Our alumni of the month series looks into the lives of some of EU’s most successful graduates. This month we showcase MBA alumna Ekaterini Kontzalis.
Ekaterini Kontzalis has been working at Novartis in Basel, Switzerland for 15 years. She started her career there following an internship she began after completing her MBA at EU in 2000. Today, she is the head of corporate responsibility, communications & advocacy, but her career path began in a very different field:
I was originally a language major. I studied French and German because I love languages but I didn’t want to just go into teaching, which is why I enrolled in the MBA. The MBA basically gave me a good sound foundation of business, it gave me the basics for how business works, to think about strategy to think about product brand strategy. The basic tools and skills needed to work in a multinational company. It taught me to think a bit differently.
After graduation, she applied at Novartis and began a six-month internship doing marketing, communications and event planning for congresses. Over the next four years, she began taking on a number of tasks in a variety of areas including medical education, planning and creating exhibition booths. While she was working, she continued her education, taking a public relations course through a London-based school to help further develop her skills. Soon after, she was offered a position on the cardiovascular team as the global communications manager where she started to become more involved in media relations.
Originally from Greece, she also spent some time setting up Novartis’ Greek communications team. For five years, she headed brand communications for the entire pharma portfolio at Novartis. Her responsibilities included deciding how to organize the team, communicate with journalists, and create a relationship with local press through press conferences and events. While still working for Novartis in Greece, she was moved to the oncology unit as head of communications and advocacy where she began working with local patient groups and on awareness campaigns and patient support programs.
In 2016, she moved back to Basel where she made the move into corporate responsibility; working in health education and strengthening healthcare systems in the developing world.
Kontzalis approaches management in a very open way:
I like to listen to people, see what their point of view is and try to find a common ground. However, when it comes to my area of expertise, I’m rather more directive. It’s good to have open communication and conversations but when somebody has expertise in an area, it should be put out on the table so that it’s clear what the best way to take a project is.
Kontzalis earned her MBA on our Montreux campus in 2000 and reflected on how that experience changed her world view and contributed to her success throughout her career path.
Montreux is a very nice place in general, it’s very happening, and we had a very diverse group with people from all around the world. It was a small but very diverse team. It really prepared me for a multinational working environment. At Novartis, and in all big companies, there is so much diversity. The fact that at EU we had a lot of different case studies, which taught me how to work with different people, from a variety of backgrounds and with different knowledge. I learned how to find the strengths in individuals and put it into practice in a project team both at school and at Novartis.
What was most important to Kontzalis about her education at EU was that the faculty was not only made up of academics, but of real business people.
I think lecturers with a business background have more to offer than someone who has only studied. They can share from their everyday experiences and it just brings all the theory we learn to life. You can learn theories by reading, but you understand them on a much deeper level when you get a personal perspective.
We asked Kontzalis what advice she had for future MBA students and her recommendation was that students try to earn their MBA while they are working and that those who are working consider doing an MBA. She reflected:
You can immediately apply things to your work life and see how these theories function in the working environment.
If I came across a CV of someone who has studied at EU, I would definitely consider them a serious candidate. It’s a business school that gives a solid background. I would consider it a plus on someone’s CV.
Everyone’s definition of success is unique and informed by their experiences and dreams for the future. Kontzalis explained that in her line of work the concept of success was a fluid one that is constantly shifting.
A weak point for communications is that we don’t have many hard KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and so I feel success when I see one of my personal ideas implemented and bearing the fruits that I expected… I work a lot with third parties, so in the years that I’ve been working here, my fulfillment also comes from external acknowledgement. It’s really the most rewarding thing.