Half-body shot of Ellen Carey in a cream suit, looking towards the camera
An executive education course helped Ellen Carey rediscover a green tech career path © Anika Buessemeier

I am a long way from home, which is Oklahoma City. Now, I live in Munich, in Germany. By moving internationally, I also found myself detached from my core mission, which is working with technologies that are good for the climate and society.

I started my career in Washington DC, working with tech that advances our climate goals. During the 2012 presidential election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, I worked on a national campaign to extend US policy on wind energy. I’ve always been passionate about technology that contributes to climate, environmental and economic progress.

In 2018, I moved to Munich for family reasons and got a job with Samsung, which at that point was building an advanced driver-assistance system. In doing so, I ended up moving away from environmental tech. I felt like I was missing a limb.

Working internationally, I felt it necessary to broaden my skills, now that I was handling different cultural dynamics and learning how to drive business value on a bigger scale.

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I picked IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, because it has a good reputation, especially for its European network of professors and peers. This was also when we were coming out of Covid-19. I had been working virtually and alone for a year and I craved personal interaction and community. IMD scheduled the Transition to Business Leadership programme thoughtfully, with all necessary health provisions so it would be safe to attend classes in person.

The programme turned out to be exactly the right fit because of its blend of strategy and personal growth — basically, how do you prepare yourself for moving on from being a senior manager to whatever comes next? I used to think that people who are, for example, great speakers are just naturally good at it. Coming out of the programme, I realised how much personal work it takes to be a good leader and that the people I assumed were naturals were doing a lot of work to grow — it requires continuous effort.

The course, with about 25 participants, lasted four weeks in total — two weeks in April last year and two weeks in June. It was structured from the individual outwards, meaning the first week we focused on ourselves, our relationships with influence and power, and our own history. Then, we looked at how best to lead a team and, finally we focused on leading a company, especially during transition and change.

My favourite part was the individual work at the beginning. I left with a greater sense of my own behaviour and why I sometimes act in different ways. Figuring out the kind of leader you want to be is key to strategy.

This very personal experience at the beginning of the programme meant we all got to understand each other, and so we wanted to stay in touch and support one another. It was actually through a classmate that I got the job I’m in now. I already knew I would leave Samsung, and so I started helping him with a project that gave me a reason to reconnect with my old network in the US.

The whole thing helped me feel bolder and I started to put myself out there under my own personal brand, rather than being behind a company. At one point I did a virtual panel on energy security and one of my fellow panellists came to me afterwards and said: “Why don’t you come work for us?” That’s how I ended up becoming vice-president for global policy and public affairs at Circulor, which provides supply chain traceability and dynamic CO2 tracking. It was serendipitous but also felt very authentic.

I use a lot of stuff that I learn at IMD in my day-to-day work. I try actively to be present wherever I am or whomever I’m with so that I can truly see the value that we have right in front of us. Also, having my friends from the programme who are from Germany, Switzerland and all over has made me feel more comfortable that I can work internationally.

I don’t think I would have ever guessed that I would end up living in Germany. But, sometimes you find yourself juggling career and the personal and, as in my case, making an international move. It really is a journey to get all those pieces in place so you can be your best self.

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