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How illness gave an executive education student a healthy perspective


Just a month before I was due to start my executive education course at Essec business school near Paris, I found out I had pancreatitis. I needed two operations in 24 hours and the doctors told me to prepare for the worst. I was only 34 and faced the prospect of leaving behind my two children. It was very difficult.

But everything worked out fine and I left hospital a week before my course started. I was very weak because I had lost so much weight, but I was sure I would be able to pursue my education. Why? For my children, because I was always telling them never to give up and I wanted to make them proud. As Oscar Wilde said: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars.”

My father had a career in French diplomacy, so I have lived all over the world; I was born in the French South Pacific territory of New Caledonia.

Before moving back to Paris, where my family lives, I spent eight years in Costa Rica, running a small, 21-room hotel in a town called Jacó on the Pacific coast. But I wanted to work on something bigger and experience something else. I decided to go back to school and learn from the best.

I chose Essec because it is one of the most selective French grandes écoles and is known for its excellent pedagogical approach. It also has quite an amazing alumni community. With its mix of many different cultures, it represented the life I had led, travelling all over the world.

My programme focused on the management of organisations; I specialised in marketing and business development. I had been working in marketing and sales development for 15 years, learning through experience, but now I wanted to learn best practice.

Doing the course has certainly helped — after graduating last October I was hired as director of sales at Le Cordon Bleu culinary arts and hospitality management institute in Paris. The institute told me when it hired me that the skills I had developed in planning and structuring projects were especially important to it.

There were about 30 people on the programme and we had three days of courses every other week for a year. My favourite class was marketing, with Frédéric Oble, Essec professor of marketing. He was very human in the way he taught. He was always telling me, “Your idea is great but you need to go further”. I use that thinking a lot in my current job.

Then we had a year to write our theses. I was planning to write mine on the hospitality industry, but during my studies I received some more difficult news. I learnt that my son had neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition, so I decided to do my research on the Children’s Tumor Foundation. This is a New York-based organisation that supports research, expanding knowledge and advancing care for people with neurofibromatosis.

I wrote my thesis on the opening of a branch of the foundation here in France and the differences between these types of organisations in France and the US.

It was important to me, but it was also a very difficult time: I had to study, I had my full-time job and I had my two children. Without my teachers at Essec I would not have been able to finish the thesis. Doing this for my son was my way of helping myself feel better.

My son is doing really well today — he plays football and loves it. He still needs check-ups every six months, but the disease was isolated and will not spread, touch wood. But I felt I needed to help the foundation that helped us, and am now one of its senior advisers. Last year, I helped it host a dinner in France attended by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. It was very important to me.

In the future, I may want to change career and work in health fundraising. I would like to give back a little, because I think we were lucky — and not everybody gets lucky.

Hippocrates, the physician from ancient Greece, said everyone has a doctor in them — we just need to help them in their work. We can all make an active contribution to medical research and help support patients. What is happening right now with Covid-19 is a good example of that. We need to be a better community and I think we are going to learn from what is going on right now.


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