INSEAD Participant Interview

From Functional to General Management: a Participant’s Perspective

Thomas Henriksen

General Manager
Australia-New Zealand

Thomas Henriksen is General Manager, Australia-New Zealand, for Ingredion. He completed the Transition to General Management optional, one-week follow-up module– in order to continue the learning journey he began last year with the programme itself.

Why did you decide to do the Transition to General Management programme?

I signed up when I found out I was likely going to be promoted to a general management position. My background is in operations and most general managers I know have a commercial background. Of course, I knew how to read a P&L statement and had a basic understanding of finance. Some might say I knew just enough to be dangerous! But I prefer to put it this way: I didn’t know what I didn’t know – and I wanted to learn it in a world-renowned, top-notch business school, surrounded by colleagues from diverse backgrounds but in similar situations.

Did you learn everything you wanted to on the programme?

In the end, it turned out that I hadn’t given myself credit for how much I already knew; my career had exposed me to most of the subject material at different times so I had a working knowledge, or at least some familiarity, of nearly every subject. However, in most areas, I lacked the depth of understanding that I have now.  Examples include the marketing frameworks, negotiation and decision-making analysis, and many aspects of leadership.  Some of the most powerful learning was in soft skills, which I thought I was strong in before the programme. The material on managing yourself, team dynamics and leadership has made a big impact on my work, although the strategy classes in the second module have made me think a lot about what I’m doing and helped me to see the bigger picture. Finally, the emphasis on finance and value creation was deeper and more fundamental than I expected; the program covers everything from the evolution of finance, including banking and capital markets, to its present-day state, and helps you understand the drivers of all the players.  The key messages around value creation are continually driven throughout the program, and I’ve found they come up in my mind every day; I’m constantly analysing activities and asking what value they bring.

Why did you sign up for the optional follow-up module?

It’s strange, but the close of the first two-week module of Transition to General Management, which is where most of the heavy hitting learning about leadership happens, felt like a natural end. We went back to work for six weeks and practised it all. But after the second two-week module, there was less closure. I somehow missed the hands-on nuts and bolts. The programme just didn’t feel complete without the chance to bring it all together by practising. I’m not sure everyone felt that way, but I definitely needed to come back for more.

Did the optional week meet your expectations?

It was so perfect. It was a case of: let’s roll up our sleeves and apply what we learned on something tangible. We worked in groups of four on a business simulation. And it hit me… this is it: everything’s coming together – from the organisational behaviour professor telling me to talk less in module one to the strategy professor asking “Where do you want to be?” in module two.  It was magic. The follow up took the programme from good to great!

Has the follow-up module made an impact on your work so far?

For me it was the missing piece of the jigsaw. By doing everything we’d learned about through the simulation, I truly understood it all. The follow up also gave me the confidence to embed the learning from Transition to General Management in my daily work.

In the long term, what do you think you have gained from your time at INSEAD?

The friendships have glued the learning together as much as the follow-up module. I made two or three friendships on Transition to General Management that I know will be life-long, as well as many other relationships with people all over the world, from Japan to South America, Malaysia to Europe. I think our class was particularly close knit, but I believe it’s not atypical. We’re having a reunion weekend in May in Portugal. The fact that I’ll be attending all the way from Australia probably tells you everything you need to know!

To start building your own network with Transition to General Management (and the follow-up module) click here to read about the programme.

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