Lauren Labbe’s career has been rich and varied. She has had strategic financial roles in large corporations and she has run two real estate start-ups. Two years ago, her husband’s job took their family to Brussels. While Lauren continued to manage her US-based start-ups remotely, she decided it was time to sharpen her leadership and change management skills with an MBA.
“I wanted a European experience – the diversity of peers and professors was very important to me,” she says. “So I decided on Vlerick and registered for the Global Executive MBA.”
Before Lauren could start her programme, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. And after much discussion with Vlerick, she switched to the Online MBA. “It gave me the flexibility to work at my own pace – and adapt if needed, which has been very helpful given the last year,” she says. “For example, this summer we will go back to the US for two months – and I’ll be able to continue with my studies. The OMBA was the most secure and flexible option for me.”
Initially, Lauren was unsure about learning online. She says: “I like to learn face-to-face, I’m very social. But doing everything virtually has been so much easier than I expected. Vlerick have such a great platform and great tools. And there is a lot of group work which really helps to build your network. There has been much more interaction with peers than I expected.
“The programme kick-off was fantastic. You start with a leadership course – seven weeks to get to know your cohort and have time for self-reflection. It’s a really nice introduction to the programme and how it all works.
“The group is diverse – it’s a real cultural mix. And there are entrepreneurs as well as people from corporations. Everyone has different strengths. I was able to help people with the accounting course – while others helped me in courses like HR. We all approach challenges differently and bring our own perspectives and we’re willing to challenge each other.”
Lauren is doing the fast-track OMBA format – which means she studies two courses simultaneously. This, she says, requires good time management. But it’s also a great way to build skills and work on your business in parallel to your studies.
“I’m managing two start-ups at the same time as doing the OMBA. And there’s a real benefit to studying and working at the same time. You can immediately apply what you learn in real life.
“There is so much from the MBA that I can draw on in my work. A lot translates from class into actions to work on in your own business. For example, working with start-ups, the operations course has been so valuable. I have been mapping out processes for supply chain management. It’s doing MBA work and business work simultaneously – and coming away with concrete actions to implement.”
Lauren has ambitious plans for when she finishes her MBA. She says: “I want to grow my start-ups. But at the same time, I want to go back to working in a corporation. So I have two key focus areas for the MBA – to have the knowledge to grow my businesses and the skills and credibility to secure a corporate role. I want to do something that bridges the gap between finance and the rest of the business – ideally something in change management or strategic people management. One of my absolute favourite courses has been the HR course. When you do HR right, it connects with leadership and strategy and can be a real asset to a business.”
Before embarking on the next stage of her career, Lauren has the rest of her MBA to complete. And she’s looking forward to what’s next.
“I’ve been really pleased with the OMBA so far,” she says. “I like how relevant and up-to-date the course content is – it’s not just recycled from previous years. The professors are engaging, the quality is high and the courses are pitched at the right level for the participants.
“I’ve found I learn as much from my peers as the professors. This is thanks to the diversity in the group in terms of careers, nationalities and locations. It’s in the richness of discussions and the calibre of debate – it’s higher quality than I expected. This really speaks to the effort Vlerick puts into building the right group – the admissions process does a great job.”
So what advice does Lauren have for anyone thinking about doing an Online MBA? “Really think about what you want to achieve and what you need,” she says. “Do you want the complete flexibility the Online MBA offers? Or would the more structured approach of the Executive MBA work better for you? Make sure you understand the programme and the level of effort it takes. The OMBA is led by you – so you need the right level of motivation and commitment to succeed.”