Sophie Liu

 

Nationality: Chinese
Year Graduated: 2015
Current Role: Commercial Fleet Business Manager, Shell

The kids loved the idea of Mum going to school like them!

Why the INSEAD EMBA?

INSEAD attracted me with its diversity and global set up. My 53 classmates are from 21 nationalities and most of us have lived in more than three countries. This is a truly global family and has provided me with an enormous cultural exposure. The INSEAD campuses in Singapore, Fontainebleau and Abu Dhabi are also great settings for different learning and varied focuses.

Could you share how you juggled work, studies and family?

I have two kids aged eight and five. And I have a full-time job which requires frequent travel. It was extremely challenging to balance studies, work and family. There are two major learning points for me. First, build your support network. Before I decided to do the EMBA, I had a thorough discussion with my husband and my line manager about the time commitment and what to expect in my 18-month journey. Both of them respected my aspiration for personal development and were willing to offer support from family and work perspectives. My second piece of advice is to mingle tasks so that you can do two things at once. For example, when I was in another country on business, I would find INSEAD classmates living there and have a good catch-up. When I was working on my pre-reading or assignments at home, I also encouraged my children to do their homework beside me. The kids loved the idea of Mum going to school like them!

How has the INSEAD EMBA changed your perspectives?

The module I took in Abu Dhabi has given me a brand new perspective on the Middle East. Besides taking classes there, we had the privilege of joining the INSEAD Global Leaders Forum in Abu Dhabi and meeting a lot of alumni and local business leaders. Their sharing of experiences was so insightful and inspiring. I learned a tremendous amount about the region’s economy strategy, talent development and need for female leaders. Now I am even thinking of moving there for potential career opportunities.

What do you feel is the greatest challenge for women in business today?

In today’s business world, mobility and international experience are essential. I personally have lived and worked in four countries, so I understand how difficult it is to move around the world with your spouse and children. In Asian cultures, you seldom find stay-at-home dads. So your husband’s career and your children’s education may become barriers when you consider moving to another country.

How would you recommend handling the challenge?

Dual career planning means that someone has to make sacrifices sometimes. Couples just need to make sure that the woman is not always the one to follow and sacrifice her career. The Internet and digital devices also offer great flexibility with respect to working hours, locations and patterns. We should all make good use of it! This may be easier if you run your own business or you are self-employed. But if you work for a big corporation, make sure it has a culture that supports women’s career development and is willing to accommodate flexible working patterns. It is also fine for a woman choose to stay at home for a while. I took a one-year sabbatical when we moved from Beijing to Singapore, as my children were very young and needed my help to settle down in a new country. I felt that it was time well-spent. The only thing to watch is that you stay connected with the business world, so that it is easier to assimilate into a new role, once you are ready to return to work.

How can business schools, especially INSEAD, help women in business?

Business schools like INSEAD have an essential role to play. Providing scholarships is a good way to attract female applicants. In my class, we also have a women’s group that organised sharing sessions to discuss female career challenges and offer support to each other.

What advice can you give to future participants?

Prepare yourself physically and mentally for an exciting learning journey! The INSEAD GEMBA programme needs huge commitment of your time and energy. You need to be physically fit and even strong to maximise the value of the programme. Mentally, you should be entirely open to new knowledge, new perspectives and new experiences. It can be difficult for people at our age. But, as Steve Jobs once recommended, “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish!”

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