A passionate, pioneering researcher with a strong ethical compass, Diana Derval is an author, social entrepreneur and inventor. Born in France and currently residing in Germany, Diana has authored several books on human behavior and regularly gives masterclasses and TED Talks on the subject. She holds a PhD and an EMBA (ESSEC EMBA Class of 2005) and is currently the Chair and Research Director of DervalResearch, a global research firm that aims to understand and predict human behavior and preferences. From its inception 15 years ago, DervalResearch has been making an impact on people’s and the planet's well-being and they are now in the process of becoming a certified B-corp.
Read on to hear about Diana’s professional journey in her own words.
With 15 years of professional experience, what was your source of motivation to start an MBA program?
Very curious and a fast learner, I had spent 15 years with leading innovative corporations, being responsible for product management, customer experience, research and development, or business intelligence, and felt ready to start my own business. I wanted to find the right career path, in an exciting field of work that would keep me on my toes, and to have a great boss (me!).
Why did you choose the ESSEC Executive MBA program?
An Executive MBA was the way to go, in order to get useful fundamentals from talent to finance management, as well as the opportunity to connect with other open-minded people. The pioneering spirit conveyed by ESSEC programs was a determining factor. The part-time option gave me the possibility to continue working full-time and to finance the cost of the MBA, knowing it as an investment. The fact that the Executive Education campus was in the Paris business district La Défense—so very central—was an added plus.
What were your goals when you began the program?
I wanted to learn and grow. In particular, I wanted to learn in an environment conducive to deep discussion with other professionals. In general, I enjoy the process of learning (and now also teaching!) and each MBA course provided me with that opportunity. My broader ambition was to, at some point, develop my own business, and ideally to work at an international level, which of course required building up my own network.
How did the EMBA program assist you in achieving your goals?
I started working when I was quite young and was only able to complete my university degree by going to evening courses. The EMBA was a big milestone for me providing me with much-needed academic depth and a broader professional network.
My earlier studies were different: I have Bachelor’s degrees in computer science and literature as well as a Master’s in Marketing from ESSEC, and the ESSEC EMBA helped me acquire the business skills I needed to set up and run my innovative corporation: R&D and marketing tools, legal basics for our patents and trademarks, HR fundamentals, and corporate finance. Without these skills, I don’t think I could have funded business ventures around the world, successfully patented our inventions, or become a French Ministry of Education and Research-certified innovative partner.
In addition to the deep knowledge and skills I acquired—from ESSEC faculty and also from my classmates—I had the incredible chance to develop a solid network in Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Beijing and Shanghai. ESSEC professors, teams and alumni were instrumental in helping me find our first clients. I also had the privilege to give innovation and neurosciences masterclasses and TEDx Talks with ESSEC. The energy boost has been out of this world and I even pursued my studies and obtained a PhD while running my international research firm and writing 10 books!
What were some of your best moments or experiences in the ESSEC EMBA program?
There were so many memorable moments, especially during our study trips abroad, and I made some true friends for life.
What challenge(s) did you overcome during your time as a participant?
Time management was definitely a challenge and I was lucky to be able to count on support from my family and friends. The second challenge was teamwork management, as we all had strong personalities, and a demanding workload, while working full time. We played to our strengths, with one of our teammates being the very organized "starter" and me being the last-minute sprinter, working best under pressure—and taking on the "finisher" role, checking the overall flow and consistency, before each submission.
What was the most valuable aspect of studying in the EMBA program?
My best memory was the entrepreneurial project. We had an exceptional mentor and team, and came up with a new approach, called "Wait Marketing,” which is about communicating with customers during micro-moments, as people are far more receptive then. This motivated me to start my research and consultancy firm rooted in bio- and neurosciences. Following the advice of our ESSEC microeconomics teacher, I submitted a book proposal building upon my expertise. Believe it or not: On the day of our entrepreneurial project defense, the publisher called to announce that my book would be published! This was the beginning of DervalResearch.
What advice would you give to future applicants and participants?
For future applicants, I would say: Visiting the ESSEC campus and having a chat with alumni to get a feel of the program is a good start. Building a solid entourage that will support the new you is super important. My piece of advice: Make sure your friends and family are supportive.
And for those already enrolled, I would warmly congratulate them for this excellent and life-changing decision. Enjoy the process, not just the outcome, even though the diploma is a big deal, of course. The EMBA is a great time to reconsider your lifestyle and career choices. You will make some friends for life with everything you will be put through together! Consider giving back by mentoring and guiding the new candidates, so you can make a difference for them.
What books, authors or thought leaders would you recommend to others?
Our esteemed ESSEC marketing professor assigned us Philip Kotler's book, Principles of Marketing, a foundational text in the field. A couple of years after my EMBA, it was my absolute honor to have Kotler himself endorse and praise my own book. The second edition, titled The Right Sensory Mix: Decoding Customers' Behavior and Preferences was just released this year and should hopefully guide the next generations of marketers in developing people- and planet-friendly products and experiences. Royalties of this book will finance further research on the microbiome and chronic disorders.
Each and every ESSEC MBA candidate and graduate is an opinion leader in their own right and I trust that they will find their own sources of inspiration during the program.
How would you sum up your ESSEC EMBA experience in three words?
A new beginning!
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