Lise Fraissinet wanted to try something faster-paced than project development at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, so she went to Asia with her husband in search of new opportunities.
She graduated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong MBA (CUHK) in 2010 and since then has worked in the pharmaceutical industry in Shanghai as Director of Programme Management and Scientific Affairs for Ethypharm.
She is currently Corporate Scientific Officer at manufacturing firm World Global Industries in Hong Kong and also a part-time research consultant with CUHK Business School, working to improve knowledge management within the School.
Lise talks to us about going to business school as a new mother and adjusting to life as an expat in Hong Kong.
Why did you decide to move to Hong Kong?
My husband and I have always loved Asia so we first went as tourists looking for opportunities and Hong Kong was the place that stood out for us. It is a decision that I have not regretted. My professional life had been centred around the UK and France since I started my career in Pfizer right after my Masters in Project Management from Ecole Centrale de Marseille in 2000. We finally moved to Hong Kong in November 2007.
Why did you opt for an MBA?
I wanted to see something different from the UK or France. Secondly, the momentum at Pfizer was slow because it was a huge company. Projects had 15-year development plans and this made me want to work in an environment where I could really speed things up. I moved to Etypharm which had more of a focus on tech development and that meant faster product development with shorter project life cycles.
It was great to be involved in projects that I could see through from the start to the finish and I was in charge of projects running in India, France, Canada. I loved all of this!
However, when I was exposed to business plans and the finance and budgeting aspects, I had no idea about those. I got internal training but still did not feel like I could work on those areas alone. I wanted a chance to learn things for myself.
There are many great MBA programmes in Asia. Why CUHK?
When I started the MBA I was 31 so I wanted people with similar experiences. I didn’t want to be in a class where the average age was 24 or 25. I felt like I would find it hard to relate to their experiences. When I visited before the MBA the people were really friendly. When I started they tried to accommodate my personal situation and I saw a lot of people who were in different situations and the school always tried to help.
Was it difficult being a new mom on the MBA?
Actually being pregnant was easy in comparison to being a new mom. I have to say I have been lucky because in Hong Kong I’ve found nannies and helpers that have made things easier for me. It’s great to find someone I can trust and that the kids like as well.
Do you have a favourite memory from CUHK?
Meeting local Hong Kong people. It’s hard for the expats to really connect with the locals and become close to them. It takes a good few months to become an “insider” but I’m glad I was able to make a few good friends that I am still close with. I’m the only one out of my expat friends who has local Hong Kong friends and I think its because of the MBA and this is something I really appreciate.
Another thing I appreciate was the chance to step back and get my brain working in a different way because I was studying rather than working. I was really into my MBA, doing all the things I thought were stupid when I was studying for the first time such as all the extra readings. It was great in terms of time spent alone doing something I was very interested in.
You work part-time with CUHK, can you tell us a bit more about that?
After my MBA, I wanted to leverage on my experience and do something at a more strategic level. There was not much happening in the pharma industry in Hong Kong so I took a job in Shanghai which involved travelling there during the weekdays and spending my weekends in Hong Kong. I did this until I had my second child and couldn’t do it any more.
My work at CUHK centres on improving knowledge management across the institution. We are defining business plans, sorting out the funding and the connections between different departments.
What is your biggest learning from CUHK?
The MBA broadened my interest in different businesses. If I had taken only financial classes my career would have still progressed in the pharmaceutical industry but now I’m doing so many other business-related things in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is very open to entrepreneurship so I’ve been involved in a variety of projects such as helping people with business plans or simple consultations. The CUHK MBA gave me the confidence to get involved with different things.