Ibtissam Hajjar

 

Nationality: Lebanese
Work country: Lebanon
Graduated: 2013
Job: Co-founder INVIGO (software solutions for mobile operators)

The GEMBA is very demanding in terms of time, but the unique mix of fun, friendship, knowledge and cultural diversity is life-changing.

You were already a successful entrepreneur, so why embark on an EMBA?

My five friends and I, all with engineering backgrounds, had started the company when I was just 24. Eight years later, I felt that I needed a new challenge and to learn something new as well. I was also considering selling my shares in the company and moving on… which meant I’d need to know how to make an accurate valuation. Alternatively, if I stayed, I knew I’d need to understand corporate governance and strategy better, so that I could help transform our SME into something bigger and better. An EMBA seemed the perfect solution.

And why did you choose the INSEAD GEMBA in particular?

INSEAD has a fantastic reputation in Lebanon and although our business is relatively recent, it’s global with customers in over 50 different countries. It was important for me to go to an international school with a worldwide network. I didn’t apply anywhere else.

Can you explain the value of INSEAD’s diversity?

You can’t really explain the power of making genuine friendships across cultures, but it clearly makes you more tolerant and changes your perspective on the world. Our entire cohort consisted of about 50 different nationalities across the three intakes. So today, I have friends everywhere I go in the world. In December, I was in Kazakhstan for work and I had someone help me with both business and tourism. Also, during the programme, I invited a big group to Lebanon, just before the Abu Dhabi module. I think I managed to change everyone’s perceptions of my country… and we partied a lot!

Can you describe the classroom learning?

It’s a special mixture of the professors’ knowledge and 40 other people’s experiences. The professors had incredibly innovative ways of teaching like statistics by different-coloured smarties or the dramatic performance we put on during the communications course. They knew how to manage a class where everyone had a different background and were experts at getting everyone to contribute.

Is there one experience that has particularly stayed with you?

Every time we have a board meeting, I pretend that I’m Professor Kevin Kaiser asking: “Is this a value-creating investment or will it destroy value?”

Are you still in touch with your classmates?

Yes! We’ve already had several reunions in just one year, including a safari in South Africa, a weekend in Paris, a trip to Copenhagen and meeting up in London. From time to time, I also receive calls from classmates who have entrepreneurial ideas and would like to brainstorm and discuss them.

Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

I think I’ll probably be elsewhere, even if I’m still on the board of directors of INVIGO. I may have started another company, advising other entrepreneurs, or I may be involved in some kind of social entrepreneurship. I haven’t found the idea yet, but INSEAD opened my eyes to CSR and social entrepreneurship. I believe that once you have the means, you should contribute more to society. And the experience of our GEMBA class sponsoring a school in Ethiopia made an impact on me.

What advice do you have for future applicants?

In fact my brother will probably apply, so I’m already advising him. I’ve told him that the GEMBA is very demanding in terms of time, but the unique mix of fun, friendship, knowledge and cultural diversity is life-changing.

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