Growing up as an Argentinian in Spain gave Cintia Tavella an appetite for adventure. She learnt how to build a home anywhere in the world — from Spain, she went to Singapore, where she gained an MBA from leading business school INSEAD. There, she climbed the ranks to become Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships at Expedia Partner Solutions. Now, Tavella is gearing up for the next phase of her adventure in the US.
As you can imagine, her industry was hit hard over the past year. One of the toughest parts was seeing colleagues and friends struggle to stay afloat, especially after losing their jobs. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was so oblivious to the complexity and also the frequency of mental challenges many of us face. Being there, every day, to support your team members while trying to stay afloat between home learning sessions with young kids, no boundaries between private life and work, being far from family members — all of these have made us all more resilient, more empathetic, more compassionate and more human overall,” she shares.
Some of this careerwoman’s best strengths include collaborating across multiple cultures and teams. You may think she owes this to her global exposure, but Tavella believes they even trace back to her years of synchronised swimming competitions. “When you need to synchronise every movement with a team of eight underwater, without talking or even breathing and still looking beautifully pretty to the spectator, a lot of mindful listening is required, along with sensing where every team member is going and what their next move is going to be,” she shares as part of her INSEAD’s Limitless 2.0 campaign profile.
Limitless 2.0 celebrates outstanding women MBA graduates who push their own limits to emerge as leaders in their respective fields. The INSEAD MBA programme was ranked #1 in the world this year by Financial Times, with a nod to its diversity. Over 350 women join the INSEAD MBA programme each year, forming 35% of its student cohort. Here’s what she had to say in our exclusive interview.
“Without fear, the world is truly your oyster.” What does this quote mean to you? Tell us about an instance where you overcame fear to pursue an opportunity, and it paid off.
For me, it means that when we put fears aside and stop being paralysed by our or other’s limiting beliefs, we can achieve anything. The world becomes truly your oyster. Most of the time, we are our own biggest obstacles to our own happiness and success. A key instance for me took place one year after graduating from my INSEAD MBA, in December 2008 and in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). I was let go of my associate job at Citi Investment Banking, with student loans to pay, very far from home in Singapore and with no clarity about what I would do and how I would find a job in the midst of the largest financial crisis in history.
I remember that one day in the middle of all that anxiety while sending hundreds of CVs a week and probably feeling overwhelmed by the uncertainty, I stepped back and thought: what’s the worst that can happen? Immediately all those fears dissipated. At most, I would go back “home” and find a way to get back on track. Sometimes our own fears limit us from taking the leap of faith to do bigger things in life. The last 15 years in Singapore ended up being one of the most prolific periods of my personal and professional life!
How did your MBA experience help shape your professional and personal perspectives today?
The MBA at INSEAD opened up an entire world of possibilities for me that I would have not had access to otherwise. Changing career, function, geography all at once, switching from being a lawyer in Spain to an investment banker in Singapore, would have never been possible for me without the MBA at INSEAD. Additionally, most of my new roles after the MBA have been linked to a connection to the INSEAD alumni network. Without that network, I would have not reached the leadership development and the professional achievements I’ve achieved to date.
As President of the Board of INSEAD Alumni Association, how would you describe the benefits of staying in touch with your alumni network?
The best of INSEAD starts once you finish the MBA. With a network of over 60,000 alumni across more than 175 countries, there is no other alumni community that is as diverse and unique as the INSEAD alumni. Wherever you go in the world and whatever industry or sector you could think about there would be an INSEAD alumnus that you can connect with. Being the President of the INSEAD Alumni Association of Singapore for the past four years made me realise the immense value and power of such a unique network. As the newly elected President of the INSEAD Alumni Association in the US, I’m conscious that we have a mission and responsibility to elevate the brand and reputation of INSEAD in the US and make everyone in the US see the huge value of diversity and global reach of the business school for the world, INSEAD.
What are some unique challenges you faced studying, working, and living abroad as a woman, and how did you tackle them?
“Abroad” is a weird term for a person that considers herself a citizen of the world. I was born in Argentina and lived there untilI was nine years old, after which my parents moved to Spain where I spent 17 years. I have now been in Asia for 15 years and I am on my way to Seattle, US for my next adventure.
For me “abroad” is “home” and home is being abroad. I believe that gender is one of many discrimination angles but being absolutely honest and coming from a humble, low-income family, I believe there is much more discrimination driven by income levels and access to education than by gender diversity. However, when you compound female and low income, the obstacles grow exponentially, leaving very few chances of success. That is the main reason why I have set up the Women’s Leaders Scholarship at INSEAD, a scholarship for women leaders from under-represented regions (Latin America and Africa), in order to give them access to higher education and a world of possibilities — like the one that opened up for me.
What are the benefits of having more women leaders in the tourism and hospitality sector?
In travel and tourism, as in many other industries today, women make around 80% of the purchase decisions! That means that if you want to captivate your number one decision-makers, you need to have decision-makers in the organisation that also represent that segment, whether that’s women, persons with disabilities, or LGBTQIA+ representatives. I emphasise the point about “decision-makers” because it is not just about the number of women in the organisation but whether that diverse population has any decision-making power.