Interview with Susana Robledo

Name: Susana Robledo
Nationality: Colombian
Cohort: IEMBA 5  
Current Company: Nestlé, Nespresso
Current Role: Sustainability Innovation Manager

Tell us more about your professional background. What were you doing prior to doing the IEMBA programme?

In 2008, I started working at Cafexport a coffee start-up in Colombia. We built a team that grew very fast and we moved to create a spinoff in the cacao sector that is still growing strongly today. We built impact projects that gave local farmers and entrepreneurs the opportunity to generate sustainable value and that would connect them to international coffee markets. We also worked with key local actors like the government and universities to reach significant scale in the country.

Since then, I moved on to work for Nespresso in Switzerland, where I increased the scope of my work to sustainability innovation, managing the Nespresso Sustainability Innovation Fund. Through the fund, we believe in catalyzing innovation and entrepreneurship while scaling successful pilots that Nespresso and partners in the NGO, Academia and Government sectors have co-designed. Through the fund, we lead a program to revive lost coffees in countries were conflict, climate instability and political change had made it impossible to have steady exports. We have also lead the creation of an index weather micro-insurance with Blue Marble, University of Columbia and Fairtrade, with the idea to bring stability to coffee farmers.

Why did you decide to do an IEMBA programme? Why did you choose the EMBA HSG in particular?

I chose to do an IEMBA because I wanted to accelerate my career and to be able to work on a more strategic and senior level. I saw an IEMBA as the set of tools and experiences that could bring me closer to my goal and that could help me define a clear plan for my career.  Engaging with such a program already sends a very strong message to those around you and is very important step for those who want to challenge themselves to achieve more impact.

I chose EMBA HSG in particular because I was convinced it was the perfect match for me. The university has a strong reputation and it fully lives up to it. I was expecting it to help me nourish a new set of skills and to provide me with the tools that I need to be able to lead as a senior business manager. This is exactly what I received during my time at St Gallen. I would also say that the program gave me much more than I expected, because it took me out of my comfort zone, connected me to great people and teachers, showed new areas of development and gave me the opportunity to travel to new places where the business culture is completely different.

How has the IEMBA programme transformed you personally?

My IEMBA journey has been very special and real, including forging new friendships, collecting precious learnings, testing my limits, meeting impressive teachers and helping me take action. All of this brought me to think very deeply about my path as a business leader, and the next steps I will take after finishing my studies. This journey provided me two important personal take-outs, on the one side it brought me back to my roots helping me think about my purpose, and on the other hand, it has given me wings to fly even higher than before.

I would highlight we had an amazingly dynamic and motivated group of people and we formed a strong community that drove our journey at St. Gallen.  This was really one of the biggest take-outs of the program for me because I learned as much from our teachers and experts as from my peers.

How has the IEMBA programme made a difference in your career?

During the past 18 months, I was exposed to new ideas, a strong group of IEMBAs, exiting courses and new cultures. With this, I realized how my mind was stretched and grew while I became a more rounded, more critical, more open and transformative leader. I went from working in a very specific part of the value chain at the start of the IEMBA, to expanding my horizons and working in innovation and strategy for my company.

With this move into strategy, I have put into practice much of my IEMBA learnings; using tools from our courses like leadership, innovation, sustainability and finance. As I start this new phase of my career, I feel prepared and proud of the process I have gone through during the IEMBA HSG and I know that thanks to many of the learnings I had I am better prepared and confident to achieve an impactful transformation.

What did you appreciate the most about the IEMBA curriculum?

When I started the IEMBA at St Gallen, I rediscovered a new way of learning, of testing my limits and of getting new tools for life. This was a big part of my experience. All the courses contributed to my learning experience, perhaps in ways I was not expecting them to, like opening the doors to a different continent, Africa. There were topics that I had not yet seen in such a level of depth, like accounting, finance and economics. In these courses, I found precious gold nuggets that gave me the assurance to be able to take strong strategic decisions.

Was there a particular course that had a lot of impact on your personal/professional life? Why?

It is hard to mention only one course as the most impactful for me as I found many of them will define my journey as a professional. If I have to choose, I would pick three courses that are very close to my career path and that I personally enjoyed the most:

  • Technology and Innovation Management with Prof. Dr. Professor Oliver Gassmann was inspiring as it showed us how the Business Model Navigator works and can be applied to create new value. Being able to disrupt businesses is more important now than ever as we live in a VUCA world.
  • Entrepreneurship with Prof. Dr. Dietmar Grichnik gave us a journey into the world of start-ups, venture finance, angel investors and the tools we require to be able to solve old problems with new value propositions. This inspired our thinking as entrepreneurs and provided a game changing mind shift for us to grow personally and professionally after our studies at HSG.
  • Innovating for Sustainability with Robert Ruttmann was a highlight at the end of our course. I am personally involved in creating the sustainability strategy of my company and Robert’s course was exactly what I needed in terms of content and inspiration my role. I profoundly believe that businesses today have the responsibility of delivering both profit and purpose and that this course showed us how it can be achieved.

What advice would you give potential participants who are looking to do an EMBA/IEMBA programme?

Just do it! This is a once in a lifetime experience that will bring you knowledge, friendships, inspiration, exposure to new ways of thinking and so much more. The IEMBA program at St. Gallen is the best decision I could have taken personally and professionally and I only wish the same for other dynamic, enthusiastic and bright peers that are thinking about starting.

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