Completing an EMBA Degree Remotely - "I Didn't Let the Situation Bother Me"

Anne Remes, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Helsinki, applied to the Aalto Executive MBA program in order to learn more about leadership principles and structures. In the end, she completed her studies almost fully online.

Anne Remes received her Executive MBA diploma in spring 2022. She had completed most of the studies online, which came with many perks. The online studies meant she could stay in her hometown close to her colleagues. Photo: Heli Sorjonen

Anu Haapala, 22.08.2022

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When Anne Remes – a medical doctor, neurologist, and professor of neurology – was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Oulu in 2017, she found herself thinking that certain leadership principles and structures must apply to any discipline. She wanted to learn more about these topics, and when she had the opportunity to apply for the Aalto Executive MBA program, she decided to seize it.

In March 2020, only a couple of months into her studies, the Covid-19 pandemic forced schools and universities all around the world to close their campuses. Also Aalto EE rapidly shifted from face-to-face to online teaching.

I’ve often said that I’m at my best under pressure when my adrenaline levels go up."

A similar transition took place at Remes’s workplace, resulting in an increased workload for the university staff. As dean, it was Remes’s task to ensure everything was in line with rules and regulations. She’s a type of person who acts when something drastic happens, so it suited her well.

“I’ve often said that I’m at my best under pressure when my adrenaline levels go up. Of course, it’s important not to be too stressed and for the situation not to continue for too long.”

“When it came to my studies, I didn’t let the situation bother me,” she says.

"I now know more about myself"

Remes received her Executive MBA diploma in spring 2022. She had completed most of the studies online, which came with many perks.

At the start of the pandemic, Remes continued to work at the University of Oulu; the online studies meant she could stay in her hometown close to her colleagues.

“In that situation and as a leader it was comforting to stay close to my work community.”

On a personal note, the spring of 2020 turned out to be the last one for her aged dog, and Remes was able to spend plenty of time with her dear family member for the last months of its life.

I’ve realized that when my studies require my full attention, I prefer peace and quiet instead of a classroom full of people around me."

A significant part of the EMBA studies involves identifying personal core qualities, strengths, and weaknesses; understanding the type of person and leader one is.

“I now know more about myself, and I’ve realized that when my studies require my full attention, I prefer peace and quiet instead of a classroom full of people around me.”

“When studies are delivered online, there’s less room for venting and exchanging thoughts – an integral part of my work and discipline – but I do prefer staying in my own bubble when learning new theories and concepts.”

Besides, her studies weren’t only online. Remes and four other participants from her EMBA cohort worked on a six-month business project getting together in Helsinki once a month.

“Carrying out the project completely online might have been difficult. Some of the other teams did that, but we felt it was important to meet up.”

She’d spend the train journey to Helsinki and other parts of the country on pre- and post-lecture assignments.

“The trips could take six or seven hours, which is excellent for working! On a train, the presence of other people doesn’t bother me at all because I don’t know anyone, and while I sit there, I cannot procrastinate because there’s nothing else to do.”

Despite studying online, Remes feels that her group bonded well. According to her, everyone was highly motivated, and the study process made one interested in others.

The program was also carried out creatively.

“For example, during a few modules, we were sometimes asked to go out for a walk and listen to a podcast episode. We’d then come back for a group assignment or to discuss the topic. This ensured that participants took breaks and got some fresh air during the day – after all, walking improves cognitive functions and learning.”

New challenges

At the beginning of her EMBA journey, Remes didn’t consider changing jobs, but in spring 2021, she decided to apply for the esteemed position of Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Helsinki and was selected for the position. She feels the EMBA experience contributed significantly to the career shift.

“I’d worked in Oulu for a long time and knew most of the people in the community even longer, as I’d also been a medical student there. Now that I’ve started in a new position surrounded by people new to me, I’ve listened and observed their behavior in a whole new way.”

Now that I’ve started in a new position surrounded by people new to me, I’ve listened and observed their behavior in a whole new way."

She says the studies have made her more open-minded and appreciative of diversity, a range of personalities, and competencies. In practice, the experience has helped her select her own team in Helsinki.

“I’ve realized that a team needs different kinds of people and the types of people I need around me. I no longer look for people like me, but those who will bring something that I lack.”

Remes believes that along with her age and lengthy experience, the EMBA studies have made her a better leader.

“I’ve gained a better understanding of where to focus my attention as a leader and how to look to the future, taking risks and uncertainty into account. Most importantly, I’ve realized that a leader does not have to be superhuman.”

Aalto EMBA challenges and stimulates, boosting highly experienced professionals to succeed further in senior leadership roles. The program strengthens and upskills participants’ ability and confidence to lead people and organizations at a top level. It cultivates strategic thinking and leadership capabilities in a global context and offers an invaluable professional network for life. Read more

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