Shaping the experience of the CEO – Interview with Diana Mereu
A CEO, an EMBA student and a travel enthusiast walk into a bar in 2016. And they all are the same person, Diana Mereu, the leader of the Romanian Association of the Self-Care Industry (RASCI) and now an alumni of our RO7 cohort. In 2016, she started her CEO journey at the NGO, which helped her develop new skills and progress in the health care industry.
We recently caught up with Diana to discuss how her career progressed over the years, why she decided to study for an EMBA, how has this changed her and what are her future plans.
Please tell us a little about your professional journey. How did you evolve to the CEO role?
Each of us writes its own story. I chose to start my story in the 5th year of faculty, more precisely in the 2nd semester of mandatory practice, when I had my first contact with the reality of the working field. Therefore, after 2 weeks of knocking doors, I started a traineeship program at the National Agency for Medicines and Medical Devices of Romania.
Shortly after graduation (literally the next day after graduation), I started working for GSK, one of the world’s largest science-led healthcare company, where I held various roles, being based both in Bucharest and in Brussels. I am a pharmacist by profession who had the NGO calling from the very beginning, although having spent the first 4 years of my career in a “corporate” environment. But, if you asked me back then what I would be doing today (that standard “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” type of question), probably I wouldn’t have known what answer to give.
And, mainly, the reason behind it would be because RASCI wasn’t yet established 5 years ago. I have always tried to find solutions to making people’s lives easier, happier, healthier and I believe that through self-care people can have the right balance among these 3 elements. Contributing to advancing people’s knowledge towards self-care and, at the same time, leading the industry beneath it in an ethical and responsible manner, were the 2 reasons that motivated me to contribute to the establishment and development of RASCI as a CEO, a position which allowed me to grow alongside the association and the Romanian self-care sector altogether.
Why an EMBA? And why at MsM?
Due to my education either back at home or at school, I like doing my research right. When I look for something, I take the time and energy to thoroughly do my search. The same happened when I started looking for MBA opportunities. Although with an extensive academic background in pharmacy and public health management, I still wanted to develop leadership, management and entrepreneurial skills.
My ambition towards boosting my career couldn’t have been achieved without this additional set of skills. And, with an already busy schedule and heavy workload, I figured the best way to do it would be by following an Executive MBA (EMBA) program. With plenty on-line to many in-class options to choose from, the decision from taking an EMBA to actually choosing an EMBA was pretty challenging.
What really narrowed down the options to MsM was a combination of many factors: the possibility to undergo the program on a part-time basis (though you have to make sure you are willing to let go to most of your weekends during the 2 years of study), a balanced curricula taught by top-tier Romanian and foreign professors, an international accreditation that can open doors across boundaries, a multicultural study environment of colleagues and alumni with diverse backgrounds, and, last but not least, the in-depth immersion in the world of entrepreneurialism.
What impact did the MBA had in your professional activity? What about in your personal life?
Although at the beginning of the MBA I saw a clear separation line between the personal and professional life, by the end of the program the line was almost invisible. Of course, I am not referring to having no free time left, but to the fact that no matter what career you choose in life it has to be like a natural extension, meaning that it would bring so much fulfillment and enjoyment that it would no longer be called a job.
Therefore, the impact the MBA had on me was with regards to the way I saw my work coming to life differently while investing more passion into the day to day activity, which, from a professional perspective attracted more interest towards the NGO I am running while, from a personal perspective brought me more relief and insurance that I was doing the right thing. More to that, I understood several benefits of the program with a great impact for both personal and professional development:
- it is not the MBA in itself that leads to better positions, but the confidence you get along this journey that attracts better job opportunities;
- no matter the field you prepared for, the skills are transferable across many industries, so “one job fits all” is actually true;
- you become a “question-everything”/ “explore-the-unexplored” sort of superhero while curiosity is largely enhanced.
How did you manage to handle the business activity, the time invested with the MBA and the personal time?
I can put it in one word: tough. For those with more time and patience at their hands, I will expand a bit on the answer. To earn your MBA degree, you have to actively attend classes, to successfully complete assignments and to honorably pass exams – either individually or in random groups of students you more or less know or get along with, either in subjects you like or dislike, all of these at the same time while you continue (or at least try) to have a job to keep up with and/ or a family to take care of.
Diana at the Maastricht Graduation
These can only be achieved through self-discipline, which in case you don’t have naturally, you can cultivate through the MBA program. If not, you are at risk to burn out, to overcommit and to underdeliver. For me the start of the MBA happened at the same time as the start of my RASCI journey, therefore it was pretty challenging managing both at the same time, while trying not to lag behind my travel-addiction.
What got me going, apart from the initial drive (that over time diminishes in intensity anyhow due to feelings of exhaustion and frustration that inevitably make room along those of satisfaction and accomplishment), was a mixture of profound gratitude for the transformational process I was going through and blind ambition for reaching my full potential.
Would you like to tell us about a favourite memory from the classes (or from after-classes, with your colleagues)?
My memory span is as short as a goldfish’s. Although I don’t remember every detail of it, I was lucky to have great colleagues, who soon became great friends, to study with. I can say you need a lot of long pizza and beer nights to keep yourself going through an EMBA (I wonder how I didn’t get fat), which is why there are many unscripted stories and many blurred lines from after-classes get-togethers. On a more serious note, the EMBA experience at MsM was close to a joint (ad)venture, in which all of us pulled our resources together for the purpose of immersing into a life-changing learning experience.
What are your future plans?
My plans changed a lot after the MsM experience as during the program I came very much in touch with my potential, passion and purpose. I started trusting my intuition more, which takes a lot of pressure off the shoulders in comparison to obsessive planning, and giving myself the possibility of testing professional experiences before emerging fully into one.
This allowed me to give the startup world a chance as I became involved as a co-founder with MedicPad, a company that aims to improve lives through innovation in healthcare, hence my new “startuper” nickname.
Do you want to see if you would also benefit from the EMBA experience? Get in touch to set a meeting with a school representative and find out answers to all your questions.