanted to fix. We were just looking for an experience to bring us closer together as a business-owning family, especially as my dad will want to retire one day. He originally founded the company with my mother, who is also a doctor. Today I’m CEO of Alchimie Forever, while my brother-in-law is CEO of our medical spas in Switzerland. My sisters are all active shareholders. So we’re a close-knit business family, even though the business is young compared to some of the other participants’ firms.
What was the benefit of learning alongside other business families?
You always feel that your family and your business are unique, but at INSEAD you discover that there are many people just like you and businesses just like yours – all over the world. The challenges you have turn out to be normal, not bizarre! It’s particularly helpful to have a mixture of different generations on campus together. My sisters and I spent a lot of time with other second-generation people and it was wonderful for my father to have other founders to talk to. One family was even there for the second time, so it must have worked for them.
Did the programme work for your family? Has it had an impact so far?
We’ve tried to implement the learning throughout our daily life, our relationships and the business. We’re also in the process of creating a family charter and a family council with an annual assembly. And we’re refining the family values, vision and mission statements that we created in one of the workshops. So it’s making a big impact and will continue to do so.
Which parts of the programme were the most effective for you?
I think the sessions on communication were probably the most useful. We talked about so many things and realised that we should talk a lot more. But it’s the mixture of spending time together as a family and structured class learning – like I had at business school – that makes the programme so special.
If you could go back in time to when your sister first sent you the invitation, what would you tell yourself?
I would tell myself to enrol without hesitation! My husband also works for his family’s business and I’ve been telling him about it too. In fact, I loved it so much that I’ve been telling the world. I devoted several issues of my blog to it.
Read Ada’s blogs using the links below. Or to find out more about the Family Enterprise Challenge Programme and download the application form click here.