INSEAD participant view
It was a tipping point in my career and in my life.
Pablo Aravena, Associate Director with Teva Pharmaceuticals in Chile, was in conversation with INSEAD’s Alex MacDougald. Taking the Transition to General Management programme at INSEAD enacted a professional and personal transformation that continues many years later, he says.
Pablo Aravena has a long and almost serendipitous association with INSEAD.
He completed his MBA in his native Chile in 2004, where his alma mater, the Universidad de Adolfo Ibañez enjoyed a partnership with the School. This gave Pablo an unexpected option to pursue a marketing elective led by INSEAD – an experience, he says, that opened his eyes and his mind to international business.
Following his MBA, he harboured a deep desire to return to INSEAD in some way; a desire that he couldn’t shake off, to open up that window on the world again, and interact with the diversity, the breadth of perspective and experience that INSEAD cohorts of business leaders, thinkers and practitioners represent.
Pablo got that chance in 2015, when he was working with UK pharm giant, GlaxoSmithKline, heading up one of the company’s key neuropsychiatry treatment portfolio. A chemist by academic training, he was keen at this juncture in his career, to fast-track his business management and leadership competencies. INSEAD’s Transition to General Management (TGM) programme precisely what he was looking for, he says.
“At that time, I was keen to integrate new skills and competencies in terms of my professional profile. I was a trained scientist, but I was looking to build out my business understanding and to master new concepts in order to create more value both inside and beyond my organisation. It was the perfect moment to realise my dream of going back to INSEAD.”
Pablo wanted a fully rounded understanding of business; one that went beyond financial statements, profit and loss, and that would encompass the needs of all stakeholders in his business ecosystem. It was a priority, he says, to build his knowledge in order to forge his own vision – for himself, in terms of his own role, and also for his organisation. The TGM offered this, but that wasn’t all.
“Another major draw was the diversity I knew INSEAD could offer,” says Pablo. “I wanted exposure to many different people and ideas – I wanted the chance to learn from my cohort as much as from the INSEAD faculty and the programme content. It was so important to me to discover what other aspiring leaders in other countries, with other realities, were managing and dealing with. Going into the TGM, I suddenly found myself on campus, studying alongside participants from South Africa, Spain, Germany, Latin America – all of us interested in exchanging thoughts on business strategy, but also cultural and personal insights.”
To this day, Pablo remains in touch with his cohort: “great people,” who have continued to support each other and share their “realities” regularly over the years – enriching his thinking and ongoing learning well beyond the programme and on into the intervening years.
“The kind of diversity that INSEAD and this programme delivered is simply a must if you are looking, as I was, to really develop your leadership. It’s quite simply the reality that we face as international executives. My experience at INSEAD has been and remains absolutely critical in helping me establish connections and bridge differences in my work with clients all over the world.”
The experience wasn’t without its challenges, though. There was a wealth of completely new ideas and concepts to explore and analyse; and working with international classmates and teammates, in a second language (Pablo’s first language in Spanish) was initially “exhausting,” he says.
“I had some anxieties, starting out at a prestigious, international School like INSEAD, that language could be a barrier for me. But in fact, the programme dynamic and the human warmth and support within the cohort was such that very quickly, you immerse yourself in the learning. In this sense, the TGM is so much more than just an executive programme –it’s a multi-dimensional, psychological and emotional transformation.”
Indeed, the “challenges” of the programme extended far beyond analysing technical topics – marketing, finance, leadership – to the complexities surrounding engagement and collaboration with different people and different cultures. Team-building activities both inside and outside the classroom lent the learning and experiential dimension that absolutely mirrors the real world of business, he says.
“The TGM really enacted a change in the way that I relate to other people, and the way that I manage. I learned to prioritise my self-awareness; to slow down, think more, give and receive feedback. In this sense, the programme really accelerated my understanding of others – and of myself. The coaching elements in particular really helped me discover my own approach as a manager; to break through my own entrenched thinking and to unlock more of my own potential.”
Coaching was a revelation, says Pablo. It provoked what he describes as a “tipping point” both in his professional and personal life.
“You learn to use self-reflection to find greater balance in terms of your career, your home, your relationships. And it underscores the sheer importance of dedicating time to reflection; and the need to keep focusing on those areas –the boxes – that you should work on, as a leader and as a person.”
This is a practice that Pablo continues to prioritise, years after completing the TGM. The takeaways still resonate and inform his life and career. He also consciously applies his learnings even as his thinking and leadership practice continue to evolve. There is enduring inspiration, he says, that has a ripple effect on his colleagues and his team members.
“I feel the benefits, and my team feel the benefits too. The transformation it engendered in my leadership is felt and experienced still by the people that I work with.”
Over time, these benefits have only continued to multiply, says Pablo. He has recognised the profound changes in himself as time has passed, and as he has had opportunities to put the learning and leadership development into practice in his work. The experience kickstarted an evolution that continues to this day. Meanwhile the bonds and ties of mutual support that he made with his co-participants have remained rock-solid – “best friends,” he says, who have travelled to Chile in recent years to spend time with him in his home land.
“In the years after the programme, you are still very much on that journey in a sense. You constantly reconnect with the insights that you made on the programme and apply them continuously in your job and in your life. For this reason I love the Transition to Management programme, and I love INSEAD!”