Samuele Zanella was honored as the Part-time Student of the Year at the graduation celebration for the MBA class of 2015. His honor was in acknowledgement of the many challenges he overcame to earn his MBA after two long years of balancing work, family, and classes. We sat down with Samuele after graduation to ask him what it was like to balance being a father, professional, and student, and to ask him to share some advice for future Cimbians looking to earn their own MBA through the two year, part-time program.
With the many demands of the part-time MBA, life, and work, what was it like to balance the three?
When I started the MBA, I remember very well that I spoke with Dr. Al and Cristina to see if past MBA classes had students who traveled a lot. I am an Export Manager for Dainese and AGV, I travel 3 to 4 days a week most of the year, and I have been in charge of the exports for more than 10 years; and I was worried about how to balance my work obligations with the demands of CIMBA’s MBA. They told me that it was manageable, but obviously not simple. I knew that I wanted the MBA, but was also just as convinced that it would not be easy at all. When I started the program, my daughter Giulia was 4 years old and Carolina was 1½ years old. My wife Patrizia worked for Tecnica Group. When I attended the first weekends of classes, I quickly realized what a challenge it would be to balance traveling for work, classes on the weekends, studying and taking exams while abroad, and spending time with my family.
The keys to success were a lot of determination and the drive to succeed. I really wanted to get to the end of this MBA; I had wanted it for a long time and now that I was in the storm, I wanted to face it and not back down. The friends that I made in the class helped me by providing me with the support and courage it sometimes takes to preserve. It was a wonderful experience to create the camaraderie that allowed me to be able to expect the hand on the shoulder from a friend who understood my problems and thoughts!
I must say that without my wife nothing would have been possible: she was instrumental in achieving this long and challenging life goal. We talked a lot before starting the MBA, during the two years prior to the experience in the US, and after… she had to focus on taking care of the girls, looking after their education, and taking care of things at home. We had to split and share tasks at home, but we did it with pleasure (though not always easy) knowing that the ordeal would last no more than two years. It was not easy, but the difficulties we faced have only added to our satisfaction today! An aspect of the MBA that you all must experience as well!
There is the saying that goes, “behind a great man there is always a great woman.” While I cannot say I am a great man, I was a man who had a difficult mission and my wife helped me get there. Love and understanding is crucial if you have a family and even more if you have small children. So: determination, courage, love, and friendship are four pillars to success for this MBA, but it is probably the same for many other things in life.
Classroom diversity – Discuss how working with international students impacted your MBA experience?
It took me 3 or 4 weekends to understand the differences between cultures of the students in the MBA classroom (students were from America, Italy, Belgium, Portugal, and the Far East). We were all different coming from different countries – we spoke, thought, and acted differently.
This aspect became even more visible during our time in the U.S. In Iowa, we lived and worked with people of different cultures during an entire month; eight hours (and even more) a day spent together was part of the cultural challenge and personal growth of this MBA program. That was the beauty of it! It was not always easy, but the MBA program teaches you how to deal with these difficult and challenging situations. You are forced to understand and adapt to the culture that you have in front of you. It is important for a person like me who works in the export sector, but also for a person who wants to go into a multinational company. Adapting is a primordial skill to learn when working in group.
The World Cup is won thanks to a team and not just the striker. All players play an important role, even people who are outside the field (in our case that included our friends, CIMBA, and our families.) At the end, it was a very rich human experience. It is incredibly nice to be able to compare yourself with people who do not see and think like you.
Going to the U.S. for the last class may scare some people off because they don’t think they can leave their jobs. Can you discuss how you made it work and the value of it?
Having two daughters, I was not very happy to leave for a month and be so far away. I had looked into making this a family experience and have my wife and daughters come with me, but when I realized I would not have enough time to see them while in the U.S., it did not make much sense to have them come with. Ultimately, we felt it was best to have them take a week off to go to the seaside during my time abroad, and thus cut the long period in two.
Eventually, we left for Iowa and from the moment I met some of the other students on the plane, the experience began. I consider the month in the U.S. the cherry on the cake, because you put into practice all that you have studied during the past two years. While in the U.S., a simulation of a small business is done, and it involves you so much that you feel like you are running your own company. You party with your companions, you travel during the short time available, and you improve the language that is not your mother tongue, all while dealing with a completely different culture from yours. It was fantastic!
Leaving work for a month was not at all easy, and I still had to handle many of my job responsibilities. My absence was during our full sales campaign, and as you can imagine, it was the most important time for a sales manager and for a company. My company was aware of my trip and supported me. Before leaving, I did everything I could to prepare my sales force to maximize results. First thing I did every morning and the last thing I’d do at night was to reply to emails and stay up to date from half a world away.
It was not easy, but here again, determination and strong will were crucial. Nowadays with Skype, smartphones, and emails, it is so easy to communicate quickly and work long distance. There are no more excuses. I repeat that it was not easy, but I can say that when I returned there was not an email that I had not read or a problem that had not been managed. When you want, you can!
I am 40 years old and going to the U.S. for a month was like being back 20 years ago when I was in college. I’ll keep this time as an unforgettable memory, and indeed, I hope that all future students will experience the same feeling and emotions that I have experienced and that I will carry with me forever.