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The MBA Power Couple Who Survived Business School Together

Doing an MBA can put strains on any couple. But for Nataliya and Jose, investing in both of their careers at the same time has made their relationship stronger


Fri Jul 12 2019

Barcelona recently ranked in Europe’s top 12 most romantic cities, according to Wanderlust magazine.

Its renowned Gaudi architecture, its stunning stretches of beach, and its famed Catalonian cuisine all contribute to the Spanish coastal city’s love-struck reputation.

For Nataliya Shepel and Jose Aynat, Barcelona provided the next steps of their relationship and their careers, as the place where they spent two years doing their MBA together.

Time-consuming commitments and hefty workloads can be stressful enough for those studying their MBA alone. Here’s how Jose and Nataliya managed to make it work, while making time for their relationship as well.

Find the right program

Growing up on different sides of Europe—Nataliya in Ukraine, Jose in Spain—the couple were thrown together when they were studying their bachelor’s degree in pharmacy at the University of Granada.

Their ambition and drive were matched in each other, and eventually pushed them to take the same next steps together.

“At a certain moment, we experienced the same perception that to develop ourselves professionally and personally, we had to change our lives and invest our time and efforts in an MBA,” Nataliya remembers.

The MBA program at IESE Business School in Barcelona offered exactly what they were looking for—a top quality MBA program, they say, which would support them professionally and personally as a couple.

“It is IESE’s philosophy that to assure strong family culture, both partners should obtain equal opportunities to study and develop their professional careers, so that neither should sacrifice their own development for the sake of the other’s,” Nataliya underlines.

This family-oriented philosophy runs through the school, both for those studying together, and for those who have a family outside of business school.

They point out that IESE offers a range of support activities, such as Spanish language courses for MBA candidates’ partners, as well as aiding access to flat renting and kindergarten and school enrolment for children.

Embrace competition

The intensity of an MBA program, even a two-year course like that at IESE, can be a point of stress for students. 

“The most challenging thing for us as a couple was to get aligned over time management and the new responsibilities that we obtained during our MBA program,” Nataliya reveals.

But the competitiveness of the program, and the mutual support it required, moved the strength of their relationship to the next level.

“You go through a life changing experience with the person you admire the most,” Jose emphasizes. “Every case, event, trek, simulation puts you in a new context. You get to go through a positive and fun competition in which challenging each other everyday makes both of you better.”

Jose reflects on how they could give each other advice and, more importantly, instant high quality feedback on all of their work assignments.

“You have real time visibility on how you react to situations you have never been exposed to before,” Jose adds.

Support each other, and your differences

Making time for your differences is important relationship advice for any couple, but is particularly important for MBA students undergoing self-development.

As Nataliya highlights—“Any two MBA candidates are highly likely to have quite different strengths and weaknesses. It is very important that an MBA couple have quite diversified opportunities to get knew knowledge and develop the skills that will help them to improve themselves and reach their professional goals.”

This applies to selecting electives on the MBA, exploring extracurricular opportunities, and understanding the wide variety of career options available to any MBA graduate.

While you’d think the core program is time-consuming enough, IESE offers a wealth of clubs and activities for their MBA students to expand their experience beyond the classroom.

Both Jose and Nataliya threw themselves into extracurricular activities—Nataliya, as the president of the Healthcare Club, and Jose as VP of the Venture Capital club.

This deep involvement has found both in high employment just a year after graduation, with both currently holding senior positions at major world pharmaceutical firms. 

Contrary to the ‘divorce course’ reputation that MBAs often have, Jose and Nataliya both testify to the positive effect an MBA can have on your relationship as well as your career.

They refer to several other couples in the same MBA class whose relationships survived and strengthened—to the point where some were even starting to plan families at the time.

Fundamentally, it revealed in the couple, at their most stressful time, what were the essential things that they needed to keep their relationship going.

“Listening, supporting, openness, and empowerment call all seem easy,” Jose notes. “But when the pressure if high, and you need to make sacrifices, this is when you will the greatest opportunity to show that you do not compromise the basics.”