“IE continuously puts you in these situations that allow you to work with people from different countries, backgrounds and cultures.”
Sabina Iman, Azerbaijan
Strategy Director at Demtech
- Program studied
Can you tell what brought you to pursue an MBA at IE Business School?
I started to become interested in technology. There was something that was quite interesting for me, but unfortunately there weren’t so many opportunities in the local [Azerbaijani] market in that industry, which I saw as a driver for growth. When my daughter was born, I started to understand what I wanted to be in the future, where I wanted to go, and how I wanted to shape my career. That was when I understood I needed to get an MBA, and IE seemed like the perfect fit.
How did you find your current job at Demtech?
I was a part of Tech Lab at IE, where we worked with Oracle on a blockchain challenge for the telecommunications industry, specifically for Telefonica. During the pitch day, we won 2 awards as “Best Project for the Telco Industry.” It was a huge event and I posted a lot about it on Linkedin. Since it was related to blockchain, and Demtech was acquiring a client in that industry and didn’t have anyone that had both blockchain experience and business knowledge, the CEO contacted me on LinkedIn offering the opportunity. I was still finishing my MBA, so I had to shift the start to June, to then combine the internship with electives at IE for the first months. The schedule was crazy, but it helped me to understand the company dynamics, so that once I graduated I already knew what I was going to do. I started as an intern, even if I had wanted to start with a proper job. Demtech was not a big company or brand or consultancy, but the business model was very interesting to me.
What is your current position and what does the company do?
What they do is offer sales acceleration or sales consultancy to startups, trying to find the gaps and needs of a corporation, where they can match the startup solutions to the digital transformation and strategy innovation of companies. After working 6 months for Demtech, revenue went up 60% and it was a big change for the company. I then became Strategy Director and started designing the strategy for startups coming into the market. When startups launch they usually don’t have a sales strategy, they build the product and Unique Sales Proposition, but not a commercial strategy. What I do is try to commercialize their pitch and their value proposition, trying to help them understand the benefits and tangible business results if they implement the solution.
What were some of the main challenges that you encountered on your way?
When I first decided to come to do an MBA at IE, I changed geographies and industries, and that was a huge challenge for me. To do the three things at the same time, shifting from my marketing experience, changing countries, while I was also a mother, was quite challenging. Another challenge was overcoming the barriers of finding work in the European market without having EU citizenship or a work permit. I needed the company to sponsor my visa. They did because I put everything on the table and was very proactive in the process. It didn’t cost the company a lot since I was a Highly Qualified Professional (HQP) candidate. And finally, there was the challenge to stay in the company without having a permit. It required a lot of effort on my side and initially prevented me from going into a manager position.
How did your Master program and IE Business School help you through these challenges?
When I applied, I was looking for a program where I would have been able to test my entrepreneurial skills. I knew I needed some agile design thinking in my industry. IE seemed very popular for entrepreneurship, and I believed an MBA would give me a huge understanding of how businesses operate, in terms of finance, marketing, operations and strategy. It gave me a deep dive into every aspect of entrepreneurship, along with amazing professors and teamwork strategies. I had one class, “Leading People and Teams” where I had an incredible professor, Fernando Bartolome. His way of teaching by moving us through the cases, helped me to understand how you can fit in within diverse teams. IE continuously puts you in these situations and allows you to work with people from different countries, backgrounds and cultures. This is something I now do every day at Demtech, with colleagues from Colombia, Venezuela, Spain and Germany. In small companies, team relationship-building affects efficiency a lot. That understanding helped me to always foster a healthy working environment and a motivated team.
What does it mean to be a woman in the workforce, and what advice would you give to young professional women just starting their professional path?
It’s an un unusual part about my story, because usually women shift in another direction– they either quit their career or decide to devote some years to having a child. In my case, it was just another transformation. It inspired me to understand where I wanted to go in life. If I have to advise women in the workforce nowadays I would say “Be equal.” Whatever environment you operate in, even if there are a lot of men around, don’t be offended by them.
I believe that if you feel equal, you need to understand how dynamics work and the way of doing things, even jokes. Sometimes it’s just the way things have been done for years and years, especially in the tech sector which has historically been a men’s industry. Women should never take things personally, rather demonstrate yourself and what you can do. I really think we have to understand the game, and then change it little by little.