Many MBA programs will bring you up to speed on accounting and core business skills, but for Galina Antova, IMD MBA 2011, it is the leadership experiences and the confidence she gained to tackle unfamiliar situations that have stuck with her almost a decade later.
“What matters in the real world is leadership skills, team dynamics, and how you adjust to situations. This is what IMD is really known for,” said Antova during a panel discussion on “The Future of Business Education: Spotlight on MBA” hosted by the Financial Times.
Attracted by IMD’s strong focus on experiential learning, Antova praised the program for “recreating the realities of real life” and allowing her to test her strengths and become more aware of how to mitigate her weaknesses through so-called integrative exercises, including group exercises, simulated team dynamics, and discovery trips.
“We would be running a project for a week straight, not sleeping for many days in a row,” she recalled. “There would be a real sense of competition, but also working with your team, working on things that you don’t understand much about, so you had to go and research those. And through all of that you are observing the team dynamics (…) who reacted how, why, what you could have done better in that situation as a leader,” she added.
“I feel what I went through in my bones, in my DNA. I remember a lot of those experiences and to me this was by far the most important thing.”
After graduating from IMD, Antova was selected as one of six candidates to join the exclusive CEO Program at German multinational Siemens and was mentored by then Siemens CEO, Peter Loescher.
There, she started a new business segment, a startup within the larger enterprise, and built a team to help Fortune 500 companies secure their critical infrastructure networks from hackers.
As she gained invaluable insight into the business opportunity for operational technology cybersecurity, she realized existing IT companies were not tailoring their products for industrial automation devices and networks. So she left Siemens and founded industrial cybersecurity firm Claroty in 2015. The company has since raised $635m and has grown to almost 500 employees.
“When I was going through my MBA, I didn’t really think of myself as an entrepreneur, but a lot of what I learned in the environment of the MBA program nurtured the qualities of independence, taking more risks, seeing the broader picture, and recognizing opportunities, and that enabled me to start my own company after my experience at Siemens,” she said.
Another key takeaway for Antova was learning how to change the way she reacts to things:
“We don’t have control over a lot of things in the world and that’s very true for the work environment, for business, the competitive landscape changes, things happen, people will disappoint you and react in ways you don’t expect, but how you react to that is what makes all the difference.”
The relatively small size of IMD’s program gave Antova both friends and a professional network for life, while she also praised the institution’s access to top-notch executives from different companies and organizations.
For those considering an MBA, Antova advised them to speak to at least five alumni and listen to both positive and negative experiences before deciding which program might be the best fit.
“In terms of the MBA itself, I really liked the combination of what you learned,” she said. “You still need to be able to run and read a P&L statement (…) but really it’s the right combination between learning the facts of the world for all the different subjects and submerging yourself into those experiences.”