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"The Aalto EMBA helped me better understand what kind of leader I want to be and created clarity on how to get there.”

Esther Vispoel
HR Director, Films & Specials Strategic Business Unit, UPM Raflatac

I love and need challenge. I am at my best when I feel that I can keep learning and developing into a better version of myself,” says Esther Vispoel, HR Director for the Films & Specials Strategic Business Unit at UPM Raflatac.

“I enjoy the versatility of my work. The best part of my job is working closely with Films & Specials business leaders to find the best ways to leverage HR practices to support our business strategy.”

Vispoel has worked in HR for most of her career. Before joining UPM Raflatac, Vispoel worked at KONE for ten years – initially in her home country, Belgium, and later in various global positions based in Finland.

Vispoel has developed her business skills in the Aalto Executive MBA program.

“I wanted to create a solid foundation to enhance my skills in my current work, while also increasing the option to transition into a business role in the future,” Vispoel explains.

“I chose Aalto EMBA for its strong reputation and for the level of participants it attracts. The selection process ensures that only truly motivated students get in.”

Applicable insights from every module

Vispoel emphasizes that every single Aalto EMBA module gave her skills and insights that she could directly start using in her work.

“The M&A module is a great example. In September 2022, UPM Raflatac completed the acquisition of AMC AG, a company based in Germany. My HR colleagues and I are still quite busy with the last steps of the integration process,” Vispoel points out.

“The M&A module gave me highly valuable ideas that I have already put to good use. Raflatac has a profitable growth strategy; organically and potentially complemented by acquisitions. Therefore, I believe that I might continue to have a lot of use for the skills I picked up in this module – and our M&A-focused Business Strategy Project – in the future as well.”

Vispoel also has plenty of other good examples. Thanks to the Financial Accounting and Finance modules, she now shares a common language with her finance and business colleagues. The Strategic Marketing Module provided her with important insights into, for instance, competitive advantage and value creation.

“Sustainability is central to our strategy and our ways of working, so delving into topics such as ESG was also very relevant and interesting. Learning about power and influence was also quite fascinating. It has helped me connect and influence in a complex global matrix environment,” she remarks.

A collaborative learning experience

Vispoel says that she sincerely enjoyed the interactive teaching and collaborative learning experience.

I found it extremely rewarding to learn from the other participants and hear about experiences from their organizations and industries."

“The instructors were very accessible and available for follow-up discussions when needed. I especially liked the instructors’ willingness to be challenged in class. They clearly enjoyed it – which very often resulted in highly interesting discussions,” she reminisces.

“I also found it extremely rewarding to learn from the other participants and hear about experiences from their organizations and industries. We gained tools, frameworks, and best practices from research – and then got the chance to compare them to our own ‘worlds’ and experiences,” Vispoel describes.

Vispoel’s EMBA group had participants from various industries, working in roles ranging from business leaders to surgeons.

“Although most participants were Finnish, we still had quite an interesting combination of different nationalities and current living countries represented,” Vispoel mentions.

“We could all openly share our experiences in the psychologically safe environment Aalto EE created. We became a close group, and many lifelong friendships were formed. Whenever I want to brainstorm, discuss something, or ask for help, I know I can always pick up my phone and contact anyone from our EMBA group.”

The Yale Study Tour was a particularly memorable experience for Vispoel.

“I felt like a kid in Disneyland. Yale was a magical place and the professors had incredibly entertaining teaching styles. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am happy that I got to share it with many people from my EMBA group.”

Valuable peer support

Vispoel asserts that she gained tremendously much from the Aalto EMBA program.

“It helped me better understand what kind of leader I want to be and created clarity on how to get there. The program made me a more all-round professional and added more potential to realize,” she says.

“I gained confidence and a truly valuable network of peers and friends. I now also recognize better what my strengths are, and how to leverage them correctly.”

During the busiest time of her studies, Vispoel was involved in the most challenging – and interesting – project that she had ever had at KONE, her employer at the time. Aalto EMBA’s Self-Development Process and the support and coaching she got from fellow participants helped Vispoel maneuver this hectic period, learn as much as possible, and come out stronger.

I gained confidence and a truly valuable network of peers and friends. The support I received from my peers was incredibly valuable."

“The Self-Development Process guided me in exploring the concept of ‘enoughness’. It means letting go of perfection and being able to trust that you yourself are enough. This is a mindset which is not easy for me,” Vispoel ponders.

“The support I received from my peers was incredibly valuable. I was thrilled when, at the end of our studies, our EMBA group honored me with the ‘well-being champion’ award, acknowledging my active efforts in supporting them as well.”

Vispoel affirms that the EMBA definitely met her expectations and says that she is pleased to recommend participating. For people contemplating enrolling in the Aalto EMBA, she has some important words of advice:

“In the beginning of the program, I noticed that most people had exactly the same thoughts as I did: will I be good enough, smart enough, or interesting enough for this group? Don’t let thoughts like this stop you. Also, if you have a family, remember that the EMBA will definitely require many evenings and weekends. Make sure you have your family’s full support.”

As Vispoel looks ahead, she has one major wish. She hopes to see many of her fellow EMBA graduates support initiatives such as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within their respective organizations.

“We had good discussions about this topic. I sincerely wish that many of the leaders who shared this learning journey with me in the EMBA program decide to actively champion DEI initiatives in their organizations – to help more people from diverse backgrounds, including foreigners, get the opportunity to work and thrive in Finnish companies.”

Aalto Executive MBA Program

Esther Vispoel has also shared tips for balancing the EMBA program with work and personal life in a Financial Times article, 'My lessons from business school.'