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The University of St. Gallen Q&A

Pharmaceuticals executive Svetlana Shifrina was so excited that her St Gallen MBA class has the highest ever number of women that she has relaunched the school's Women In Business Club!

By  Ifeatu Nnaobi

Tue Dec 11 2012

Svetlana Shifrina, a full-time student on the University of St. Gallen MBA has worked for elite finance and pharmaceutical firms, run her own yoga studio and lived in four countries, but she isn't stopping there!
The 32-year-old has set out to relaunch St Gallen's Women In Business Club while she is on the one-year programme, connecting female students and alumni from the prestigious Swiss business school with career opportunities.
In 2010, Svetlana left her job in New York City with multinational Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals and moved to Switzerland where she opened a yoga studio. 
She ran her studio successfully for some time before deciding that she wanted to go back into the corporate world, but this time with an MBA from a top business school. Now on the full-time MBA at the University of St. Gallen, Svetlana speaks to us about her passion for networking. She recently oversaw the relaunch of St. Gallen's Women in Business Club and has an exciting year planned for the group.
She also talks to us about the value of an MBA as opposed to a regular masters. Svetlana initially enrolled on a Masters in Management and Economics at University of Zurich and two months into the programme realized that what she really wanted was an MBA.
Svetlana was born in Ukraine and moved to the US when she was 12. She got her bachelors degree in Finance from New York University in 2001 and worked has an analyst for BlackRock, and later as a healthcare sales representative for pharmaceuticals multinational Boehringer Ingelheim.
For someone who lived in a big city, was it easy to adapt to the quieter Swiss lifestyle?
I absolutely love Switzerland. It’s beautiful, peaceful, organized and great for outdoor sports such as biking, hiking and skiing. It’s been interesting transitioning to a small city. You get to appreciate both sides. For instance over here, shops close earlier, you have fewer options of restaurants but at the same time the food produce is great and it really is a place to refocus on life. 
What inspired you to become a yoga instructor?
When I graduated from university I was very stressed out. I was only 22 and in my first job. I wasn’t happy with it so I decided to go and work for Club Med. Club Med has resorts all over the world. You live on the resort and when you aren't working, you do sports or just relax. I joined them and the next day I saw a guy doing a standing split in front of the restaurant. He was wearing a t-shirt that said Viagra. He was 82 at that point and was the person who got me into yoga.
Before he began practicing, he was semi-paralysed with little hope of recovery but get better through yoga. I practised with him and kept up with yoga when I returned to New York and eventually became an instructor myself. 
Why did you decide to get an MBA from St. Gallen?
I always wanted to go back to school and I had the option of going for a Masters or an MBA. I enrolled on a Masters at the University of Zurich. I lived nearby and the commute was easy. In Switzerland doing a Masters is virtually free compared to an MBA. I started the masters and two months in I realized I didn’t want to be an economist.
The programme was very theory-based and the students on the programme were bright but very young. I had already worked for ten years and was disappointed not be getting case studies, practical experience or new knowledge from my colleagues. I realized that I would be better off with an MBA. 
My boyfriend has an MBA from Harvard so I’ve gone through the journey. I know the network he built through his MBA and was very excited to do one after seeing what happened to his career.  It was clear that an MBA is an investment you make in yourself. 
So, why didn’t you go to Harvard?!
I didn’t want to go back to the US. I wanted to stay in Switzerland or at least close enough. I was ready to get back into the corporate world and the two schools people recommended were IMD and St. Gallen. A few friends working in human resources said to make sure I got my MBA from a very good school and St. Gallen was top choice in the German-speaking world.
Switzerland is a great place to work in the pharmaceutical industry. It has all the big companies like Roche and Novartis and I would love to enrol in a leadership programme after my MBA. 
Have you given any of your MBA colleagues yoga classes?
We barely have time for anything but I’ve done a few classes for the MBAs. We have a lady in the administration who also gives yoga classes so I join in when I can. 
Tell us about some of your plans for St. Gallen's Women in Business Club
I think any club you join provides you with a network.  It’s a different level of contact when you're in such a group. You have a more direct relationship and can easily reach out to people simply because you're in the same group. The club hasn’t been active for some years now and I felt this year was a good year to relaunch. Our cohort is one third female: that's the largest intake of women in the history of the MBA programme.
We recently hosted a relaunch event where we contacted alumni and focused on getting the group together again, making introductions and gauging what the different interests are. The next step is to invite speakers for an event that promotes women's careers. We want to have a monthly roundtable to keep the network active.
We already have a Facebook page and Linkedin group. We also want to find out about companies that have special tracks or programmes for women and reach out to them for company presentations and lectures. 
How would you sum up your first three months of the St. Gallen MBA? 
It's been three months of intensity but also a lot of fun. We will be rounding up our core modules by January so things should slow down during the electives. We have an amazing class and everyone is extremely helpful to each other. Even our alums say our year is so cohesive. We have exams coming up next week but this evening I’m going to meet potential students at an event the school has organized for them.
Click here to learn about about St. Gallen's Women in Business Club. You can read more stories about students, alumni and programmes at University of St. Gallen MBA, here