Jan Villaluz is a full-time MBA student at Grenoble Ecole de Management, a leading business school in France – but it has not stopped him from working in sales at Harrods, a luxury retailer in London.
The ambitious business student is hoping to make a career switch out of the accounting function and into a career than affords him international travel. He has diverse career interests – from digital transformation to department stores – but ultimately he hopes to establish his own business.
A Canadian, before beginning an MBA Jan worked in the Netherlands for DHL, the German logistics company, and before that he was a finance coordinator at Loblaw Companies Limited, Canada’s largest retailer, in Toronto.
Why did you decide to begin an MBA?
I realized early on in my career that accounting is something that does not really suit my personality. I enjoy dealing with people much more than crunching numbers.
I want to pursue an MBA and diversify my business background, [to] stir a different direction in my career.
What made Grenoble stand out from other business schools?
Grenoble stands out because it is one of the few business schools that is triple accredited, and has a reputation for international diversity and innovation excellence.
In my program, I have made new friends and professional connections with more than 15 nationalities, not including the other MBA colleagues I have met in Grenoble while studying there.
The faculty also comes from everywhere, so you definitely gain an international business perspective and broaden your strategic thinking. I wanted to improve my French as well, which was an option in the program.
What has the experience been like so far?
It has been good, and very challenging. The Grenoble MBA program is very intense in terms of the number of modules you have to take and all the deadlines, case studies, and presentations. I enjoyed it because Grenoble has different campuses in different cities, so I got to study not just in London, but also in Paris and Grenoble.
It was particularly challenging for me because I also have a part-time role [in London]. I was surprised at myself because I was able to handle that intense schedule for almost a year and not lose focus of my goals. I thrive on an intense schedule and a fast-paced environment.
You've worked in four different countries. How valuable has that international experience been?
I believe it has been very valuable for me, considering I am from Canada and that there's an intense competition with bright-minded people in Europe and basically everywhere [else].
Business is becoming more global than ever [before]. It's not just about academics. You have to stand out and that international experience is a passport to big companies which [will] take a look at you for, especially if you want to embark on a global career. I hope to continue that after my MBA.
How have you managed to work as a sales consultant at Harrods in London throughout the MBA program?
Before the MBA, I was already working there so it was not difficult to switch and work just [at] weekends. But it was quite challenging in terms of time, and quite stressful as retail is not easy. But I believe it's my attitude that kept me going – I am quite optimistic and resilient when it comes to challenges.
Time is of the essence, so I would sneak in some reading time on my breaks at work and choose my priorities wisely. Sometimes I would spend my evenings [and] weekends working on my deadlines, but I guess my MBA colleagues would attest that I did not sacrifice that much; I am always present at social gatherings and parties. It's all about time management and [having] the right mind-set.
What makes luxury an exciting sector to work in?
You would think it's just all about the glitz, glamour and fashion. It is in a way – but there's more to it than that. It involves the heritage and history of the brands. Most of the successful brands in the luxury industry started small and evolved to something bigger and more successful. Getting to know how a company becomes successful is a learning experience.
Also, the intensity of competition in the luxury industry is so high that being part of a successful one [company] where you have contributed and have differentiated from the competition is quite exciting.
Luxury provides the opportunity for people to dream, and being part of the creative process is quite interesting.
What do you plan to do when you finish the MBA?
I am hoping for a career change outside of accounting and [I will] continue embarking on an international career, perhaps working for a global corporation where I get to travel to different countries.
I am particularly interested in combining my financial and commercial background, and I have [a] keen interest in business development, business [and] retail planning, strategy, and digital transformation.
My long-term plan is to establish an international business, so right now I would like to continue building international networks, develop an idea and gain some capital.