HEC Paris & Launching a Life in France: Michael Venditto, HEC Paris MBA ‘21
When Michael Venditto, HEC Paris MBA ’19, set his sights on working in Europe, he began with a search of its top business schools. HEC Paris immediately stood out for its diverse and intimate environment that would ultimately empower his professional changes in geography and industry. There is so much joy – and many challenges – to be found in crossing into a new culture and Michael found both equally. For instance, his self-proclaimed “Americanness” came into sharp focus as he navigated a new culture. He found some of the history he had studied in Pennsylvania came to life in new ways as he explored avenues and events older than his home country itself. Read on for Michael’s story of adaptation, exploration and more that led to his successful transition from PA to Paris. And don’t forget to check out fellow alumnae’s accounts of finding post-MBA success in France.
“I Feel Like an Explorer” – Michael Venditto, HEC Paris MBA ‘21
Employer & Title: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Senior Program Manager
Hometown/Country of Origin: Trumbull, CT, USA
Undergraduate Institution and Major: Villanova University, Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), History
HEC Paris Graduation Year and Concentration (if applicable): Master of Business Administration (MBA) 2021, Sustainable and Disruptive Innovation Specialization
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 8.5 years, Electrical Distribution
Post-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 1 year, Information Technology
What inspired you to apply to and attend HEC Paris?
I wanted to work in Europe after completing my MBA, so I looked exclusively at European schools. HEC Paris was my top choice due to a combination of the worldwide rankings and the cultural and professional diversity within the MBA program. MBA students to whom I spoke before applying described working in small study groups in which everyone came from a different nationality and a different professional background. They also shared that about a third of the class made a triple jump, changing function, industries and geographies post-MBA. I felt this learning environment would best prepare me for my post-MBA goal of working in international business in both a new field and in a new continent.
What was a significant challenge in changing locations post-MBA and what helped you to be successful?
Navigating the French bureaucracy was a particular challenge. When I had to set up health care, file taxes, get a driver’s ID, secure an apartment, etc. it became clear that I was a foreigner lost in a new language of acronyms and procedures. Each new administrative task presented a challenge to identify the steps to follow and organizations to which I must apply. Doing my MBA at HEC Paris, a French school, has been invaluable in overcoming these challenges. I had early experiences with the French bureaucracy and post-MBA I wasn’t strictly speaking, starting from zero. The HEC Paris network has proved most valuable. There’s a large and active HEC Paris MBA Alumni group in France which is a wealth of information and mutual assistance.
What tips do you have for other MBA candidates looking to make such a change in location?
1) Learn the language. Your inability to speak the local language will be a major liability when looking for jobs. Even if you secure a role in which only English is used, you’ll be limiting your interactions with colleagues, partners, and clients.
2) Network. Start as early as possible speaking with prospective employers, recruiters, and alumni to understand the market and determine in which sectors and functions you can contribute. Also use the MBA to network with your classmates as well. They will know you best and can be a great source of insight and potential leads.
3) Be Authentic. In a new country and different culture, your unconventional experience can be a strength and a positive differentiator. Identify and sell what makes you unique.
What is it like to live and work in France?
I feel like an explorer, figuratively, and, when I am lucky, literally. Professionally, when I interact with my colleagues, even the most basic conversations around a coffee machine have tremendous potential; I can’t help but be engaged. Discussing where someone grew up puts the spotlight on a new town or region I never knew existed and often my colleagues are eager share. Paris sits at the hub of a train network, which branches out into myriad of diverse French regions and cities, making each easily accessible for a weekend trip. I love traveling, enjoying local food and learning about French regional culture and history which, as an American, is older than my country. France is also great country for cycling and hiking which are, when possible, my favorite means of discovery.
What have been the most positive aspects of the change in your location?
Seeing the way the French do things has ironically made me better understand myself and the American cultural biases I take for granted. My cultural, professional, and educational experiences are different from those with whom I work and live, bringing my “Americanness” into greater contrast. My friends had to relentlessly tease me for me to understand how verbose I am and methodical in communication. The French and most of my international colleagues are not nearly as low-context and I need to be more sensitive to the cultural subtleties in communication. Similarly, where my French colleagues and friends are much more direct in their negative feedback, I’ve learned that, despite my best efforts, I provide feedback in the typical American sandwich method, layering any negative point of feedback between two positive points. Uncovering these biases has helped me to adjust my communication to be a more effective professional and understanding friend.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Securing and completing an internship at my current employer before starting a full-time job there proved invaluable in making the transition to a new industry and country. I had the opportunity to learn and make mistakes in a safer environment and gained exposure to a new company culture. As much as I was being evaluated by my employer, I was also evaluating the company to see if this was a place at which I could be happy and pursue my professional evolution. There’s no substitute for experience and as I was looking to change both geographies and industries, I needed this experience to sample what I was pursuing to determine if it was what I truly wanted.