Among the lively and diverse participants of the UCLouvain BMI International Executive MBA class XI, Ignace Mullens stands out as a volcano of energy and ambition. That’s true both professionally – at 26 he is a cybersecurity manager at PwC Belgium – and personally – he just finished his first Ironman competition, for example. We sat down to chat with Ignace about what brought him to BMI, what he found here, and what comes after the EMBA.
Q: Tell us about yourself and the path that led you to BMI Executive Institute.
Ignace: I am Belgian, originally from Hasselt. In my studies and work until now I’ve focused on business and IT – on bridging the gap between the technical side of IT and the related business needs and strategies that come along with it. I help both sides understand and talk to each other so that each side will be able to make the right decisions in terms of cybersecurity, governance, compliance, risk, and so on.
After my bachelor’s, I wanted to get out and acquire experience rather than follow a master’s programme immediately. I started at a consulting firm and had the opportunity to start at a big international financial client, for whom I traveled around Belgium, Germany, and France implementing cybersecurity frameworks and helping with various certifications. It was a great learning environment – a large organisation, diverse people, different functions and business needs, and strict regulators.
Relatively soon I transitioned to PwC. That was a big career jump – a motivating experience for me that if you really want something and you put your energy into it, you can achieve it. In fact, since I was young, I’ve wanted to do big, interesting, exciting things. Not average, boring things. That means setting your mind on a goal and putting all your energy, commitment, and drive into it. A great source of inspiration has always been my uncle who was the CEO of a global chemical and pharma company. It made me ask myself, “Why can’t I do extraordinary things?”
Anyway, that is how I look at obstacles and challenges, and here I am now at PwC, continuing my learning path. I’ve positioned myself more on the human aspect of cybersecurity. On a day-to-day basis, I meet both with clients in the boardroom, middle management, and with solution experts. It is a big challenge, how to approach each of the different functions, areas, and people, but there are a lot of learning opportunities there. And then last year, at the start of the COVD-19 pandemic, I decided to pursue an EMBA.
Q: What made you decide to go for an EMBA? And why at BMI?
Ignace: The decision came in the context of COVID. I was struggling with what to do with the free time I suddenly had. Before the pandemic, I was full-time on the road working with clients at their offices, doing crazy hours, and loving the intensity of it. Early on, I decided to invest a lot in the career aspect of life and that was going well. With COVID though I really had to think about how to manage and navigate the uncertainty. Previously an EMBA was not even on my radar. Then my mentality changed to “I can do this” and I wanted to do it right.
So I browsed quite a lot of EMBA programmes, gradually defining what I wanted to achieve. BMI was leading my selection, given the great modules, and with travel cut off by COVID, it was close by. But especially important to me, BMI’s programme was shorter – 12 months. Like a speed boat. It’s a very fast EMBA programme. I don’t mind studying extra nights if it means I’m ready in one year instead of two. It’s much more efficient, money and time-wise and that’s what attracted me.
I also chose BMI for how flexible and helpful the staff was during the initial stages. Every single interaction was nice and cooperative. BMI states that they don’t want to be a big business school’ because then you would lose part of the personalised experience. Each person fits into the group. We have such a good dynamic. Even when we started with the virtual courses, it worked smoothly. Then we went on-site, and it was a fun and exciting experience. You really get to know your classmates and professors.
Q: You’re well into the programme now – what are the results? How are you using the knowledge from the EMBA in your daily work?
Ignace: We’ve completed over half the topics now and I’m loving it. We have a great cohort and we have great professors. I am learning quite a lot of new topics and new ways of approaching areas outside of my comfort zone.
Sometimes it’s quite hectic to combine work, sport and an EMBA programme but at the same time, it is enjoyable. It made me more proactive about balancing all the variables in life and being more flexible. The challenges are committing the time, blocking it in your agenda for courses, and then focusing on it and not having one eye on your mailbox or your phone, but being 100% in the course.
I am applying a lot of what I’m learning. Interactions with cohort members and professors in class, the documentation, tooling, and various frameworks. Sometimes for cases, I pick a topic from my work or a client and spend two or three days researching it, really going in-depth. You present it to the group, and they criticize it and give you some feedback and pointers for improvement. Then you go back to the real world, apply it, and see that things go smoother than before.
In short, I already see a return on my EMBA investment. It’s giving me more knowledge and experience, making me better positioned for the various work and life-related challenges and obstacles. I am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had and the great people around me.
Q: What key success factors do you see in your career?
Ignace: One thing is certain in that I learned right away to find good mentors, in the workplace and within the class at BMI – I use my mentors as a sounding board of people I can just talk to and they’ll put what I say into perspective, or ask me questions. They make me think more and better, helping to connect the dots.
It helps me tremendously to have people with whom I can just openly share problems and issues. You get many solutions and advice.
Q: Your drive and ambitions aren’t limited just to professional matters. You recently completed your first Iron Man triathlon – a combination of swimming, cycling, and running. How and why did you do that?
Ignace: I’ve always been intrigued by extreme things. Things not a lot of people have done or would do. Things that give you energy and are memorable. Where you need to plan, manage and prepare for. Where you need endurance and the right mental state. I was looking for fun sports activities to do, then, when the borders opened here in Europe last summer I went to Austria. I cycled into the mountains and at the top recalled there is an Iron Man competition here every year, why not participate?
Wondering if that was even achievable for me, I looked up the distances, cut-off times, and training plans. With a full year of prep time, it seemed doable, so I just committed to it and then started my training. I got a personal trainer, adjusted what I was eating somewhat, but the training plan was on the calendar and followed through (while also doing the EMBA and dealing with increased responsibility at PwC).
The Iron Man happened on August 29th, and I really enjoyed the experience. It was cold but fun. And I have already registered myself to do the IronMan all over again next year, will try to improve my timing.
Thank you for the talk and we wish you success in future challenges!