The WHU MBA Program is a strong supporter of gender diversity in business, with several scholarships available to prospective candidates such as the Women in Business Scholarship. In partnership with UK-based organization the 30% Club, the scholarship is offered to a top female applicant every year. We spoke with this year’s recipient, Part-Time MBA student Elena Zhigalina, to discover her motivations for studying an MBA and who inspired her along the way.
Hard-working, driven, and passionate about her work – Elena is an ideal MBA candidate. Hailing from a small city that lies in the East of Russia, she was an ambitious student who worked hard to achieve her dream of studying at a university in Moscow, a seven-day train ride away. There, she studied international marketing and media management, supplementing this with practical experience through internships she attended in her free time. “Being comfortable in a role is not what I enjoy, I like to be challenged – it’s through that process that you develop and grow.”
Following her Master’s degree, she achieved her goal to work for a large media company in Moscow, but after some time realized she was ready for the next step and began to search for a new adventure. Together with her husband and young child, they made the decision to move to Germany. Balancing childcare with a demanding new sales role at trivago in Düsseldorf, Elena quickly worked her way up within the business to her current role as Brand Marketing Project Manager.
What was the motivation behind pursuing an MBA and what did you hope to gain?
I am at a point in my role at trivago that I understand how the business works and I am comfortable with my integration into life in Germany, but I am also ready for the next step in my career. I understand all areas of my role but I still do not feel confident enough for a leadership position. I have participated in a mentoring program at trivago and discovered I have some talent in coaching which I really enjoy, but I need some real insights and further knowledge to be an effective leader. Another factor was if I potentially wish to run my own company in the future, then I need to expand my network. I want to be in an environment where I can meet other people who are also passionate about building a project and driving change.
How did you discover the MBA Program at WHU?
The MBA Program at WHU was one of the first programs I researched, but not the only one I looked at. What grabbed my attention was when I opened the website and there was an article about women in leadership. The presentation of the program was so clear and concise that I knew what to expect and this was often not the case for other schools. After speaking to the recruitment team, I was offered the chance to participate in a trial class about supply chain management and I expected it to be theoretical and not practical at all. However, it was so interactive and while there was a lot I did not know, there were many topics where I found I had opinions and questions of my own. It was a great insight into what studying at WHU was like and it was this session that convinced me to apply.
Who were important role models in your professional development?
My mother firstly, she was an impressive woman as a doctor leading a pediatrics department - she always encouraged me to be bold and never be afraid to ask questions. Secondly, I was lucky to work alongside the marketing director at trivago who was one of the best mentors I could ever ask for. Now I work with the branding and communications lead. She has this attitude of challenging the status quo, to never just agree or accept but to ask why. This is something I try to incorporate into my work, to achieve more, and drive to do better. I have been quite lucky that I have worked with many female leaders throughout my working life and they were always people you wanted to follow. However, for me whether a man or a woman, what is important is the personality.