Former Google Hungary CEO: Travel is the ultimate self-improvement tool

Getting away from the office for professional development requires an investment of time and money, but it is definitely worth it, according to Edina Heal, one of the most successful businesswomen in Hungary, former Google Hungary CEO, and founder and CEO of Egyenlito Foundation. She thinks that continuous self-improvement is essential for business leaders who are striving for success in their market and says that one of the most efficient ways to learn new things is by traveling. Edina’s most memorable study trip was to Singapore, the high-tech capital of Asia, where she had several aha! moments in just a few days. She was inspired by the vibration and the energy of the fast-growing and digitised economy of the island-state.

“I’ve worked in several different roles and five different industries so far in my life. As a result, I’ve always had to learn new things. In my case, being open-minded and curious has always been a question of survival. Besides, I think that it’s in my nature; I love learning and experiencing new things. I want to know everything or at least a little bit about everything.”

This is how Edina Heal describes herself, adding that today, as the world changes rapidly and new technologies emerge constantly, business leaders cannot afford to stop learning for a minute; otherwise, they might find themselves falling behind.

Today, there is no excuse for not learning

Edina first began to realize the importance of lifelong learning five years after she entered the labor market. She suddenly started to feel that the knowledge she’d gained at university was not useful enough; she had to keep on studying. In 1996, she quit the job she had at an advertising agency, took out a large loan to finance her studies, and embarked on an MBA program at INSEAD, one of the world’s leading graduate business schools located in France. That was about 20 years ago, and she’s never stopped consciously improving herself since.

In her opinion, the lack of money or time is not an excuse, especially nowadays when anyone can log on to the Internet and find almost any piece of information in less than a minute.

“The only thing that matters is your mindset. If somebody is curious and enjoys learning new things, that person will certainly find a way to do so. However, it’s hard to deny that you can study more efficiently if you can afford to spend money on it. For me the best way to self-improvement is attending conferences or study trips where I can really immerse myself in the subject. Not to mention the fact that I can pick up a lot of extra knowledge in everyday interactions like traveling in a taxi or eating in a restaurant. This isn’t possible if you choose to stay at home and watch a video about the same topic,”

she explains.

First-hand experiences of the Southeast Asian boom

According to Edina, leadership has changed in many ways in the past ten years. The most significant change is that today a good leader is not expected to be an expert in a certain field, but needs to understand the whole picture and see the patterns of changes that might affect the company and the industry.

“In the world of Google and Facebook, CEOs don’t have to be the best engineers in the world, even if they’re leading business in the engineering industry. This applies to every enterprise in all industries; it means that leaders have to be out there experiencing the world. Looking outwards both geographically and industry-wise has become just as important as looking inside the company.”

Edina was the CEO of Google Hungary for eight years. During that time, she participated in several study trips to places like Silicon Valley, but what she enjoyed most was a three-day trip to Singapore.

“In Europe, especially in the CEE region, most people don’t see Asia as a whole or they don’t think about Asia at all. Until you see it with your own eyes, it’s hard to understand that the Southeast Asian region is actually becoming the center of the world. But when you’re there, you can feel the vibration and the energy of those young and fast-growing economies very intensely.”

Edina also remembers the first time she faced the fact that Asia is becoming important from a global perspective. It was the end of the 90s when she was a student at INSEAD and the approved institution launched its Asian campus, calling it a necessary step to stay a global university.

Aha! moments that open up your mind

Today, more and more European businesses regard Southeast Asia not only as the fastest-growing region in the world but also as a serious market due to its large population size and its rapid rise in per-capita disposable income. Of course, it’s not easy for a European enterprise to break into Asia, but it’s not impossible either. To succeed, business leaders need to expand their understanding of local markets, build relationships, and hire people there.

In Singapore, Edina had a chance to talk to several local business leaders who provided useful lessons on how to build a business that thrives across multiple countries, languages, and cultures. For example, she met the CEO of Grab, Southeast Asia’s most valuable tech startup. The ride-hailing business started in 2012 and has evolved into a transport-related service available across nine countries and boasting over 100 million app downloads. To achieve this, several aspects of the business had to be adapted to local customer needs in all nine countries.

The Southeast Asian region, especially Singapore, has grown into a major hub for technology startups, so there are many local entrepreneurs who can help others to understand digital transformation and embrace new technology. Edina’s advice?

“There are so many aha! moments on a trip like that. You realize things that you’ve never thought about before. These experiences help you to think outside your boundaries even when you’re back home. It’s very important to learn this kind of open-mindedness that will enable you to spot the opportunities and threats before your competitors do. That’s how you can be the leader in your market.”

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