Inside INSEAD: How a veterinarian applied her skills in business school


Cécile Genty, INSEAD

What’s the difference between diagnosing a dog’s health problem and offering a strategic solution in an MBA course?

How can a former veterinarian leverage their prior medical skills and knowledge as a solid foundation for success in business?

These questions may sound strange. Nonetheless, they hit me when I started my MBA journey at INSEAD in January. Before business school, I worked in a referral center, which meant that other vets referred me to patients when they didn’t have the time to treat their cases or the ability to find lasting solutions. So, I had to start from a different angle, proposing new examinations or complementary treatments to identify new solutions. At the time, I worked mainly in diagnostic imaging, neurology and oncology, specialties that are not usually covered in general medicine. Nonetheless, I felt that my time and energy could be devoted to making a greater impact on the planet which encompasses both humans and animals. This path led me directly to the amphitheater of the INSEAD MBA, force of good.


The first shock wave hit me in our Introductory Strategy class. Here, we were offered an in-depth methodology for approaching any strategic issue in a business – and it seemed exactly such as clinical methodology and diagnostic approach. As a veterinarian, I receive clients who want me to deliver a solution to them with a lot of uncertainties, all under pressure and on time. For example, I sometimes encounter a dying animal and have to make a decision within five seconds of collecting the relevant clinical signs without much information. As a vet, I often suffered from sleep deprivation, yet had to be compassionate and energetic for 48 hours straight. I am expected to be professional at all times, trained to be resilient and able to overcome the vicissitudes of life. It resonated with what one would expect of a professional who wants to provide impactful and lasting solutions whenever a problem arises.

As a consultant vet, I needed to be able to translate our knowledge from one system to another, as I learned 7 animals in each specialty. My daily job is to improvise, to encompass the whole system with a thorough analysis of external factors and internal factors. At the same time, I’m supposed to be data-driven, while using my intuition and complying with tight financial requirements. As a result, I often thought outside the box and contemplated unusual assumptions, never neglecting a potential path and always plunging into scarcity. Obviously our clients have huge stakes, be it emotional or financial, and they expect us to focus on every detail that could change the course of events. We are required to accompany them in difficult situations and to lead them with us on the path to success.

In talking to my peer consultants at INSEAD, my work was in many ways similar to their day-to-day work. They have to solve problems on subjects in which they are not specifically specialists – and should quickly become very proficient in this area. Like me, these consultants don’t always have access to all the data, so they have to work under some underlying assumptions, not to mention the high uncertainty and pressure, to deliver a final product. Their clients are very demanding and need to understand all the issues related to a subject.

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Even when preparing the case for the consultation, which prepares us for what a consultant will do on a day-to-day basis, we must take a clinical approach. For example, we need to think about all the external conditions (political? Climate? Psychological?) That could impact performance and mitigate uncertainty by using facts and data. Always meticulous, we surgically dissect all the internal factors that can have an impact on a problem. To be effective consultants, we must be articulate, able to clearly describe our reasoning process in order to convince our clients of the right path to take. It’s all a fine balance between being very efficient and being thorough through analysis, encompassing all the potential reasons behind the issues. To communicate this, we need to simplify the reasoning process for our clients. The power to convince relies on the ability to clearly explain the diagnosis and possible solutions, to get our customers to adhere to the decision tree as if it were also obvious to them.

This is exactly what a veterinarian does on a daily basis for thousands of clients.

During a course in financial markets and valuation, we were to provide a four-page report including in-depth financial and market analysis around a potential merger. It seemed intimidating at first, like I was climbing a mountain on my hands while holding an egg on my feet. Suddenly I thought back to those hours I spent writing biology essays on a tree’s life cycle or reproductive systems. I just took a step back and started to see the problem as a biological entity with multiple unknowns, variables, constraints and internal dynamics. The whole frame appeared spontaneously. Rather than thinking that you will be lost in an MBA because you have an unusual background, recognize that your previous journey has written a whole subconscious methodology that you can translate into business issues.

As a veterinarian, I cannot talk to my patients; I need to develop an ability to use non-verbal cues to communicate peacefully. I need to feel, listen to my intuitions, read the weak signals in each situation and adapt my behavior in response so that I can understand another living being.


Cécile Genty, INSEAD

These basic physiological interpretations have helped me feel some of the tension, stress, and suspicion so that I can help others with different beliefs, backgrounds, or issues for their pets. The point is, vets need to develop strong interpersonal skills to be able to work with all types of clients, from all walks of life, and under all conditions. If I want my client to follow me, I have to put my feet in their shoes. This includes being able to understand the unspoken beyond their words and the emotions they share in silence, so that we can communicate clear messages. If I can’t adapt my communication style to present my hypothesis, they will never follow me or trust me. As vets, we need to give them the keys to understanding the roots of the problem and how to fix it – no different than a customer in retail or technology.

The same applies to what you learn in an MBA. You will come across many ways of thinking, sharing and communicating; being able to match that flexibility will be a powerful force. At INSEAD, we have the wonderful opportunity to be surrounded by more than 80 different nationalities and as many different past experiences. During the program, the emphasis is on teamwork and leadership development, and groups are made to embrace these different backgrounds. You will have to present your arguments, defend your hypothesis and convince your peers that your idea is THE right one. We also need to be flexible, understand radically different ways of solving problems or conveying ideas, in order to offer an original perspective. The most diverse team (nationality, gender, socio-economic background, age) generally has the best performance even if it takes longer to obtain a result.

I felt a little weird before applying for an MBA; my past has apparently made me a stranger. Admittedly, I was a little excited the first time I gave my vet perspective in class. Nonetheless, I took a deep breath, knowing that all the soft and soft skills I had learned from past experiences could be put to good use in this new environment. Companies are looking to recruit different profiles – and I hope they understand the opportunities offered by students from non-traditional backgrounds. We are ready to help them improve their performance and impact through our diverse experiences and our ability to think outside the box.

Authors biography : French Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, I previously worked as a consulting veterinarian in a referral center and I have lived in many countries. I am passionate about people and differences, driven by the desire to have a bigger impact in the world. I am an INSEAD MBA, Diversity and Inclusion Representative, deeply optimistic, curious about anything that could help me grow, and happy to share.


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