Written on 29 Jan 2021.
Sonia Botta is VP Global Citrus at Firmenich, the world's largest privately-owned fragrance & flavor company. When she decided to join EDHEC’s Executive MBA in Paris, she wanted to develop her strategic skills and build a more confident leadership style and approach. Since completing her EMBA, her career trajectory has accelerated, leading her to take up new executive functions in the United States. Today, she shares her insight about the impact EDHEC EMBA has had on her career, her company and on her personally.
“I joined my current company more than 20 years ago. I started in the flavour and fragrance industry by pure chance: after Law School and two years of working abroad as a legal expert, I needed a job to pay the rent and found a temporary job working as a sales assistant. When my contract ended, I was offered a position as a back-office manager and two decades later, I am still here but in a very different position!
I have evolved within the company, promotion after promotion, opportunity after opportunity. I became Sales Manager, then a Key Account Manager...and so on. Throughout the years, the company went through several acquisition processes, until Firmenich bought it in 2007. At the time, I was offered an executive position and became Sales Director for our “Natural ingredients” activity. From then on, I evolved towards more international positions – Firmenich operates in more than 140 markets worldwide. Then I came to a point when I felt like I had reached a ceiling. The idea of pursuing an EMBA emerged.”
“I couldn’t afford it when I was younger, but I had always dreamt of studying at a top-ranked business school. As I felt that my career development was starting to slow down, I kept going back to this idea. I felt like I lacked a few strategic skills, including finance, and I also knew a business school diploma could help me legitimise and valorise my experience. Plus, I felt that I needed to work on my self-confidence, a key dimension of successful leadership. Feeling a little stuck in a professional comfort zone, I was determined to create a new challenge for myself: so I decided that it was the right time for me to start an EMBA, and EDHEC’s interested me particularly.
I presented my project to my management, highlighting the benefits for both me and them. My manager, Amaury Roquette, who already knew EDHEC well, encouraged me to go for it: he accepted to support me, asking only for a very reasonable and normal counterpart: I’d have to stay for at least 3 years after my degree, and to accept to go abroad if I was asked to. I was already thinking about the United States in the back of my mind, so I was really happy! Before my EMBA even started, new horizons were opening.”
“With EDHEC EMBA, I learned a lot about finance and strategy, just as I had hoped to. I appropriated key financial knowledge and skills: now I understand business valuations for example, and I am able to analyse a balance sheet. It fueled my self-confidence! I also found the Economy & Global Business course invaluable – it helped me to develop a new perspectives and vision of the world. Being able to comprehend economic and monetary mechanisms makes me feel more connected to the world we live in and more confident in a business sense.
More generally, the way the programme dives into the diversity of new business models was interesting. I am thinking, among other things, about the start-up accelerators we visited and the entrepreneurs we met during our business trip to San Francisco. When I was a young student, Internet and mobile technologies were just starting to develop. Since then, business has completely changed! As an executive I need to understand what is at stake, especially as innovation is now in the scope of my responsibilities. I am in charge of setting up new innovation partnerships and I have to consider new ways of sharing value. I often say that EDHEC EMBA helped me become a 2.0 version of myself: I have updated my skills and knowledge, and I think more innovatively.”
“The Consulting Project has had considerable impact for me career-wise. I worked on a topic that was strategic for my company, which enabled me to go further than the responsibilities I had at the time. It turned out to be very valuable for my company and for me, in a win-win way as it enabled me to demonstrate my capacity to conceptualise and build a strategy, it helped me start a new phase of my professional evolution. The changes I recommended in my Consulting Project were implemented by Firmenich and my responsibilities evolved consequently. I became a Vice-President in my function and joined the Senior Leadership Team. A while later, my management offered me the opportunity to join another division in the United States, and I accepted to take up this new challenge with more enthusiasm than ever. Today, the return on investment of my EMBA is clear for me and also clear for my company, who has been supportive since the very beginning.”
“I’m lucky to be part of a company with strong values and a focus on the personal and professional development of its employees – for example, Firmenich is the 7th company in the world to be certified by Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE). Personally, I see my career and my responsibilities as a permanent “work-in-progress”. I am always questioning myself and learning. Joining the EDHEC EMBA was fully part of this evolution process. It required a great investment of time and energy – without my family’s support it would never have been possible – but the benefit and impact is clear.”
“If you want to pursue an EMBA, you should really prepare your project in detail before presenting it to your company. Before I talked to my manager, I had all the information about EDHEC’s EMBA and was ready to review everything with him in details: I knew how many hours the programme represented, I had the full curriculum and planning… I had also prepared solid written arguments, to convince him that my project made sense not only for me but also for the company. Do not hesitate to talk about return on investment, with a win-win approach.”