Olga Sokolova
General Director of Linxdatacenter in Russia
21.09.2021

MBA, based on personal experience: diversity, academic approach and self-understanding

What is an MBA right now – a fundamental academic education or a course on diversity and inclusion? Why do we need an MBA today – for a new approach to business or self-development? Olga Sokolova, CEO of Linxdatacenter, answers these questions based on her own MBA experience.

Olga Sokolova
General Director of Linxdatacenter in Russia

My career path   

As a specialist in the field of data center management, I grew out of the financial industry. However, my growth and development were limited by the specifics of my education and experience. I looked at the company and the IT industry from a financial perspective. One day, I realized that I needed to develop a so-called helicopter view: a comprehensive view of the company's future.

The data center market is highly competitive, with an abundance of services and products. If you want to have a deep understanding of this challenging business, you should train yourself to have a broader view in terms of multiple business directions, such as technologies, marketing, HR, project team management, etc. And that was the main purpose I had in my mind when I applied for an MBA.

Linxdatacenter’s historical connection with the Netherlands and my awareness of the regional business culture were two main factors that greatly influenced my choice of business school. In the end, I chose to study in the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) at Erasmus University. The key point for me was to explore the historical secrets of the Dutch business acumen.

Requirements and challenges

I will be direct: an MBA course is not a pleasant pastime for general development. It is important to start the course as an established leader with profound business experience. For the younger specialists, who were my classmates, it was a challenge to be focused on the process all the time and complete the training.

My real business experience helped me understand the course content much better and learn more quickly through sharing best practices with fellow students with a similar background, even though they were from other countries with different approaches and business culture.

One thing that was quite uncommon for me as a Russian was the program’s focus on the topics of diversity and inclusion with an emphasis on women. It was unusual for me to pay an increased attention to these issues because in Russia almost all career paths have been open to women since Soviet times.

At the beginning of my training, I felt a skeptical attitude with regard to my Russian origin. However, it quickly disappeared, as soon as I started showing my first results as a team member. Moreover, all the Russians who studied at the course shared a similar experience.

It is also worth mentioning that despite my educational background as an interpreter and experience working in an international company, it was a challenge for me to process the huge amounts of data in English at the beginning of my training. It took a certain period of time to adapt to it, but everything quickly returned to normal.

It turned out to be quite easy to combine study and work. It was rather a challenge, however, to combine intensive training and work with family life. It is very important to understand that getting an MBA diploma is a family matter. It would have been impossible to cope with the program without the support and understanding of my loved ones.

What I discovered while being an MBA student 

The most important insight I got on the completion of my MBA training was the return of my faith in an academic approach as a business tool. It happened right after a course on mergers & acquisitions, which was delivered by a lecturer with no business experience. The topic was extremely engaging, since our company was acquired by a consortium of three investors, and I had observed all the analyzed cases in practice.

Despite his lack of practical experience, our lecturer examined the topic in depth, as well as conducted a number of studies on mergers and acquisitions, bringing to light the fact that 90% of all M&A projects are unsuccessful. This happens due to a lack of informed goal-setting (for example, to reduce costs or increase revenue share in a particular market segment), as well as insufficient integration at the early stages of M&A transactions.

This original course on M&A showed the possibilities of using a systematic approach in the processes of asset mergers. If you as a leader look beyond your company’s position on the market and consider several points – global and industry trends, regional specifics and market players’ positions – you get a more accurate understanding of the best ways to cooperate.

I used to make decisions based on my own experience and after consulting my team. Now that I’ve got an MBA, the path to a decision lies through analyzing trends, statistics survey and other external data. The intuitive approach to decision-making has been replaced by an informed one.

This change has led me to reevaluate Russian academic education with its aspiration for global analysis and generalizations. Yes, our experts often lack a focus on a specific area and the ability to apply their knowledge in practice. But with a deep academic foundation, it is not so difficult to master it.

In the end the essay format, so popular in MBA training, played an important role for me. Most of the tasks were based on this approach: we had to express our thoughts and assessments of various practical challenges and global trends. It left me with a very good impression in comparison to cramming and repeating other experts’ thoughts, which is widely used in Russian education.

I was also excited to experience the great efficiency of multinational teams in terms of communication. Professionals from all over the world work in their own way, based on their own habits, established patterns and national mentality.

For instance, Mexican and Brazilian professionals are sensitive to personal contacts and relationships. My Chinese classmates were undeservedly modest about their successes and achievements, relying on more experienced colleagues when solving problems. Colleagues from the US know how to do PR on a professional level and are very result-oriented. The Dutch tend to have long discussions and weigh the options before making decisions. As for the Russians, we, on the contrary, start performing the task immediately, often skipping the analysis stage. As a consequence, it can affect the results. The best possible outcome is achieved when the team consists of the professionals with the various work styles balancing each other. From my perspective, the success of so-called “diversity” in teams is achieved in such a manner.

Dispelling myths 

An MBA is not a silver bullet. No one will become Steve Jobs or Elon Musk right after the training. Of course, there are born geniuses, but as for the rest of us, we have to achieve outstanding results step by step through training and personal effort. Getting an MBA is a useful learning experience, at least for getting rid of tunnel vision.

The impact of the MBA training on my personal leadership qualities was unexpectedly strong. Along with the large amount of knowledge, the training helped me a lot in improving my leadership skills, and gaining insights into how managers from various companies, industries and regions work in one direction: it’s about team motivation, self-development, and building partner relationships.

Such a strong impact was achieved through joint projects in various teams varying by task profile and national composition. It was gained through the cooperation of the RSM with business schools in several countries, such as Miami Herbert School of Business (USA), EGADE Business School of Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico), School of Management, Xiamen University (China), and FGV São Paulo School of Business Administration (Brazil).

Thanks to the heavy communications practice, it became clear that almost any task can be completed when you build productive relationships with your teammates and stay in sync with them. If your colleagues and subordinates are of different genders, nationalities, ages and locations, that all helps to get outside-the-box thinking and achieve the best possible outcomes.

My new skills and key takeaways

First of all, I improved my presentation skills. Though I have been promoting the company's solutions and its brand for a long time, I felt this was a particular point of growth for me.

Secondly, networking skills: this term is commonly defined as the ability to get the right types of assistance from the right people. Over the course of my MBA training, I came up with another definition of networking. It is rather the ability to verify your decisions with the right professionals and collect their feedback into a single vision.

It allows you to get rid of the straightforward managerial approach and become a leader who knows how to attract the required talents to develop solutions of the highest quality.

The most valuable insight I gained was that in the course of the training you discover your strong points and start realizing which kind of teams and communication styles help you show them. It helps you to better understand yourself, and to get your business processes and your life in general to the proper place and with the right people.

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business challenge

The customer faced a technical issue with a persistent BGP session flag with Linxdatacenter hardware. We examined the problem and found out that one of customer’s hosts was under a DDoS attack.

Because of the distributed nature of the attack, traffic couldn’t be filtered effectively, and disconnecting the host from the external network wasn’t an option. The attack stopped after changes in the server configuration, but resumed the day after. A 5.5 Gbps attack overloaded the junctions with internet providers, affecting other Linx Cloud users. To mitigate the effects of the attack, we employed a dedicated DDoS protection service.

Solution

To ensure the continuous availability of resources hosted in Linx Cloud, we rerouted all the customer’s traffic through StormWall Anti-DDoS system. The attack was stopped within half an hour. To prevent future cyberattacks, we organized all connections to the customer’s resources through the StormWall network.

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