Maria Belentsova is currently the Head of Market Research; Brand Advisor & Consumer Insights Manager Beiersdorf CIS – Beiersdorf

Her work ethic and desire to learn in a multicultural environment meant that FBL proved the perfect fit and aligned with a desire to learn about herself as a leader

An important part of Maria Belentsova's working ethos is rooted in a question she asks herself on a daily basis: how best to bring added value to the business? She found that this same question was asked of participants during the Foundations for Business Leadership (FBL)programme at IMD. "I think this programme was therefore a perfect match with my personality, and by repeatedly asking this question, really brought me to the next level of what added value means," says Maria.

Wishing to expand her leadership skills, Maria had searched for a course that covered many different aspects of what it means to be a leader. "I concluded that FBL was the best open programme because it offers a very rare holistic approach," she explains. "It doesn't just cover one angle like entrepreneurship, finance or strategy, but is everything at once and that's really unique as you have the full package in three weeks," she adds.

Maria travelled to IMD from the Russian Federation, where she works as Head of Market Research and Brand Advisor at Beiersdorf, the German skincare company whose brands include Labello, Nivea and Elastoplast. Her interest in working for an international company had always been influenced by her fascination for different nationalities, which led her to study international and cross-cultural management, before developing her career first in L’Oréal, then Beiersdorf.

For Maria, a very attractive quality of FBL was therefore the cultural diversity of its attendees. "It was important for me that the class should be very diverse in terms of cultures - more than industry-type - because of my first education. That's why it was great to finally be able to experience and learn about all these nationalities so long after graduating. This was especially useful during the team exercises and I learned a lot from that," she says.

Interacting in teams comprising Kenyans, Japanese and Chinese, which she had never had the opportunity to work with previously, Maria examined case studies as part of the programme. The executive says these offered a practical approach to business and were "well designed and extremely high quality.”

The international teams also took part in business simulations over two days, during which they competed with each other. In previous FBL modules, participants had learned about strategy implementation. The simulations gave them a chance to see how their strategies faired, compared to the other groups.

"This was so much fun because we had an ability to pack six years of business into two days and see the results," says Maria. "I learned a lot about myself as a leader, how I interact with people, the way I implement my strategy, and how I make decisions," she adds.

After the programme, Maria felt she was returning to her job with a broader perspective, believing that FBL helped her see the bigger picture about what it is to be a leader. “The programme shows you many aspects of being a general manager because you are doing everything: different projects, marketing, cash flow, risk evaluation, which you don’t do on a daily basis back in the office,” she says. "[In my job now] it's no longer just about marketing anymore, but about all the business processes that are taking place in my company."

As for the future, Maria might one day look to set up her own company and says FBL prepared the way. "I was inspired by FBL's entrepreneurship module and this created a great basis for a time when I might want to set up my own business," she says.

Maria’s overall impression of FBL? "Above all expectations," she enthuses.

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