Lauren Heeffer remembers the first time she felt inspired by a colleague. Working as an in-house public relations consultant for a multinational in Brussels, she was brought into close collaboration with a female manager whose natural leadership style impressed her enormously.
“I remember being struck by how she managed to empower others while prioritising accountability. It was a very natural management style. Later I found out that she’d done an Executive MBA, so the seeds were sown back then,” she laughs.
The chance to pursue an MBA herself came a few years later when Lauren was working with a small Belgian communications consultancy. Fuelled by a desire to better serve her clients by understanding their internal challenges and business environment, she realised that the time had come to broaden her own perspective.
“I had a good grasp of the external problems facing my clients, but I wanted to know more about their internal dynamics and how these dynamics shaped their business context. I started looking for different courses, but I quickly understood that an Executive MBA would give me the full package in terms of understanding companies and their environment from the inside out.”
Lauren joined the Executive MBA at Vlerick in 2016.
As a communications expert, she acknowledges that an MBA was not, perhaps, the most “obvious choice.”
“When you think of PR executives, you don’t automatically think of MBAs. But my sector is undergoing disruption just like any other. What I understood very quickly was that by doing this programme, I was getting exposure to new ways of thinking. There was a challenge to think more strategically about the kinds of new and emerging opportunities within my industry and how to leverage new business models to drive value for my company, and for my own career.”
The EMBA in-company project in particular gave Lauren a feeling of security with change as well as the chance to translate theory into practice. She also felt empowered to explore a new trajectory for herself and transitioned, mid-programme, to a role within a multi-national, stock-listed company – a change that gave her an additional opportunity to build on what she’d learned.
“During the programme I made the switch to a different type of organisation that allowed me to work in a more international environment and to bring the benefits of what I was learning to much bigger challenges – things like IPOs, mergers and acquisitions and crisis communication. So, there was this challenge to step up to new opportunities and grow within myself both personally and professionally. And this was happening in tandem to my incredible learning journey at Vlerick.”
The Executive MBA learning journey is not something that can be planned in advance, says Lauren, because you cannot know for sure where the learning will take you. For that reason, her advice to other aspiring young leaders thinking of committing to an MBA is to “just do it.”
“There’s never a perfect time to do an MBA and in my experience, you can’t plan in advance. I’d say to anyone, especially young women who are thinking of doing the programme, it’s a good idea to get some input from professional contacts upfront, and then ensure you have the buy-in from your friends and family. But most importantly, don’t waste critical time over-thinking things or doubting yourself. If you are excited about it, just do it.”
Lauren feels a similar sense of dynamism about her future post-MBA.
“When I first started the MBA I had a fairly fixed idea about what I wanted to do. I was committed to the idea of working in-house. But the experience has given me the self-understanding to discover what I really love, which is consulting, and the confidence to tear up my five year plan and build towards a more rewarding future. I don’t know where I’ll be in five years’ time, but right now I’m happy with what I’m doing and excited about the opportunities that are out there for me.”