Rising star Riska

“I was prepared to pay my own way”

A rising star in her company, Riska Mirzalina became one of the first employees outside the top-level managers to embark on an Executive MBA thanks to her determination and powers of persuasion. Here, she outlines how the qualification has enhanced her career.

I began my MBA with Copenhagen Business School in 2018, but the process began long before that. It had always been an ambition of mine and I began investigating the course and persuading my company, VELUX, two years earlier. The challenge was that the company was not used to paying for MBAs for employees that weren’t at the top level before, but I was convinced that it was the course for me – and crucially, it would also benefit them.

Opening negotiations

The first person I asked was my manager and I was met with some resistance, so I continued to pursue the dialogue with them, although this time together with my director. The process of persuading them to support my studies wasn’t exactly a walk in the park because it wasn’t as if I ‘needed’ the course to do my job back then. I however placed an emphasis on the future; on what I could contribute within commercial and leadership for VELUX if they were to develop me as a young talent. And were I not able to secure a tuition payment from them, I was quite prepared to take on the cost myself; in Denmark we have a tax scheme where you can pay through your salary, and even if I needed to sell my apartment I would have done it.

To me, an MBA will always be an investment in myself, whether I end up as an astronaut or a consultant. I know that I can always grab that toolbox of skills and apply them to any position, and it was a big achievement for me when VELUX finally offered to pay for my course and fully supported me in my ambition.

A background in digital business

I grew up in Indonesia and ran a business that made and sold sustainable footwear both at home and to neighbouring countries. This involved developing my own digital skills – through books at first! – and learning how to build a successful business online. It stood me in good stead, and I was eventually able to sell the business and move to Denmark for a position with Trustpilot, which was a digital startup back then. There, I looked at online ranking and reviews and managing digital products, and this gave me the skills to progress to a job with VELUX.

I started out as digital analyst, before becoming a digital business manager, and later a pricing consultant working on online trade terms and conditions. These roles led me to my current job as a consultant to the CEO, which gives me a broader understanding of the business. It was a good move for me, and it was one that was brought about by my MBA courses; they enriched my knowledge as I moved from technical to strategic roles. For me, the digital side of things and ‘e-business’ is just business and it was important to me to extend what I had learnt already into other departments (and vice versa). Technical skill can have a big influence on commercial objectives and this will be increasingly relevant in years to come.

It was tough juggling my day job with my studies, but I had to prioritise the MBA above pretty much everything else in my life. It was a trade-off that I was prepared to make, and I made sure that everyone in my social and family groups were aware of what was happening. I couldn’t do it without them, and I needed their support and understanding while I was working hard on the course.

Shared experiences

I enjoyed coming onto campus and talking with my classmates and sharing experiences with them. They challenged me in so many areas of business and forced me to reconsider what we were doing and why. I was the youngest in my class and the learning curve was very steep for me, but it was a positive dynamic and everyone had their chance to shine. The older students would tend to have more to say about subjects such as financial strategy, while the younger ones would be more vocal about marketing or digital. I learned so much.

Through my MBA, I realise that I learned more about my company and myself in the past two years than in previous five years with the company. It’s delivered a much better outcome for both me and VELUX and I have a deep understanding of the different areas of the business, how they all fit together and the challenges they face.

The course forced me to compile functional case studies and to reach out to various departments – from production to finance – for data and information that could support my work and studies. In fact, in my final thesis I wrote about offsite manufacturing. I presented it to the management group and it has had an influence on the way we consider opportunities for the coming decade.

A brighter future

That’s just one example of the difference the MBA has made on my day-to-day job and the influence it’s had on my career with VELUX. I’m looking forward to what happens next.