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“Look to the past to understand who you are in the present,” says Marija Tomeska, Valedictorian of IMD’s April 2021 EMBA cohort

Despite pandemic-related delays, Tomeska believes her time at IMD will remain the most memorable, thrilling and challenging 18 months of her life.
May 2021

Marija Tomeska – voted Valedictorian of the IMD EMBA April 2021 cohort by faculty and peers – is the very definition of loyal.

Uninterested in the superficial, but a fan of deep human relationships, Tomeska’s EMBA studies opened up a new world of friendship. Through sharing their emotions, trials and tribulations, she says the entire cohort has made profound friendships, as well as many other connections that will last a lifetime.

Tomeska, from North Macedonia, has served nearly two decades with EUROLINK Insurance, progressing to the position of CEO in 2013. During this time, she has implemented her grand visions for her country’s largest insurance provider, transforming it into an innovative, financially sound, and client-focused organization.

She spoke with IMD about her plans to pick up where she left off, both personally and professionally, now that she has graduated.

IMD: How did you react when you heard you were named Valedictorian?

Marija Tomeska: It was totally unexpected. First of all, I was consumed with my job and I didn’t know the honors list would be published that day [Monday 17 May]. I got a call from EMBA Dean Stefan Michel and, after my initial surprise, I felt very honored and proud to have been selected for such an important honor. I was emotional – I wanted to be with all my participant colleagues and thank them for all their support.

IMD: In terms of stretch, where were you most comfortable and where most challenged during the course?

Tomeska: My transformation was mainly in terms of the leadership role that I now play. Before I began my studies I was already a leader. But the difference is that after 18 months of the EMBA program, I am a truly reflective leader. I understand better how my team members think and feel based on their interactions, and also how others might feel depending on my own actions.

IMD: Did you find new abilities and internal resources to meet the challenges and, if so, what were they?

Tomeska: I began my EMBA journey with Foundations for Business Leadership (FBL) in November 2019 before heading straight into the degree program with AMC. It was a very challenging time for me; managing work, family, and coursework was difficult. While I believe it might be possible to have a bit of free time during the program, it wasn’t for me personally. Whenever I’m engaged in a project I want to deliver my best work. But it was my choice and I was nearly obsessed with my performance. I grew both personally and professionally with each assignment, and taking all the learnings to the maximum gave me a huge feeling of satisfaction.

IMD: Will the EMBA mark an immediate career shift for you, or will you return to your pre-existing role?

Tomeska: I don’t plan to change careers or positions; I wanted to earn an EMBA to grow and test the limits of my company and my country. I achieved all I set out to do, and gained a worldwide perspective at IMD. However, during my studies my company was acquired by a regional Austrian group, Grawe. Because of the EMBA, I will actually integrate better in the new group, which I hope will eventually open up new career perspectives at headquarters.

IMD: What are the most significant learnings you aim to apply?

Tomeska: The most significant was what I learned about myself. I was able to reflect on my current personality and leadership traits, to discover where they originated. So it took looking at the past to understand why I am who I am in the present. This enabled me to make changes where necessary and fine tune my leadership style to be a more effective leader.

IMD: How did the cohort bond over the course of the pandemic, and what are your plans to continue to build the network of friends and colleagues you have developed at IMD?

Tomeska: Our cohort really bonded because we were fighting COVID-19 together. We had an unofficial support group and we communicated on a frequent basis – supporting each other with coursework, and also in our professional lives. We gained a broader perspective and COVID brought us closer as we were all in a difficult psychological state. We missed some of the Discovery Expeditions, but we also managed to have meetups, and during core modules we used every opportunity to spend time together. Since graduation, we have scheduled trips similar to Discovery Expeditions, which we have lined up in three different locations.

IMD: Was there any aspect of the course or your own development through it that surprised you?

Tomeska: I learned I was most comfortable when I was working on my own. I was least comfortable – especially at the beginning of the course – when I was doing group work, because I had to give up my usual leader role and adapt to a flat hierarchy. Adopting different standards, relating to different opinions, and having to withstand criticism was a challenge for me. But I learned that if you really listen to others and are interested in their opinions, then you can learn from them – and about yourself.

IMD: If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before starting the EMBA program, knowing what you know now, what would that be?

Tomeska: I would tell myself I should’ve been more aware of how little time I’d have for my family, despite thinking I’d be able to juggle it all. My family is thrilled the program has been completed. They have been asking for the past month: “Mom, is it over yet?” Then I told them I was Valedictorian and had to write a speech, and they were really looking forward to the graduation ceremony and a final goodbye to IMD. Then I’ll be present and fully in the moment with them, not just there physically, but mentally and emotionally, too.