Julia Schoelermann (Julia) is currently Director of Business Development at BerGenBio (OSE:BGBIO) where she has held several positions of increasing responsibility after a career as a PhD scientist. The clinical-stage biotech company based in Norway and the UK specializes in developing first-in-class drugs as a potential therapy for aggressive diseases.  Recently she caught up with IE’s Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia Joël McConnell (Joël) to talk about her why she chose the IE Brown Executive MBA program, and specific aspects of her study experience on this innovative program offered jointly by IE University in Madrid, and Brown University in Providence. Below is a transcript of their conversation, and if you have added questions about the program, don’t hesitate to contact Meghan O’Farrell, Associate Director of Admissions at IE.

Joël: “What do you do professionally and personally, and how did you have to coordinate both spheres with your studies, when you were on the IE Brown Executive MBA program?”

Julia: “When deciding to take on this extra challenge I purposefully chose an intense schedule as I figured that constantly being pushed to the limit would help me stay focused and concentrate on what’s important. Sounds counter-intuitive but as Director of Business Development and Partnering at a clinical stage biotech my job is challenging, interesting and… never ending! Prioritizing rigorously really was paramount, also: When being strong and organised in the face of tight deadlines is the only option, we do tend to rise to the demands, don’t we? I am on the road a lot, so I absolutely enjoyed the asynchronous aspect of the online learning period. During face-to-face periods, I made a point of not scheduling any work to make most use of the time and build strong relations with my fellow students.

Outside of work I enjoy exercise, running in particular – a passion shared with quite a few of my fellow classmates. In keeping with my keen belief in challenging regimens I signed up for a marathon when starting the MBA – Cresten Flor, a dear friend and one of my IE Brown team mates traveled all the way to Copenhagen to meet me at kilometer 35 with bananas and energy drinks. He finished the race with me, sending live updates to the class’ WhatsApp group – I’ll be forever grateful for his encouragement!! While it wasn’t my first marathon it was definitively the hardest but also most fun and memorable. Coming to think of it, that pretty much sums up the whole IE Brown period – I’ve certainly never regretted setting a slightly too ambitious goal.”

Joël: “What were the winning aspects of the IE Brown Executive MBA that made you opt for this program, when choosing where to do your EMBA?”

Julie: “The economist James Duesenberry said “Economics is all about how people make choices; Sociology is all about how they don’t have any choices to make” – an apparent dichotomy but really the most important balance that needs to be struck to achieve meaningful impact. We need to understand the structures in which we operate and thus determine the WHAT we should be thinking about, the social sciences help us here. On the other hand, we need rational and responsible decision making to get the HOW right – classical business thinking.

I trained as a biophysicist and had a career as a scientist after completing my PhD, so I’m pretty OK at getting to the bottom of problems. What I was looking for in the MBA was a framework to help me on my way to become someone with meaningful impact, identifying the problems that matter and addressing them in an economically and socially responsible way. While this is of course important in most industries it is especially pertinent to serve in my industry of pharmaceuticals, as illustrated by current discussions on drug pricing, the US opioid crisis and global access to innovative medicines.

The IE Brown Executive MBA promised and delivered exactly the right balance of what and how, prompting reflection mixed with execution. I am very happy with the experience thus far – though I appreciate that this is only the start of a life long journey.”

Joël: “What about real world thinking and applicability? What are some of the learnings and insights you found particularly helpful for your activities outside of the classroom?”

Julia: “Some of the learnings are still settling in to be honest. While the more traditional business school subjects like corporate strategy and financial management were accessible right away and immediately relevant, the “Brown lessons” have been continuously re-visiting me in different guises and I am still exploring many of the concepts in more depth. Frequently, I mentor and advise scientists interested in entrepreneurship. What I find interesting is that while many scientists are somewhat wary of business as a whole, concepts like Schumpeter’s creative destruction and the Entrepreneurial State (coined by economist Mariana Mazzucato and discussed in my all-time favourite class “Global Markets” with the incredible Professor Mark Blyth) make the topic more accessible even to the most sceptic! Seeing innovation in the larger context of sustainable growth and social responsibility is helpful and important to get our brightest on board and ensuring that the best ideas win.”

Joël: “What was your class like? Who were some of the most interesting people in your intake?”

Julia: “There wasn’t anybody in the class who was not interesting! Most importantly I felt that everyone was genuinely committed to serving their industries with purpose – each in their own special ways and with their unique talents.

The beauty of doing a part-time MBA to me was that I could try out learnings on the job right away and simultaneously hear how others fared. I remember one of my team mates going through a tough time at work where he had to let people go – the particular individual is an incredible leader who is really committed to his team. Hearing what measures he took to ensure that those receiving the pink slip were going to be OK was simply amazing, very humbling and one of the most instructive lessons I ever received! Brad Kimler, another fellow student, put it succinctly in his speech at graduation: “We build teams, but teams also build us.”

Joël: “Rhode Island or Cape Town? How do these periods compare to your time in Madrid?”

Julia: “All very different – I had lived in Spain during my studies, so coming to IE in Madrid was a bit like coming home, the excellent night life didn’t hurt either! Experiencing Brown and the graduation was very special, definitively a once-in-a-lifetime kind of event. I enjoyed the experiential learning in Cape Town and was very humbled by all the wonderful individuals we met. In Cape Town we were tasked to source entrepreneurial ideas in the context of townships – serving communities and lives that had mostly very little in common with those of our own upbringing. So we approached our project trying to infer as little as possible about our prospective customers and their motivations but instead really getting to the bottom of the jobs they needed to get done and what products they may be hiring for the purpose (a framework popularized by Clay Christensen many years ago). While I needed to get out of my own comfort zone to fully grasp the concept initially, I find it now applicable in most of life’s circumstances: All too often we believe we know everything about someone or a situation, perhaps even fueled by big data or years of expertise, when really we should be taking a step back and look at first principles.”