The Success Story of a Georgian Who Invested in Self-Education in HEC

Irina Kvakhadze moved to Paris to study on an MBA program at Europe’s best business school, HEC Paris. The course encouraged her to re-evaluate her life, and without her hEC experience she believes she would not have been able to get her job as the deputy director of the Business Association of Georgia, a post she has held since 2011.

How was the move from Georgia to Paris and what changes have you made/discovered?

Moving from Georgia to Paris was the start of an adventure that would forever influence my life. When I arrived in the city, it was the beginning of September, and Paris was breathtakingly beautiful in those mild autumn days. In every aspect the move was overwhelming; it was inspiring and exciting, but stressful at the same time. I had to cope with the challenges of adapting to a completely new environment, leaving the cosy capsule of home, coping with changes in every area of life, and finding new things about myself over and over again. The most valuable discovery – however difficult it was to digest - was how limited and narrow our understanding of the world is: this discovery is so sharp when you meet people with different backgrounds, stories and lifestyles from all over the world; the student body in HEC is extremely diverse.

How is it so different from Georgia?

In my leisure time, I enjoy walking in the streets of the cities I live in, but a walk in the streets of Tbilisi is a bit of a lonely walk; the sidewalks are mainly empty, just a few people here and there, with roads full of cars heading to different destinations. A walk in Paris, on the other hand, sometimes feels like participating in a parade march; you are lost in the current of people rushing to various places. So I would say that the major and most noticeable difference between Georgia and France is the scale. And this difference is reflected in every aspect, starting from the routine of everyday life to broader areas as business, arts, and culture, or the mentality of society.

What was learning at HEC Paris business school like?

Doing my MBA in HEC Paris was indeed a turning point in my professional and personal development. I spent 18 months surrounded by outstanding students and the best professors from all over the world, with the beauty of Paris to get relief from late-night studies for exams or early morning classes. I worked on individual academic projects as well as team assignments, with different teams for each class – you arrive at the end of the course with an exceptional experience of working with a diverse set of people. I was also given the opportunity to do internships, one at a consulting service delivered by a team of HEC students to a French company, and at the conferences organized by HEC we met outstanding executives and industry professionals and had the chance to learn from their experiences. Along with another student, I even set up a café in the lobby of the student residence, making it a lovely spot for breaks and socializing. And then we had the famous MBA Tournament, a sports competition which hosts all the leading European Business schools on the HEC campus for three days! This is something to definitely experience as a student.

What was the best part of your educational experience?

It is a bit hard to talk about the best part of my educational experience as each part of it had its own impact and importance. However, I think that the best part of the MBA experience is that we get significant time in our adult years to devote to studies, reflection and rethinking. As we grow older and engage in different pursuits, we hardly find time for uninterrupted learning or analysis of our personal and professional paths. The MBA program offers this opportunity, and unsurprisingly, most of the time it serves as a turning point in students’ lives.

How did this lead to your job today?

Since 2011 I have been the deputy director at the Business Association of Georgia. Our organization unites large companies operating in Georgia, representing almost 70% of Georgia’s economy. The main function of the organization is to advocate private sector needs in front of Georgia’s executive and legislative government. I would not exaggerate to say that the Business Association of Georgia is one of the leading business unions in the country, enjoying a solid reputation among all economic policy actors. The organization gives me the opportunity to be engaged in the creation of important policies affecting the private sector in Georgia. At the same time, I have the chance to work with leading representatives of the private sector. Undoubtedly, my studies at HEC have greatly contributed to me gaining this opportunity and afterwards succeeding in this role.

What advice would you have for other Georgian people thinking of following the same path?

My advice to those considering this path would be twofold: before making a final decision to continue studying, determine your professional and personal targets and post-graduation expectations, and consider how the program will help you achieve these goals. An MBA program brings even more value to those who have at least some level of professional experience; the context of the studies becomes more relevant and can then be associated with some personal professional experiences. However, joining an MBA program is a demanding step: it requires a significant investment of time, money and energy.

As for when someone is already in school, be engaged in as many activities as possible, especially recreational pursuits. What makes the MBA experience so unique and valuable is not one particular activity but a bundle of everything, starting from 8am classes to late nights out in Paris. So be present and be engaged. Oh, and learning some French in advance makes life so much easier.

Maka Lomadze

26 May 2016 14:53