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Meet Jelena Kezika

The latest Dubai recipient of the prestigious Cass Coca-Cola Global Women’s Leadership MBA Scholarship reflects on her career to date and tells us why she chose to join Cass.

by Nahda Abdalla (Senior Communications Officer (Dubai))

Jelena Kezika is part of the 2018 cohort for the Cass Executive MBA (EMBA) in Dubai and the latest recipient of the Cass Coca-Cola Global Women’s Leadership MBA Scholarship – an innovative initiative designed to empower MBA Scholars with exceptional academic and professional achievements to become leaders of tomorrow.

Originally from Latvia, Jelena is a certified translator and holds a Master’s degree in German Philology and Translations from the University of Latvia. Having worked in Dubai for the last nine years, Jelena started out as an executive assistant before moving up the ranks to become a strategic planning director at Global Hotel Alliance (GHA), the world’s largest alliance of independent hotel brands.

What was it like growing up in Latvia?

As a child living in a country that was part of the Soviet Union, I wasn’t able to fully understand the various challenges of everyday life during the Soviet era. I was eight-years-old when Latvia gained independence and from the stories I’ve heard from my parents and grandparents, citizens were able to enjoy a greater level of freedom of social, cultural and creative expression after that.

Can you tell us about your career to date?

I started out as a translator for a construction company in Latvia, responsible for interpreting business meetings - it was a childhood dream that I am happy to have fulfilled. My job required me to travel to and from Germany, as that was where the company’s headquarters was based.

In 2009, I was offered the golden opportunity to move to Dubai and work in the IT infrastructure sector. When I arrived in Dubai, I struggled with the language-barrier at work because I couldn’t speak English. Added to that, IT was very much a male-dominated field at the time, so my next move was to explore opportunities in the hospitality sector.

I joined the Jumeirah Group and worked as personal assistant to the chief information officer for three years. It was an enormous privilege working for such a large organisation with a strong brand name. After a while, I was keen to take on more responsibility and master new skills, so HR suggested that I spend time in different departments within the organisation to understand where I could fit in. While I found that events and marketing was a good fit, I didn’t have the qualifications or the work experience to get my foot in the door. So I decided to bridge that gap by enrolling in a two-year distance learning marketing management course at the German Academy of Management.

In 2013, I landed a job at GHA as executive assistant to the CEO. It was an ideal time to join as the company has just launched its operations in Dubai and my valuable local experience came in handy. I took on tasks outside my role and raised my hand for anything and everything, from events planning and marketing to managing projects. Now that I am strategic planning director reporting directly to the CEO, I am responsible for managing the administration and protocol for matters related to the board and shareholders. My responsibilities also include planning and management of the alliance strategy board meetings, one of the main drivers of the strategic direction for the alliance. Apart from that, I look after some of the PR and CSR initiatives for the company.

What inspired you to study for an EMBA at Cass?

I chose to do an EMBA because I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, challenge myself, broaden my understanding of global business trends and develop my soft skills. One of the main factors that influenced my decision to join Cass is their world-class faculty who are not only academics but also successful entrepreneurs and renowned business practitioners. I was impressed by Cass’s approach – they take the time to understand what your goals are and why you want to do an MBA and then help lead you in the right direction. My preference was to join a global institution that is based in Dubai, and be part of a cohort that comprises students from diverse professional backgrounds who can contribute to my learning process through insightful discussions. After looking at a number of schools, I came to the conclusion that Cass is a perfect fit.

What do you hope to gain from the Cass Global Women’s Leadership Programme?

I am truly honoured to have been awarded the Cass Global Women’s Leadership Scholarship. Through the various networking opportunities and leadership events enabled by this programme, I am looking forward to meeting inspiring women and gaining the skills I need in order to lead and support the younger generation. Not everyone has equal opportunities in life and sometimes a small change can make a huge difference. My hope is that I can lead by example, inspire change in people, and transfer my knowledge and experience to my country where I started my career and where my knowledge would be of high value.

What advice would you give to women from non-business backgrounds considering an EMBA at Cass?

An EMBA is a smart investment, but you need to be ready for it. Don’t start something without a purpose. It’s important that you have a clear understanding about why you want to do an EMBA and how it will help you achieve your career goals. Speak with alumni to hear how their careers have transformed after completing an EMBA. Don’t be shy to ask for help or advice and remember that a massive change always starts with small steps.

Where would you like to be in the future – and how do you think the EMBA will help get you there?

I expect that on completion of the Executive MBA programme, I will be able to strongly contribute to developing the right business strategy for my company so that it remains competitive, innovative and financially sound. The two-year programme will strengthen my analytical skills and enable me to make decisions that will ensure my company achieves competitive results.

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