Meet Margarida Fezas Vital, a successful Nova SBE alumna, in an exclusive interview where she shared how she worked in the Innovation and Digital, mainly in business development and strategy positions. In this interview, Margarida told us how she is passionate about building bridges between companies and people, developing innovative solutions “for [a] good” cause, and being a mentor to young talent.
What are you currently doing? And what is the most rewarding characteristic of your career?
I currently head Business Development for Southern Europe at Uber, working on some exciting projects to support our sustainable growth while reinforcing our commitment to the cities and the environment. And also to the people who choose Uber as their platform of choice to work with and ride/eat/move. As someone who loves change and new opportunities, my career has given me a great mix of working with some of the most innovative techs, some of the best talents from around the globe, and a multi-country exposure, including having to understand local cultures and consumption habits, regulations, and traveling. It's the unique combination of the three that makes it incredibly rewarding.
What encourage you to live abroad? Why London and then Spain?
I don’t think there was one factor, but rather a was a mix. My upbringing, because parents always told me to follow my dreams and fly high and never felt I was locked to Portugal, the passion for knowing more cultures, meeting different people, and challenging myself to leave the comfort zone. And serendipity. There was a brand new and cool graduate program in London that Telefonica was launching, and I couldn’t resist!
London is, still today (let’s see what happens with Brexit) the most innovative Hub in Europe: a true melting pot of cultures, and where tech is advancing, and people are willing to try/test new things. With a job opportunity, these London characteristics, and a handful of friends (and boyfriend at the time who is now current husband) moving there, it was a no brainer.
Madrid is a funny story. Working at Telefonica for over five years, it was the obvious move for a long time, one that I battled and avoided every six months (I swear I had that discussion with HR and top management every six months at least). Then life got in the way, and for personal reasons, I had to come home. And then, I had the amazing opportunity to join Uber (at the time the only big American/global tech giant I hadn’t work within my roles at Telefonica). The role was based in Lisbon, which was perfect, as a challenge, and, above all, the team was just a dream. Eight months later, though, a growth opportunity in Madrid came along, and I couldn’t refuse it. As I usually joke about, you can see how the speed of Uber compares to Telefonica.
Who or what experiences had an impact on your career path?
In this case, who is an immense list of people I'm very grateful to have crossed paths with since my Nova SBE time. From mentors and faculty at Nova SBE to mentors at Telefonica and my family (especially my husband, who always pushes me when I go down the "I don't know if I can do it" spiral). It's a constant questioning of where I can improve, what else I can do, and if I am happy, followed by conversations with mentors.
Experiences, I would say constant changes. I think I never had one direct manager for more than one year. Most of them were probably around for six months because companies restructure to grow and strive (to survive), jobs change, and people change. I've learned to surf the wave or go to the hurricane's eye to look for opportunities on how I can be of value to the companies and my teams and grow. I lost count on the reorgs, managers, different job titles I had. In the end, it's all about the value you add and the value it gives you.
What do you know now that you would have liked to know when you were graduating?
Change and uncertainty can be motors for positive change and personal growth, despite being scary and intense. Embracing change and being an optimist during those times can boost your personal growth and your career more than anything else you could think of.
Why this area of expertise? What did you bring with you that helped you on this path?
I still don’t know if it was because my father was an engineer, me liking to be different and choosing paths of learning instead of areas I feel comfortable in, my passion for fast pacing environments (I’ll blame astrology on this one!), or our professor Elizabete who inspired me to follow the telco area. Or serendipity/destiny/luck.
The fast pace that we experience during our undergraduate and Master's at Nova SBE, combined with my energy and openness to change, helped me adapt and learn fast. Joining a Telco and understanding core tech and infrastructure while learning about the new technologies coming into digital was only possible due to that background. It can be challenging for a young woman with an Economics and Management background to sit in meetings with 50-year-old male engineers, but you know what? I managed, I loved it and learned a lot. It felt almost like another degree.
And to this day, game theory applied to business is still one of the most relevant things to my day-to-day. Negotiation, understanding people's incentives, it might sound silly that out of all the amazing things we learn at University, I pick a game theory, but it is indeed the concept I refer to the most.
Which skills have you acquired with your academic experience, and what skills have been vital for your career?
Perseverance – I was very impulsive and didn't like to do the same thing for long. I remember the frustration I felt while I was on the L'Oréal Brandstorm game (we won the nationals that year!). Our professor Luísa Agante telling us, "you have to dig deeper" to find the "ah-ah moment," and really understand what the need was. This was the first time I realized it was something I had to work on, and today is one of the aspects people recognize me for in all year-end 360 assessments.
Rigor – Nova SBE and the Bachelor's in Economics degree taught me quite a bit about being thorough and questioning things before accepting them as truth. I think this is still vital today as people come to me for honest opinions and try and break their logic or projects so we can find where the mistakes are and correct them in advance of a launch/presentation.
Structured creative process – One of the great things about the Master's in Management for me was contact with companies. During the Brand Management course, I had the opportunity to work with Magnum to suggest a new product segment. I wanted to be a Brand Manager, and as a creative person, I was more of a bubbly idea generator but then how do you choose one that makes sense? The structure we've learned helped to really understand the company, positioning, branding, target audience, market gaps, etc., and it taught me how to produce creative ideas that make sense! The ones that will add value to the P&L.
How did you land your first job after graduating? What steps did you take, and what advice would you give to those starting out?
The recipe is a simple five-step list that, by the way, I still use whenever I want to apply to a new role, change companies, or test the waters. Knowing what I didn’t want, I spent some time researching and mapping the market opportunities while understanding myself (mentors, family, and friends are of great to help here), and out of all the options I had, I started mapping what I didn’t want, so I wouldn’t waste time on things I know wouldn’t make me happy.
Being open to all opportunities that showed – the famous quote, "You don't know what you don't know," or my motto "Never say no before you hear what the other side has to offer," are guiding principles for me in general and even more when jobhunting. There are always new roles being created. Maybe you never thought of that country to live in, but you don't know, so it's worth it to keep your options open (while referring to step no. 1).
Research the companies – Preparation is key. You hear everyone saying it because it's true. Going to an interview without knowing the industry, mother company/subsidiaries, values of the company, presence in markets, etc., is just a waste of time for you and the person interviewing. I can guarantee you will hear a "no," and people will more likely remember you for the worst reasons, so don't waste people's time and your own time.
Be me on interviews - One thing that I always do when interviewing is to push all the buttons to understand if the candidates are genuine or just putting on a mask to be liked. And trust me, I dislike letting people go, but having someone who is not true to themselves or genuine is even worse, so don't play it. I trust my instinct when choosing between all the options given, and being I am honest and transparent to all the others I said no to. Don't close doors, be polite. You never know where life will take you.
What memories from your time as a Nova SBE student do you hold dear?
All of them, even the all-nighter(s) before an exam. I still think those were the best five years of my life, where I learned a lot inside and outside the classroom, made friends for life, even met my husband! Every one of them, even the all-nighter(s) before an exam. I still think those were the best five years of my life, where I learned a lot inside and outside the classroom, made friends for life, even met my husband!
I never loved Finance, but Professor Neves Adelino was able to drag me to Nova SBE every Friday, at 8.00 am, for his class. I will never forget the Calculus magic duo with Professors Pinheiro and Xufre, who made it easier to digest and kept a smile on our faces (who doesn’t like Pringles…?). The study groups with the smartest and most patient genius colleagues (there is a whole generation that should thank Miguel Faria e Castro). Now, if you add a great experience with the Students’ Union, the openness of professor Daniel Traça in hearing our suggestions of improvement and deeply caring about the students' needs and well-being, the great parties we had, and all the best friends in the world. I still keep in touch with a lot of my friends and Nova SBE alumni, and they continuously inspire me to do more and do better.
What advice can you give our current students?
The three things I’ve realized have been critical for me. Invest (some quality) time on personal discovery – on really understanding who you are, what motivates you, what you don’t want, your values, who you want to be, and how you can add value.
Be ready for change – Embrace change, think positively, look for opportunities to add value even in the darkest of times. I always tell my teams: let’s do our best work, even if there is uncertainty and chaos around us because if we are lucky to have a job, we didn’t waste time and things will keep moving, and if we are not lucky, then at least we’ve learned and added experiences to a richer CV.
And always remember you are an active part of society. We all need to do our part in ensuring that we add sustainable value to society. We are very lucky to have access to excellent education, healthcare. We live in peaceful countries (at least most of you reading this). And it is easy to forget about the millions not so fortunate or the generations to come who will inherit this world as we leave it. So take your stance, be vocal, be present, choose and consume wisely, take care of others. We are all a tiny part of a huge network of individuals who are all connected.