Student Stories - PhD
Alida Scholtz | PhD Candidate from South Africa
For the last 20 years, I have worked as a senior executive as a Finance Director and then as a Managing Director after completing my MBA in Innovation and Technology. I wanted to ensure that in my journey as an executive leader, I mastered the social skills and emotional intelligence that leaders need in the C-suite.
I conducted research for a year to find a program that would allow me access to extensive research materials but also connect me on a global level with peers that could enrich my development as a leader. I finally decided on ISM based on the flexibility of the program and the ability to manage the program within my busy work schedule, which always takes priority, along with having a young family.
I also have the ambition to educate young MBAs as I move towards my retirement one day and ensure that I transfer my knowledge and experience to the next generation of leaders, and the PhD program fits perfectly into this long-term ambition.
From a very young age my professional life has always been in the executive suite, working very closely in the design and execution of the long-term strategy of the businesses I was responsible for. I was extremely fortunate to always work with great mentors and coaches that always challenged me to step up to the next level.
I engaged in academic programs from the age of 18 and never stopped educating myself and started my PhD two years after my MBA. I took a short break as I moved into a MD/ CEO role as all my attention and dedication had to be invested in the turnaround strategies.
My personal life has always been very stable, with incredible personal support in my ambitions from my husband and young 13-year-old son. On the weekends, I dedicate time to working on my studies, and my family is used to seeing me leaving the house in the early mornings and arriving late back at night, allowing me to balance my day between work and study commitments. We dedicate Sundays to family time and do not compromise on having a healthy balance between work and personal commitments.
While at ISM, my assigned advisor Matthew Andrews was great and always available with a swift answer to any of my queries. It was a steep learning curve to understand the intense requirements and writing style when you write literature reviews and learn how to reference your work and interpretations.
When I had to complete the teaching requirement, I was not very confident at first. However, I ended up enjoying the time with the students, and the live case studies we did during the course in International Finance reinforced that my expertise can bring tremendous value to students in the future.
An unexpected benefit from the program that surprised me was the versatile selection of courses and allowing you to enhance your learning in more areas as you develop. The electronic resources are also very well organized and easy to apply. I chose subjects such as Active Investment Management to gain a deeper understanding of private equity but also how the world of investment banking works, as I have always worked in the corporate world and wanted to enhance my knowledge in this field. All the other courses like 21st Century Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, and Change Management, helped me to grow as an inspirational leader for the future.
All the workshops in preparation for the research proposal enhanced the learning by teaching how to apply statistical modeling techniques but also have a very structured and disciplined thought process on how you will conduct your approach in writing your thesis.
Although it would be difficult to choose just one favorite moment during my program, I would say that my lecture on International Finance with the young MBA students was the first highlight. Then, my defense presentation on the research project focused on the relationship between digitalization and culture was my second. Receiving positive feedback and recognition from such esteemed academic professors such as Dr. Ceasar Baena and Dr. Joachim Bauerwas my reward for the hard work and long hours over the last two years.
The course on Emotional Intelligence inspired me to do more research into the importance of social interaction in the workplace. I discovered a book by Daniel Goleman in the course called “Social Intelligence'' that focuses on the implications of our interpersonal world. The findings in biology and brain science revealed that we are ‘wired to connect.’ Building an understanding of neuroscience and how our daily encounters, whether professional or personal, shape our brains and the effect of the cells in our body. I understood the importance of leading with courage and empathy while being able to deliver results quickly and respond with agility when confronted with adversity and change. Leading a company through the COVID crisis in 2020 was one of the highlights of my career, and I would attribute my success to this course. Combined with the learnings from the course on leading as a 21st-century leader, I would define it as a perfect combination to enhance your skillset as a respected leader that goes beyond your academic expertise as a financial or turnaround expert to encompass leading successfully with inspiration and compassion.
I had to manage all my courses online due to COVID, but my plan was to handle my studies in Paris and, when I travel to South Africa, to also visit the Cape Town campus as this is my home country. I now live in Germany thus, Paris was logistically the most convenient selection.
Since studying at ISM, I have gained an immense appetite to continue sharing knowledge with the younger generation to ensure they understand the challenges of the corporate world far beyond the pages of a textbook. I have always loved to work with people and especially on my front line, in all my roles as Managing Director, and working with the students and experiencing their hunger for knowledge was amazing. I have always been ambitious in all my endeavors and set clear 3-years goal for my growth, and my target date for completing my PHD is well within my plan!
In my opinion, what makes ISM unique is the ability to own your destiny and apply your own style of learning. As we mature in life, we develop certain characteristics and abilities in terms of how we teach ourselves and how we wish to interact, and ISM allows this individuality to be recognized.
In my role at G4S as CEO and MD I was ranked as one of the Top 50 most influential expats in UAE and as one of the top 100 most influential women in the Middle East and see that as a major milestone in my career in the last 5 years.
After I complete my program, I will announce my new MD roleas I complete my three-year tenure successfully in Hertz and, from a personal development perspective, I will continue to develop and grow my teaching capabilities both as educator and a trusted mentor and coach.
Advice I would give someone to make the best of their ISM experience is: You must be committed to the program and accept that it will take immense personal sacrifice and do not compromise on your planned work schedules. Set very aggressive deadlines and if you miss one, immediately reset the clock and get back on your plan. Do not fall behind. It will be very hard to catch up and keep your momentum.
Always make sure you celebrate small successes as that fuels the energy to move closer to the end goal. The feeling of completion after each subject is such an incredible reward of your own dedication and commitment to grow as a professional, so enjoy the moment because you earned it.
Never forget to celebrate your success with close friends and family as they understand the sacrifices, and this really fuels your passion on the journey to finalizing your PhD.