An Executive MBA: A Small Step to Making Big Changes


Since embarking on the ESSEC & Mannheim Executive MBA (EMBA), Carisa Mann has broken out of the corporate mold and fully embraced her role as an entrepreneur, starting not one, but three new companies in four years. She shares her story.

To Carisa Mann, a good business is one that cares about profit, the planet, and people.

“I believe in using business as a force for positive change,” she declares. “People need jobs and products—and to be for profit forces you to take better care of your money. So positive impact and profit are not antithetical concepts.”

Today, the ESSEC and Mannheim EMBA alumna is leading the charge to do good business through her three companies: Place Solutions, a green building material trading company; Magnetite Singapore, which manufactures and installs sound-proofing for existing windows; and Growth Squad Consulting, which was set up to mentor SMEs.

Inspiration for her entrepreneurial journey may have been sparked from her desire to create change, but it was only set into motion when she applied to ESSEC Asia Pacific.

“During the EMBA entrance interview, a professor asked me to describe the kind of company I would build if I had to decide right now and could not fail—and I immediately said I’d start one handling green building materials,” Carisa recalls, adding: “This question lay the foundation for my first company.”

By the time she was accepted and started her program, she had left her corporate role and begun plans for Place Solutions.

Putting Problems into Perspective

Juggling a new business alongside the EMBA workload was no mean feat, and Carisa admits that at times, with just two days to turn around a presentation on a complex topic she knew nothing about, it was like being in a pressure cooker.

But by pushing her limits these experiences also trained her ability to adapt fast and execute under pressure—no doubt a valuable skill to have in our post-pandemic world. 

The EMBA also changed her approach to problems.

“If you’re a solutions-focused person like myself, you either think you immediately see the solution, or you discard a potential solution because you can immediately see problems,” she explains.

Having been exposed to design-thinking principles, her mindset is now different. Rather than harping on what is impossible, she asks: “What would it look like if it were possible?” and “what would we need to change to make it possible?” as she navigates through the storms of entrepreneurship.

Developing through Differences

Most importantly, perhaps, was how the EMBA challenged her understanding of leadership and teamwork.

Recalling her reasons for joining the program, she says: “I wanted to bring myself to the next level and thought nothing could be better than to be in a room full of smart people that challenge me.”

The ESSEC & Mannheim EMBA no doubt delivered. Beyond offering participants perspectives from different industries, the EMBA also took them out of their comfort zones so they could no longer rely on titles or work hierarchies to succeed.

“In the classroom, everyone is equal,” Carisa recalls, adding: “It was interesting to see my strengths and weaknesses in a setting with such strong equals.” The discussions taught volumes about negotiation and people management, encouraging reflection and in the process shaping her to become “a much better leader than before”.

Three companies on, and with no intention to stop there, Carisa’s journey is in many ways still a work in progress. What she can be certain of, though, is that the lessons learned during her EMBA hold her in good stead as she continues in her quest to do business and do good.

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