With a career spanning 13 years with sports brand adidas, Director of Outdoor Business Development for the Asia Pacific market, Jeannette Dong, was naturally on course for progression within the globally renowned corporation. Completing the Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA in 2019, we find out what motivated her to pursue an EMBA and what insights she gained from the program.
“My career began with adidas. I started with adidas Greater China and then moved to the group headquarters in Germany, only moving back to Shanghai last summer to work for the Asian Pacific market there.” With a strong focus on strategy, Jeanette’s key roles with the company explored all areas, from strategy development, to execution, and governance. “I always had an MBA on my radar for many years. I was involved in strategic projects but always felt that I had not gained broader business experience or knowledge as I always worked within a specific function. I thought that having a more general management view and across different lines of business could be helpful for my strategy role and also for future development.”
Seizing an opportunity
For many expectant mothers and fathers in Germany, the normal process sees that at least one parent takes an extended leave, often up to two or three years. Whilst living in Germany and pregnant with her second child, Jeannette decided that she would use this time away from her usual working role and finally take the opportunity to complete an Executive MBA. “I did not want to get disconnected from the business world and put my career development on hold. I wished to be stronger and more knowledgeable when I returned to work. An MBA was always an idea I wanted to pursue but got postponed due to career progression, getting married, or having children. When I was pregnant with my first child in China, I only had around three months before going back to work, and it was very challenging because of course, it was all a new experience. However, the second time I was working at the adidas German headquarters and I had more time away from work. I knew what to expect and I was lucky to have the support of my husband. It all felt a lot more relaxed.”
Jeannette saw an opportunity to maximize her time in Germany, to expand her network and look at long-term career development. “I wanted to gain cross-functional, cross-industrial, and cross-cultural knowledge. Germany has an excellent education system and attracts many international students. The Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA in particular has a strong reputation and top rankings. I still remember my admissions interview at Kellogg-WHU, which must have been quite unusual for the team interviewing a heavily pregnant applicant. I finally received the study offer around ten days before I gave birth.”
As well as the part-time modular structure of the program, internationality was a key selling point in choosing Kellogg-WHU to complete her Executive MBA. With nine Kellogg campuses worldwide but a European base, this allowed Jeannette not only to travel easily but also to gain the broader perspective she was looking for. “The location matters. Kellogg-WHU may be based in Germany, but it has a global focus. Whether it’s the global electives or the other Kellogg campuses, for example, in Hong Kong and Canada; it opens so many doors and opportunities to connect outside of your existing network.”
The lasting impact of the Executive MBA
With the Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA under her belt, what impact did this have on her career development within adidas? “I wanted an Executive MBA program to help broaden my horizons and to expand my knowledge beyond one industry and one company. While I did gain this additional knowledge, I found that the program really helped me to be more confident. It proved that I could engage with a variety of topics and found that I resonated with many of the points raised by professors and my classmates. I felt so comfortable in this hugely diverse and international environment, which gave me additional assurance that I was able to function in almost all multicultural situations. That was a crucial feedback loop for me and left me feeling very confident in my abilities when I returned to work.
Promoted in July 2019 to her current role, Jeannette moved to a new area within the company with a more business-driven focus. “My current role is very fulfilling,” she adds. One of the greatest markers of the program, however, is the lasting connection to the wider global network. “We have our online group chats but no matter where I go in the world, there is always someone I can connect with. When I moved back to Shanghai, I reached out to the network there and we have regular meet-ups. Sometimes it may be someone looking for a job, advice, or just to share ideas. You don’t feel like it’s an additional effort to check-in with the network - it just becomes a part of your daily life.”
Like many Kellogg-WHU alumni, Jeannette is an inspiring leader and encourages anyone looking for long-term career development, no matter the circumstance, to take the initiative. “Of course I am lucky to have a strong support system. Nevertheless, it’s not about gender – if I were a man, I would do the same. I wish more women, whether they are a mother or not, would consider accelerating their career or look at their own individual development. Make a plan and take action that will help you to realize that vision. Don’t be held back by what society expects of you.”