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My Story – Linda Benzid (EMBA 2021): balancing career, family, an Executive MBA and… rally raids!

From a management position in a multinational company to a rally raid in the Argentinian desert, and now the EDHEC Campus in Paris… Linda Benzid’s story is about much more than a career.

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13 Mar 2020
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From a management position in a multinational company to a rally raid in the Argentinian desert, and now the EDHEC Campus in Paris… Linda Benzid’s story is about much more than a career. She looks back on her rich professional and personal journey and gives us a glimpse of what her future holds.  

 

What was your professional situation when you started EDHEC Executive MBA, in February 2019?

I was – and I still am – National Key Account Manager at Manpower. I started in the company in 1999 as a Recruitment officer, then I became Agency Manager. I managed one, two, and up to three agencies. Between 2011 and 2016, I spent a few years in the very masculine automobile industry, at PSA Group – first in B2B, then as National Key Account Manager for the three brands of the Group. Finally, I came back to Manpower in 2016. In the meantime, I’ve developed many projects on the personal side: I created an NGO, Les Petits Oliviers, and participated in several rally raids… among other things!

 

Could you tell us more about your NGO, Les Petits Oliviers?

In 2009, I was looking for a way to help the rural Kabyle village where my family is from, in Algeria. It’s a beautiful place, but it lacked facilities and living spaces. A library seemed like a good idea: it’s a place where everyone can meet, especially young people. With the support of the region, the project became reality in 2019. This library offers books but also games, toys and includes a meeting room, an internet café, and there is also a sports association in the same building. 

 

When did you participate in your first rally raid?

I did my first race as a pilot in 2015, for the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles, which enable us to support humanitarian projects. My copilot and I had to start by setting up the project, finding a car and sponsors. As I was working at PSA at the time, I thought it would be simple… But they couldn’t sponsor a non-professional team like ours. Instead, we solicited our own networks as well as local companies in our cities. Most of them were really encouraging. Their enthusiasm was very motivating. 

Then, the race itself was an extraordinary experience. We spent eight days in the heart of the desert, without a phone, with only a compass and a map to guide us. We had only military rations to eat, and at night we would all bivouac in the desert. 

This kind of race is not about speed: it’s about driving the least number of kilometers possible to rally the finish. Asking for technical assistance is possible but it gives us penalties, so we are encouraged to help each other out instead and it creates a real sense of solidarity between teams.

 

Have you participated in other rally raids since then?

Yes! In 2016, new sponsors joined us and we went back to the desert. Same in 2018, except this time we went to Argentina, for the Trophée Roses des Andes

 

When is the next one?

Next Fall, I will discover a new Latin American country for the Bolivie Aventura Cup, another women’s race. With my copilot, we support an NGO that helps young people of La Paz through sports. This time, the main challenge will be to deal with altitude: we will drive at up to 5,800 meters, versus “only” 4,800 meters in Argentina. We will definitely have to surpass ourselves…

To fund this project, I got a new sponsor: EDHEC! I’m so glad they accepted. As I represent all the women who go back to school to develop their leadership and aim for executive positions, I think I embody a powerful message that resonates with the school’s DNA. 

“For the Bolivie Aventura Cup, I got a new sponsor: EDHEC! As I represent all the women who go back to school to develop their leadership and aim for executive positions, I think I embody a powerful message that resonates with the school’s DNA.”

 

Why did you feel the need to start an Executive MBA?

I started working when I was quite young, and I mostly learned by doing. I’ve evolved quite a lot: in 2019, I was already managing a major portfolio in my company. But at forty, I was wondering about the future: how to go further? What do I really want to pursue? In what direction do I want to evolve? I felt that if I wanted to open new perspectives for myself, I not only needed to get a recognized degree but also to strengthen my skills in strategic fields, such as Finance. 

A friend told me about EDHEC Executive MBA and advised me to contact the school. I was afraid I did not have the required academic level for such a prestigious school, but I tried anyway. I told myself that if I could make it through a rally raid in the desert, I could probably take up the challenge of being a student again! The people I talked to at EDHEC reassured me about the open-mindedness of the school and its focus on motivation and entrepreneurial spirit. So, I decided to go for it. 

“At forty, I not only needed to get a recognised degree but also to strengthen my skills in strategic fields, such as Finance.”

 

You have balanced a career, personal projects, family life and now an EMBA – what advice would you give an executive wondering how to add a training programme to an already busy schedule?

Now my children are older – my daughter is a student, and my son is in middle school. So maybe it’s easier for me than for families with younger kids. I could explain my project to them, and they were able to understand why my schedule was going to be more intense for sixteen months. They supported me straight away. And today, we find it funny that we all have homework to do at night… 
But whether you have toddlers or teenagers, I think it is all manageable with a little organization. Especially as you share these issues with your classmates: you can talk about it, share your experience, support one another. Most of the time, we remind ourselves that it’s only for sixteen months. It’s like a race: once you’ve crossed the finish line you only remember the good times and you forget about the harder moments. 

 

You have not fully completed your EMBA yet. But how do you look at this experience, at this point?

The first two months were really intense for me. Honestly, I even wondered if I was able to go further! But I felt responsible because I had been lucky enough to get financing – so I held on. I’m glad I did! After a while, I found my balance. The curriculum is amazing, from the classes to the business trips – I discovered Tokyo and Seattle. But if I had to highlight one single thing it would be the Consulting Project. I have used it as an opportunity to build my next project: in 2021, I’m launching the first women’s race in electric vehicles, mixing cars and trekking. A new adventure… 

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