María Escuer, Executive MBA

At IE, we pride ourselves on having an international and diverse Alumni Community, where there are many inspiring stories of professional and personal journeys to be told. Women, of course, is a big part of that community, providing a vivid image on how to thrive in professional and personal life.

This week we have interviewed our Executive MBA Alumna María Escuer, the Founder of Leadem, an innovative company created to develop a new way of recruiting and retaining talent. The Leadem Method uses a specific approach to retaining talent which consists on the 3 different values of the candidate: professional, personal and societal values; what is called a Leadem Triangle.

María’s story includes several countries stretching from Spain to Algeria, involves making decisions that your mother might not always approve (like resigning your job at the European Union), taking bold steps in your life (like moving to a foreign country with kids and starting a new professional community), not having fear for having variations in your bank account as an entrepreneur and how sometimes we need to take a step back to re-evaluate.

We hope that you enjoy reading about María’s inspiring story and her useful insights for other women in the workforce.

1. Tell us about yourself and your actual role at the moment.

I am the Founder of Leadem, the company, and the co-founder of Leadem Community I consider myself a citizen of the world, Spanish by chance. With an international profile, I started my studies in Barcelona, then worked in Lausanne, London, Madrid, Paris, Brussels, Algiers and back to Paris.

Passionate about international and human relations since I was a kid, I was in charge of the postcards corner at my mother’s shop at the age of 4. I decided to specialize in International Relations and started to work for the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and therefore for the CCE in Paris.

Two years later, the European Commission offered me a job in Brussels just two months after my wedding, and, of course, I accepted! But who says no to the EU? Later on, my husband got an interesting position in Algiers and I decided it would be the right time for children: so I quit the EU (I can still hear my mother telling me, “You are crazy!! Who resigns from the EU??”) I moved to Algiers, had 2 children, completed an Executive MBA and created Leadem Community and my own company.

2. How did you get where you are today and how has your experience at IE helped you?

The Executive MBA proved to be crucial in giving me the confidence to start my own business. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so I was not afraid of having variations in my bank account, of not having the same amount of money every month but I did not feel prepared at all before doing the EMBA.

Afterwards, I felt both mature and well rounded enough to give it a shot. So I did it in Algeria through my own consulting firm on Customer Experience and Leadem Community (former Mum Boss Club): a Club of very high-level Mum Entrepreneurs.


3. How do you achieve work-life balance?

I have thought about it so many times…In fact, unconsciously, I have adapted my professional life to my situation (my partner’s job, having young children…). This was my solution to find a Work-Life balance, as I prefer to say there is no such thing as the right balance.

What you need to look for is your own balance. If you are satisfied with your current life, you don’t need to go any further. However, if you feel frustrated, dissatisfied with your professional and personal life, then you should look for a readjustment.

Most of the time, you will need to be creative and not be scared to share your doubts, once you do, you will realize that you are not alone and that the point of view of others will help you a lot, and this is what Leadem is about: helping each other naturally, without even have to ask.

Personally, I block my agenda on Friday from 4:30 to be able to pick up the kids and then I worked on Saturday and Sunday morning. It is just a question of organization and YES, IT IS POSSIBLE!

4. What advice would you give to women who want to succeed in the workplace?

Be obstinate, bold and determined and at the same time, authentic, sincere and generous. Never stop thinking that is possible, of course it is, and be ready and well informed. Don’t try to emulate men and have your own business style because it is unique in the world, it is yours!!

5. What kind of mindset should younger generations have to break the glass-ceiling?

From my perspective, Work-life balance is no longer a gender issue but a societal one so the younger generation should look at it in this way. Even if some companies still have an ‘old-fashioned’ way of management, the number of dual-career couples is increasing. We really need to encourage this all together and, of course, this does not mean that my children will be with the nanny all the time.

Not at all, I really want to make a point here: children come from parents, not baby-sitters. Of course, they are very important, but a dual-career couple does not mean two disconnected careers but a team that helps each other with a common goal: to achieve personal and professional success.

6. How do you mitigate various unconscious bias at work place as well as for your own career planning?

One thing that helps me a lot when I start to get confused is to visualize my end goal and ignore my fears. In addition, being always prepared and extremely professional in all your professional missions will help you feel self-confident.

When I get external comments, I always analyse them and try to figure out the meaning of the comment. Most of the time, people don’t want to undermine you on purpose, they are just surprised you dare to pursue your goals. People don’t like failures so they prefer to stay in their ‘comfort zone’.

7. What challenges have you experienced as a woman in business during your overall career?

Being a business woman in Algeria was a huge challenge, that is why we created Leadem Community and we ended up supporting each other professionally.

This experience was so enriching we have created clubs in Paris, Buenos Aires and Abu Dhabi. For instance, in Algeria, before the creation of Leadem it was almost impossible for me to have clients. However, once we developed our own network, everything went smoothly.

8. Could you share a professional failure that you’ve had and what you’ve learned from it?

I am my worst enemy… This is why it is so important to take a step back to look ahead.

Here is a concrete example: a negative answer from a client is nothing more than that, a negative answer during a single conversation between two human beings. This does not mean that these same two individuals could not reach an agreement in a near future, so relax.

Even if I have made some progress…I am still too impatient. It is crucial to really mingle with the local people when you are abroad. Once I started my own company in Algiers, I met several CEOs without success. However, thanks to Leadem (even if it was not the purpose of the Club at all), the locals started to look at me as a local valuable partner and then, all the doors opened.

9. What or who has been your greatest influence in your professional path and why?

Of course, I could mention incredible women such as Michelle Obama or Sheryl Sandberg but the truth is that all the Leadem women are an inspiration for me. I can call them anytime, any day, and receive their wisdom, experience and different points of view.

Since the creation of Leadem, they have been essential to all my business decisions. We are all very different from each other but we share three main values: very high professional skills, incredible personal values and we are socially committed people.