Despite numerous reports proving that the presence of women in top management roles is beneficial for companies’ finances, risk management and long-term sustainability, the number of women in senior management shows no improvement in recent years. The Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business with the University of Pittsburgh in Prague offers an Executive MBA (EMBA) program that has the potential to change that. As the personal stories below show, the Katz MBA is not only taking women further; it can become the keystone for Europe’s leading women personal and career growth.

“We see it over and over again. As more facts emerge that women’s presence in top management is beneficial for companies, we can only wonder why the overall numbers are still to the detriment of women,” said Ivana Goossen, Director for Europe of the Executive MBA (EMBA) Worldwide program of the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh. Asked about the solution to this issue, Goossen said that top-notch managerial education is an effective strategy. “As Einstein said, no problem can be solved by the same kind of thinking that created it. Women need new perspectives and new approaches. They also need to feel confident in their abilities and an Executive MBA can help them achieve just that. They can measure up against the best in class and be sure that they indeed have what it takes. At Katz, we do our outmost to get female executives ready to be successful in top leadership positions,” she said.

A 2009 Katz EMBA Worldwide graduate herself, Goossen knows all too well what it means to face a challenge head on. She was six-months pregnant with her second son when she joined the Executive MBA Worldwide program. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew it was the right thing to do. During the program I found new ways of making time for all of the things I wanted to accomplish. Actually, I could apply many of the models and frameworks we learned directly to my projects, which ended up saving time. I found a way to ‘import’ an American au pair to help with the children. My husband appreciated that I had other things to discuss with him besides maternity. Ultimately, combining motherhood with studies was a great way to be there for my children when they needed me most without sacrificing my career,” she said.

Committed to the program from which she graduated, Goossen soon moved on to take stewardship of Katz EMBA Worldwide program in Prague in 2010. “I firmly believe that an Executive MBA can be life-transforming. I encourage women to take on the challenge and get ready for the opportunities that are out there,” she said.

“My Daughter Wouldn’t Respect Me if I Didn’t Do It”

Lilia Glazova is the CEO of PR News, a strategic communications consultancy for Russia. She graduated from the Katz EMBA Worldwide program in 2014. “I was looking for additional education, and I knew it was going to be an executive MBA. I looked at schools across Europe, mainly in London, because my older brother had graduated there. However, I finally set upon Katz in Prague. The school offered me not only a closer location, but also the possibility to acquire a purely American education without traveling constantly to the US. To me, that was priceless,” she said.

One of the most valuable formats she cites are the Global Executive Forums, which take place four times during the program: twice in Pittsburgh, once in Prague and once in São Paulo. Students have a chance to meet different cultures and spend time with their colleagues from across the world. “It is incredible how much we could learn from each other,” Glazova said, noting that some subjects can be a real challenge for someone coming from a specialized line of business. “I remember struggling with financial management, which really isn’t my core business. However, the program is so well conceived – you are able to get about a third of work done in groups where you can help each other. In fact, I suggested my own company for a case study during our Economic Analysis course, which we did, and then I took the results back and we implemented them in practice,” she said.

“The most difficult part for me,” Glazova said, “was a choice I had to make. I am a single mother and I value every moment I have with my 5-year-old daughter. However, during the program, you spend a lot of hours studying after work, which meant I needed to cut down on my time with her. That was hard. Yet, I knew she wouldn’t respect if I didn’t do it. I knew she would want me to be better educated, in order to be able to help her to become a fulfilled woman. It was the best time for me to do it, and I’m glad I did it,” she said.

“Getting a Wow at Global Level Doesn’t Happen Every Day”

Miroslava Stodolicová is the CFO at Wrigley Czech and Slovak,the consumer goods producer. At the time of her studies she was also located in Moscow, where she was responsible for four countries. “Time is of the essence,” she said. “The EMBA is hard work and one needs to be aware that cheating won’t bring any fruits. A lot of support from friends and family was also needed. Eventually I decided to drop my career in Moscow and to return to Central Europe to finish my EMBA, since this was my priority at that time.”

The reasons that made her choose the Katz EMBA program were the price and value ratio, the structure of the program (once a month for 5 days) and the great opportunity to connect and network with classmates on three continents. “It was my dream to achieve an MBA and I was planning that for couple of years. Once I had enough resources, I started to research universities. I evaluated around eight programs in different schools and countries starting with London Business School, Oxford Business School, Chapman, City University of Seattle, Thunderbird and so on. Eventually my choice was the Katz EMBA Worldwide program,” she said.

“For me the training program was a great experience. It is about setting a goal and clear expectations about what I wanted to get out of my MBA program. I was fulfilling my dream, so it was easier for me. At the same time I had the clear expectation to gain experience in doing business the American way. My background is finance, and I wanted to understand the business as a whole, to be able to look at situations at work and in my private life from a different perspective,” she said.

Stodolicová remembers a moment when her colleagues were gathered for a global company reunion. “The trainer asked us about our background. When I mentioned I have an MBA from Katz, he stopped and said, ‘Wow! I am impressed.’ You won’t hear that too often in the Czech Republic, where people’s understanding of an MBA program is still quite different. But globally this title really makes a difference,” she said.

Miroslava also points at the transformational role an MBA can play in the personal life of a graduate. “I started to look at life differently. The EMBA experience was an absolute mind-opener. Yet, with the transformation, you can also lose a couple of friends along the way. I am saying if there is someone who doesn’t understand and support the decisions you make for your own growth, maybe it’s a waste of time to hold on to such friendships and it’s time to move on,” she said.

How do you calculate the benefit of a network of contacts in any country you visit?

Antonia Lukačínová is the founder and executive director of Media Tribune, a company involved in strategic and marketing communications, as well as public relations. A 2009 EMBA graduate, she is also the mother of a 7-month-old son.

Within a year after her Katz EMBA Worldwide program graduation, Antonia made a career change. “It happens quite often that people change their positions after graduation. In my case, it came unexpected and it happened fast. An opportunity arose and I decided to take it. I started my own business.”

Lukačínová’s line of business is executive and private aviation. “It is an affluent and demanding audience to deal with. It is common knowledge that men dominate in executive positions and it has an influence on the business culture at top level. I was involved in many negotiations and formations of business deals. My EMBA experience gave me insights to comprehend issues better and subsequently I improved in terms of better identifying priorities and creating appropriate solutions. Although I was acquainted with the technicalities, the EMBA gave me the extra qualities to become more effective,” she said.

For Lukačínová, the Katz EMBA Worldwide program meant extensive use of another language. The attitude and approaches of continued adult education were also different. “You don’t just memorize the new information on a subject; you frequently broaden your horizons. The change of perspectives was one of the most valuable benefits for me,” she said. She also credits her ability to better handle cultural differences and views. “My clients are located throughout Europe. We are also dealing with suppliers and service providers from the Americas and the Far East. The opportunity to cooperate with study colleagues from different cultural backgrounds trained me to accept different views and use those new skills in my professional activities. I’m often in a better position than my colleagues who don’t have that kind of understanding. The Katz EMBA Worldwide program did bring me to a higher level.”

Lukačínová went through her Katz EMBA Worldwide studies in a particularly challenging moment of her life. She had a demanding position and also moved to a new house. “In the middle of the program I sometimes wondered whether I could manage it all,” she admits. “I reached a critical point where I began to have some doubts. Yet, the staff at Katz stood by me and encouraged me to stand strong. So, I gave it all I had and succeeded. I graduated and now I am grateful that I did it.”

Asked how she would describe the return on investment of the Katz EMBA Worldwide program, she points to the immediate material rewards, but also at the intangible ones that cannot be expressed in numbers. “How do you calculate the benefit of being able to access a network of contacts in any country you visit? No matter to which country I went, I always found a colleague. I remember being in a difficult situation abroad and a local colleague helped me to solve a truly problematic issue in a matter of minutes. How do you put a ROI on that?”

Head-on for the Americas
At the time this article was written (February 2015), Nora Šilháčková was probably packing. A current student with the Katz EMBA Worldwide program, she received an unexpected challenge. In May 2015, she is moving to Philadelphia, from where she will provide leadership as a Purchase and Operations Manager of the IKEA expansion of local supply within the Americas, contributing to the growth from the current 41 stores to double sales by 2020.

“I am excited and looking forward. My main job will be dealing with the local suppliers for our stores and growing the share of local supply. I need to understand market specifics in order to build long-term partnerships with our suppliers. There couldn’t have been a better moment in my life to use my Katz EMBA in my new endeavor,” she said.

“I’ve worked for the same company for more than 20 years. Over time I took different responsibilities and functions; however working for so long for one company may lead to limitations in views on external market conditions and the world around. I was searching for ways to further personal development, and I received a great recommendation from our HR to join the top-ranked Katz EMBA program,” she said. “I was looking for quality and I’m grateful for the chance to of met professors from the University of Pittsburgh. I have already started to learn through them about the US business mentality and market conditions. Studying isn’t easy, but all the modules I passed so far have had a clear connection to my scope of managerial responsibilities. It gives you deeper insights and perspectives about the overall accountabilities that you have as a manager when leading through people.”

When she looked at potential challenges, the time perspective was the main issue. “My job requires relatively heavy traveling on a weekly basis, which affects my ability to learn easily by studying in a kind of sustainable approach. You know, I belong among the people who value happiness in life the most, and that’s independent of one’s career. In fact, I’ve never planned my career; I only love what I do. However, yes, an EMBA transforms your life. It brings you new perspectives, new friends, new knowledge, new experience, new type of responsibility and a new YOU. Even if you need to give it a lot of your private time, you gain more than you expected. It’s personal growth,” she concluded.

KATZ – University of Pittsburgh