The innovation transformation – Interview with Magda Ropotan
If I’d have to describe Magda Ropotan in one word, it would be innovation. Not only because she is a consultant, coach and lecturer on the matter, but also because that’s how I think she is living her life. Take this paragraph from her website, to understand what I mean:
Left the corporate world. Enrolled in an Executive MBA. Traveled the world to meet and interview successful innovation leaders. Studied with reputable experts. Went deep into understanding cultural specificities and neuroscience of innovation, foresight, consumer trends, social technologies, leadership practices, innovation processes, tools.
So, as you can imagine, I was excited to catch up with her and find out what’s new in her life and how she looks back at her EMBA experience, 3 years after graduating from the RO6 cohort.
Tell us a bit about your professional track so far?
I am a Robotics engineer who got sidetracked by People ☺. During university I was very active in BEST, an international NGO who promoted complementary education among engineering students. I got involved at the international level and, at some point, was elected to be part of the international board. During that time, I supported many companies to organize career related events and programs for engineering students.
So, when I was offered a job in Human Resources, it felt very natural to me to say “yes”. I stayed in HR for 13 years, working for international companies, both in Romania and abroad. In 2015, after completing an expatriate contract, my family decided that we did not want to live abroad any longer. We wanted to come back home.
I returned to Romania with the only plan to do an Executive MBA and learn more about Transformation, Innovation and Change, as those were the recurrent topics on my business agenda at that time. As I finally had the time to do this, I traveled the world to meet and interview innovation leaders and to study.
At some point, my former employer asked me to lead, as an external consultant, the establishment of an Innovation Lab, in Russia. Things continued to build in this direction. Other companies heard of my work and asked for my services. Today, almost my entire professional life revolves, in a way or another, around innovation. Besides working as an external consultant for innovation projects, I also teach, and I am a board member of several NGOs supporting innovation and entrepreneurship in Romania.
Why an EMBA and why at MSM?
There was a moment in my professional life when I felt that whatever I knew and learned up to that point were insufficient to navigate the business needs of those times. When I decided to end my expatriate life, and return to Romania, I knew that was also the time to recalibrate, get a better understanding of how the world was changing, and learn what was needed from me to navigate that new reality.
As I wanted to live in Romania, I looked for a program that would connect me with the business reality of Romania. Among MSM teachers were reputable Romanian business experts, working either on the entrepreneurial side or within large corporates. This is how I decided that MSM was right for me.
What would you say was the impact of EMBA on your professional activity?
When I enrolled for the MBA, I had no idea what I would do next. I just knew I wanted to return home and take some time to study some topics that I was very interested in. On my transformation journey from corporate manager, to freelance consultant, and, later on, to entrepreneur, the MBA gave me a second family to return to, super smart people to learn from, and, most of all, many friends who believed in me and supported me unconditionally.
I was blessed to join an incredible cohort of students. Each of them left a distinctive mark on our learning journey through their views, expertise and business stories. Today, almost 5 years later, we still seek each other’s’ company, advice and support. If I have to pick just one on highlight of my MBA program, I would choose without hesitation: my cohort!
How about your personal life? Do you think it changed in any way?
Starting a business and doing an MBA in the same time left little time for personal life. I was, in a way, lucky that my husband, Sorin, studied for a second degree, at the same time I did my MBA. So, besides understanding each other’s situation, we had many interesting conversations around homework, projects and dilemmas from school. My son, now 10 years old, grew up with his parents spending a lot of time with our books, projects or academic discussions. This hasn’t affected him in the way we thought (or hoped ;-)) … he is still rather not interested in reading, and still loves Minecraft ☺.
How did you manage to juggle managing your business whilst also studying an MBA and having a personal time?
That was tough, indeed. As my entrepreneurial journey was in the start-up phase, I had to make many conscious choices on what was most important to focus at a certain point. I tried as much as possible to stay on track, but it was not always possible. I had few courses that I completed with the next cohorts. I always received a lot of understanding and support from the MSM. I guess you don’t realize how much you can actually do until you are in that situation. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t hesitate a second!
You were also invited to teach at MSM. How is that experience?
Yes, last year the MSM offered me the opportunity to teach a new subject introduced in the curricula, Applied Innovation. As this is basically teaching about my day to day work … I find the entire experience very natural and fulfilling. Although this is not my first teaching experience and I also teach for undergrads, teaching for an EMBA gives me both the opportunity to share my business experience, and learn from my students. It forces me to stay sharp in my knowledge and inspires me to find ways to progress knowledge in the field of Innovation for the entire business community. I love it!
How is this lockdown and health crisis affecting you? What can you tell about your future?
Most of my work was related to guiding multidisciplinary teams in the development of new products, services or solutions. This happened in offline workshops or on the field, in hands-on, pragmatical and experimental ways, often in cocreation with the end-customers. Often, we would visit and interview customers in their homes or at their jobs in order to understand better their lifestyle, uncover hidden needs, or capturing surprising ways in which products or services are being used. As you can imagine, many of these projects are now postponed or moved to later dates.
Our clients have chosen rightly to put their attention to their immediate needs, either taking care of their employees or customers, moving their operations online, or securing business continuity. As companies start making sense of this new modus operandi, we get signs from some of them that they want to continue or start the reconstruction work. And we are seeking together ways to move part of this work online. However, I feel this will take some time.
As businesses are seeking new ways to capture and deliver value to their customers in this very different world, we all need to pause from the enormous noise of these days, observe, ask questions, listen carefully to our customers, understand how their life has changed. This is the only way we can truly build something that will be relevant also tomorrow.
When it comes to my future, people ask me if being an entrepreneur is truly my path. My honest answer is I don’t know. What I know for sure about me is that I love beginnings. I love the work of joining forces together with other people in order to bring the new to life. I love the thrill of the unknown and the satisfaction of getting clarity on the way forward. I found such projects in both corporate and entrepreneurial worlds. I do not believe in definitive paths. When I feel I’ve stopped learning, I will seek change.