Business psychologist Sofia Van Overmeire was unsure she had the knowledge or skills to pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity – and an Executive MBA. She learned you should never underestimate yourself.
There are times in your life when things just come together. Circumstances align and an opportunity presents itself. In the case of Sofia Van Overmeire, a business psychologist from Brussels with 15 years of international HR experience under her belt, that opportunity came in the form of an invitation to join an exciting new venture. But she had doubts.
“A few years ago, a friend, founder of market leader, HRBuilders, asked me if I wanted to become a shareholder and develop the international activities of the business. I was excited and flattered, but initially I felt very unsure that I had the managerial and financial understanding to rise to the challenge.”
Despite her hesitancy, she embarked on the journey. The first two years, she learned a lot from the founder, focussed on her natural strengths and established competencies and started to grow the international activities to an extent. However certain insights and managerial skills – specifically those attached to the takeover and due diligence process - were lacking. At the same time, a 20-year graduation anniversary with university friends rekindled Sofia’s love of studying and learning.
“Twenty years ago, my husband did a full-time MBA before our children were born and I’d witnessed his journey. I always felt that this was something I too would like to pursue in the future. Life tends to get in the way of plans, and with the birth of my children I had to focus on balancing career with family life.
The timing, she says, felt right.
“The MBA was always there at the back of my mind and now that my three children are older and independent enough, combined with the fact that I was confronted with real managerial challenges. I thought the time was right for doing the MBA in order to grow individually and also in my role as partner and business manager with HRbuilders.”
Again, however, Sofia felt a certain degree of trepidation.
A trained psychologist and HR expert, she wasn’t sure she had the hard skills – the managerial or financial acumen – to successfully complete the Executive MBA at Vlerick.
“I was scared to be honest. I’m a lifelong learner and I was ready to commit to a year and a half of study, but coming from a soft skills background, I genuinely doubted I had the understanding or the experience to navigate things like accountancy or financial management. I was unsure I was up to it.”
Very soon after joining the programme, however, she discovered that her fears were unfounded.
A function of the Executive MBA, she says, is the strength of peer learning and support.
“Everyone brings their own unique strengths and expertise to the learning experience and that’s what makes it so enriching. I found that I wasn’t the only one in class who was encountering new ideas and concepts for the first time. And that you learn by asking questions and discussing things openly. Everyone has something different to offer, and the support that we give each other not only adds value, it reinforces and accelerates the learning exponentially.”
The Vlerick Executive MBA experience gave Sofia not only the business understanding and the frameworks, but also the confidence, she says, to successfully navigate her role – especially when her company was put out to tender and sold to another organisation.
“Each course is designed around real business needs that can be applied to real business problems, so the return on investment for your company or organisation is clear. But from a personal perspective, the impact is also huge. The programme helped me grow enormously. I emerged empowered with the awareness and the tools to believe in myself and deliver real value in growing our company.
And there’s a lesson for other women here, notes Sofia.
Women in particular need to guard against underestimating themselves and their abilities and missing out on opportunities for a lack of self-confidence, she says.
“You have to believe in yourself. Taking on something like an MBA, you should ensure you have the support of your family – your partner and your children – but you also have to really believe in you. So if that opportunity comes up and the timing is right, just do it. Dare to do it. Make the right decision: to invest in yourself.”