When Lizelle Van Schouwenburg and her husband returned to South Africa after he’d completed his MBA at CBS, she could not have known that they’d be returning to the city one day – this time with her as the student. Here, Lizelle talks about her family’s relocation and her MBA experience.
“With a background in finance and various roles in industries as wide-ranging as mining, banking, pharma and FMCG, I had a lot of diverse experience and I was looking for something to pull it all together. I knew the Full-time MBA was an option because my husband had studied for his at Copenhagen Business School, and it had done good things for his career. We developed an almost romantic connection with the city and when he finished his MBA and it was time to move on, we knew that we’d go back some day.
“That day came in 2019, when we decided CBS was the right place to study for my own FT MBA.”
“I was 34 when I started the course, and I was at the point where I’d explored most of the roles available to me in my current company, Novartis. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a sabbatical option, so I had to leave the company to be able to pursue the MBA full time.
“We moved to a new house and country – along with our two girls aged two-and-a-half and four – just before I was due to start, but it was a very different experience to the previous time. We were lucky, we had friends to stay with while we figured things out, but there was an underlying pressure as my husband needed a job and we were working hard to help the children adjust to their new life. It was exciting though.
“I think the kids helped me stay calm and they also made it a lot easier to make friends. I found too, that I could only ever spend so much time on an assignment, because they were also a priority. I think when you do an MBA you can just keep going round in circles, making your papers better and better, doing more and more. But I had no choice – often I had to pick the girls up – so I just had to say, ‘it’s done’. I think in that sense my family kept me grounded – although my husband might disagree.”
“For me, one part of the MBA experience was about pulling together my disparate experience. The other thing I was looking for was the opportunity to develop myself; to look at where I was and the experience I’d gained, and then with the help of the MBA see where I wanted to position myself next. I always knew I would stay closely related to finance – for me it wasn’t about a complete change of career, but more about taking the time to stop and reassess.
“Thanks to my husband’s MBA experience, I knew what I was getting from CBS, I knew the standard was high. Coming from an experienced finance background, covering operations and strategy, and having studied for CIMA previously, I found that maybe 50% of the course was not ground-breaking new information. But what impressed me, and what I will always value from the CBS MBA, was the change in the way I think. The Leadership Development Programme in particular, coupled with the case studies and discussions we had in the class, really challenged us to think differently and ask questions from a different angle.
“One of the really valuable parts of the course for me was the Careers module which ran throughout the year, almost like a coaching course, giving you access to an experienced adviser who can help you figure out where you should be going, and the kinds of roles that might be available to you.
“I was lucky and humbled to be awarded the CBS leadership award for that year. But I truly couldn’t have done it without the others on the course. Everyone was so focussed, from the very beginning, on releasing each other’s potential and providing each other with a platform to grow in whatever way we wanted to. I think they played a big role in me developing as a person.
“In the beginning we had to say what we wanted to get out of it on a personal level and I remember that I said I want to become less of what I am not. I wanted to use it to throw off the stuff that isn’t part of my core. I can honestly say that with the help of the people in the class I achieved that.”
An amazing journey
“Copenhagen, as a city, is great. We like the parks and the trees, the woods and the access to the ocean. We spend lots of time outside and cycling. And the kids love it – there are so many playgrounds. Of course, we’ve missed some of the nice vibe during COVID, but things are gradually improving.
“I am currently working as the Finance and Strategy Partner for Zero North, a company owned by Maersk Tankers, that is aiming to change the shipping industry through digitalisation. For me, this has been an amazing journey of education, but also relocation. My two girls have been truly patient with me and taught me a lot and my husband has supported me in everything I’ve wanted to do.
“As an individual I’ve seen many benefits from my MBA experience, but as a family there have been huge positives too.”