When Serena Chiesura received a brochure announcing the launch of the Università della Svizzera italiana’s first MScom class, she had no way of knowing that the program would eventually change her life. Chiesura says her leadership role as Head of Corporate Communications with the Swatch Group Ltd in Biel owes a great deal to the network of MScom Alumni.
In 1998, Chiesura was a marketing professional working for a small Lugano venture capital firm serving an international clientele. For 10 or 15 years, she had considered pursuing a graduate degree in communications, but was hesitant to leave behind her career in Lugano to attend classes in the German part of Switzerland.
“I don’t even know how it was that I received that brochure from former MScom Program Director Francesco Lurati, but it sounded like a wonderful opportunity for me to continue my education without having to leave my work or Lugano,” said Chiesura, a native of Italy who holds both Swiss and Italian citizenship. “It was a difficult time to apply for admission to the program because it was the first year; there was a very high level of competition. But I was accepted into the program and, fortunately, I was able to work out an arrangement with my employer so that I could continue working and a portion of my wages was applied to my tuition. I was so happy that my employer allowed me to do this.”
Although the 18-month program was very demanding, Chiesura said she left the program much better prepared to advance in the demanding and competitive international professional communications field. One example, she said, was the program’s emphasis on English as a common language.
“When I began in MScom, I had proficiency in English, but being able to converse proficiently is different from reading more than 30 textbooks in English and analyzing data in English,” said Chiesura. “But English is the common language in business internationally, and my English definitely was improved by the MScom experience. It was also extremely beneficial to be part of an international group of adult students from such a broad spectrum of communication backgrounds.”
Perhaps most importantly, MScom1 paved the way for participants to become communications partners in the highly competitive field of strategic corporate management. “Professionally, MScom gave me the whole picture of what it is to be a professional communicator. We learned to see all of the layers of a company from a communications point of view; for example, we learned to gather and use objective data as a measurement tool, rather than just guessing,” she explained. “We had the opportunity to experience how effective communication permeates all facets of a company, both internally and externally.”
Building mature leaders
Chiesura said MScom shapes character and builds leaders.
“While MScom is incredibly intense, the core skills it develops – teambuilding, cooperation and a big picture approach – are tools which can be applied with immediate effect at work,” she said. “The MScom experience shapes your character: It makes you become more mature and for me that is the most important component for performance and later career advancement."
As part of the first MScom class, Chiesura and her 26 classmates had the freedom to shape the future of the program and lay the foundation for what is quickly becoming a vast network of communications professionals.
“One of the greatest things was the professional network we began building with that first class, and how it has grown over the years. All of my classmates from MScom1 have very good contact with one another,” she said. “This creates not only a great base of professional support, but an enormous knowledge base. It’s also how I came to my current position. I would not be sitting where I am now if not for the professional networking and skills built up through MScom.”
The network lives on
Chiesura said further evidence of the MScom network’s value lies in the contributions it continues to make to her professional development.
“When I completed MScom more than 10 years ago, a group MScom of alumni formed a small book club which tapped into textbooks being read by current MScom classes,” she said. “Our reading club of eight MScom alumni is still meeting twice a year, all these years later. It’s a great way to stay in touch with the latest trends in communications management – and with one another.”
Though her professional role with Swatch Group Ltd, a holding company with 18 watch brands, many industrial companies, more than 30 related subsidiaries and more than 24,000 employees worldwide, is a demanding one, Chiesura remains committed to the growth and improvement of the MScom program. She is co-founder of the MScom Alumni Association and was a member of its Executive Committee for six years.
Text based on interview carried out in February 2011.