HEC Paris Leaders of Tomorrow Series

From Human Resources to Social Entrepreneurship with the HEC Paris
Executive MBA

Rachel Bourgeois has always worked with people—mostly at corporations.

But after earning her EMBA at HEC Paris, she is following her passion and launching her own company: Tinywork. It is France’s first network of co-working spaces with childcare, dedicated to teleworkers in lower-income neighborhoods.

It was important to Rachel to find a way to offer on-site childcare and professional services to help struggling parents maintain their jobs, secure a return to work, and improve their employability.

Choosing a new path

Rachel made the decision to return to school four years ago, after she had twin sons. “When they were born, I went back to work and asked myself quite a lot of questions about my family and professional life and how to handle them both,” she said. “At the same time, having children inspired me to go back a bit to my own roots.”

Those roots are in the Midwestern state of Ohio, where her entrepreneurial family has owned their own businesses for several generations. “I decided to put my career on hold and give myself the opportunity to explore having my own business,” she said. “The best way to do that, in my opinion, was to go back to school.”

Rachel chose HEC Paris because of its stellar reputation—in particular, that of its entrepreneurial program. “I have no regrets whatsoever with that choice,” she said.

Learning to lead

Rachel began her career in project management, but soon realized how strategic the human element is in successful projects. Her goal in both her life and career became to help others fulfill their potential.  “I love working with people,” she explains. “Working in human capital management came naturally to me.”

She was successful in human resources for over 15 years, working in the US, Japan and Europe, culminating in a role as Human Resources Director for Tokio Marine Kiln. Rachel noticed, however, that despite her extensive work experience, she was missing several important aspects of management. Moreover, she realized she had focused on the leadership development of others throughout her career, but not for herself. At HEC, she was finally the one growing and developing.

“At HEC, I was not working to develop other leaders but developing my own leadership skills,” she said. “I learned about my own values and how they influence my own leadership style and how to use them to understand how others also see me as a leader. The biggest takeaway is we focus very much on the fact that leadership is not about being a leader, it’s about having followers. I think that is something we don’t do enough of, especially in the corporate world.”

Rachel knew she was lacking in knowledge about finance, and was glad that HEC focused on the subject at many different levels. “That was completely new for me,” she said. “My learning curve was huge.” She also didn’t know much about marketing before entering the program. “The most important thing I learned is the strategic aspect and just how strategic it is in business, and how marketing is integrated into the business strategy and influences the business strategy,” she said. “I’m living that hands-on right now.”

Specializing within the program

One of the highlights of Rachel’s experience was participating in the Social Business Certificate. “It shaped my future,” Rachel said. “I had little idea about social business until I went to HEC. I wasn’t quite ready to make my decision concrete to opt out of a corporate career and turn toward founding a social business, but the Certificate allowed me to do that.”

Focusing on HEC’s Entrepreneur Project Accelerator, Rachel worked intensely to turn her business idea into a business. “It really pushed us on the idea, problem, solution and financing,” she said of the program. “It was an amazing experience.”

After the plan was fully developed, each student had to prepare a 5-, 10- and 20-minute pitch, which they then presented to their cohorts in Paris and San Francisco. “The greatest thing at HEC was that no one in the room had any negative thoughts about anyone pitching,” she said. “There were all positive vibes on helping one another build our ideas, find the solutions and translate those solutions into a pitch, even if many of us were a little worried about pitching.”

A human element

Rachel said she had originally looked at HEC as a professional career move, but it turned out to be much more than that. “It was an amazing human experience in a way I wasn’t expecting and that was a surprise for me,” she said. “We had an amazing cohort in terms of nationalities and camaraderie. It probably influenced me to continue my battle for diversity and inclusion. I was very motivated and inspired by my classmates and I feel in a way I also owe them something by continuing this project that was born from my contacts with them.”

Rachel graduated in December 2020. She had hoped to open her business right away, but the pandemic threw a wrench in her plans, so this next year will be dedicated to opening her first brick-and-mortar site. “I am working very hard on financials and marketing,” she said. “I have had some interesting conversations and have a lot of people continue to inspire and motivate me to continue.”


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About the Author

HEC Paris specializes in education and research in management sciences. As a leading academic institution in Europe and worldwide, HEC Paris offers a complete and unique range of education programs for students and executive education programs for leaders.