Claudia Akemi Umemura found the flexibility of an online MBA helped her resume her career.

Mum's the word: An online MBA from WBS helped Claudia Akemi Umemura to resume her career.

If Claudia Akemi Umemura ever returns to the schools of Pune, a Maharastrian hill town in India where she worked as a volunteer, she would have an important message for the female pupils. 

“Never allow society to define who you are. Only ever be defined by your dreams.”  

It is the maxim by which she has lived her own life; first as a young girl growing up in a third-generation immigrant Japanese family in rural Brazil, then as an executive in several Brazilan organisations, and an expat mother living in three different continents. 

Finding herself consistently overlooked in the jobs market, she decided to take destiny into her own hands and apply for the Global Online MBA at Warwick Business School.     

“My story is probably very similar to those girls in India,” says Claudia. “I grew up in a very traditional community in a small place called Navirai where some of my relatives were more interested in girls getting married than you going to university.” 

“But I did go to university with the encouragement of my father, and that set me on my career.” 

Volunteering as a way to maintain skills

A psychologist by training, she worked for many years in large organisations. She led talent management for Cargill before moving into the executive search business with Fesa, which was one of the largest search firms in Brazil at the time.

She subsequently started up her own executive search and HR-related business when she moved to the United States with her husband, who had been offered an overseas posting at Volkswagen.  

As she followed her husband onto Germany and India, starting a family along the way, things became more difficult. Barred from working in India by strict visa rules, she maintained her skills by volunteering for a charity that connected international travellers with schools in Pune, which lies southeast of Mumbai, helping them to hold talks with pupils about their experiences.  

Enjoyable as this experience was, Claudia felt herself slowly being isolated from the corporate world, a feeling made worse when she decided it was time to return to that after seven years abroad.    

The business world, however, had other ideas.

Rediscovering the career path as a mother

“When you become a mother and leave the traditional career path, it is much harder to find your way back into a corporate world,” Claudia says. 

“You are pigeon-holed as someone who is focused on her family. I felt I had so much to offer with the experiences I gained aboard - the course I did, the diversity of people and culture I had learned to interact with. But the gap in my resume meant I was automatically excluded from candidate shortlists by HR systems, or so it seemed to me. It is really unfair.” 

The only way back, she decided, was to follow a long-term dream and apply for an MBA.  

“By now, I wanted to go back to Brazil, but I knew I wanted an MBA that would keep me in touch with the international world and be about more than Brazil.”  

Warwick’s Global Online MBA (then called the Distance Learning MBA) caught her eye. 

“I had heard good things about Warwick Business School, particularly the diversity of its cohort. That was a draw for me,” she says. 

“As a Japanese Brazilian, you know, I never felt like I belonged to one country. I was always interested in the wider world, excited by different cultures and perspectives. 

“And of course, I saw the rankings – regularly the best distance learning MBA in the world according to the Financial Times.” 

She did not look back. With the MBA in progress and pregnant with her second child, she returned to her home country, settling in Sao Paulo; and although the Covid pandemic hit soon afterwards, it was not long before she was back in work, in a new role with consulting giant Accenture.  

How an MBA turned Claudia's career around

Claudia credits the Global Online MBA as being a major factor in this turnaround. 

Not only was it flexible enough in pattern and timeframe to suit her family life, but the careers service at WBS also shared valuable strategies on how to approach the jobs market. 

She was soon using her MBA modules as a route into job interviews.  

“By bringing something to them that was connected to my MBA study, I was showing the value that I could bring to an organisation,” the mother-of-two explains. “It did wonders for my self-esteem.” 

As a talent and organisation strategist in Accenture’s Strategy & Consulting team, she helps clients to unlock human potential at scale. Business and functional transformation, leadership and culture, talent management, organisational design, and workforce transformation are just some of the ways she works with the team to add value to large corporations across different industries.   

Developing critical thinking

“Warwick Business School wants to encourage Change Makers, people who turn challenges into dreams and break down barriers for others," she says.

“That’s what I’m doing with my clients, advising them on large programmes of change that will have a huge impact on people in terms of skills, in terms of mindsets, and in terms of ways of working.”

Central to that process is the kind of critical thinking that “all the professors at Warwick Business School were really demanding students use, because there is no single theory or framework that can deliver everything required to tackle the complex problems that our clients have.   

“No one has all the answers, including me. It’s about working collaboratively to explore alternatives and options. 

“That’s one of the most valuable skills that I really developed at Warwick. It’s not just about using frameworks. It’s about criticising the limitations of them as well.” 

The same goes for the frameworks that have proved for so long such an obstacle to women returning to work after motherhood.   

Helping women to realise their goals  

One of Claudia’s big focus areas now is helping more women to realise their ambitions and goals, as well as to create the right environment and awareness within organisations to make this happen. 

“I want to help more talented women back into work and help organisations to understand what they can do to make this easier.” 

That work involves Claudia coaching high-potentials and senior leaders to achieve their potential, just like she is achieving hers.  

One of her counselees is a first-time working mom. “She chose me as her People Lead when she was about to have her baby. She felt I could advise her on how to juggle the challenges of motherhood and our life in the strategy & consulting team. 

“I hope I have been able to make a difference for her and her young child, Sofia.” 

Claudia has also been involved in mentoring in a programme focused on African and Indigenous Brazilians sponsored by the US Embassy in Brazil.  

“One of my mentees was an African Brazilian who wanted to improve her English to get a better job,” says Claudia.  

“Rather than focus solely on the language, though, I helped her to acknowledge her strengths and how to show up in the interviews. 

“I feel like I am honouring my purpose of helping others to be their very best.” 

Balancing work and career

With the Warwick MBA now completed, Claudia herself is balancing her family life and her work life at Accenture.  

In her mid-forties, she is happy to stay in Sao Paulo for the time being but might go overseas again in future. She is keen to motivate her children to be ‘global citizens’ in the same way she has been.  

Whether or not her travels will take her to India again is uncertain. But whatever the future holds, her message for the female students in the schools of Pune is clear. 

“Don’t seek to win approval or try to make everyone happy. Instead, follow your dreams. 

“That's not being selfish. It’s about taking care of what you regard as valuable.”

Learn more about studying for a Global Online MBA at Warwick Business School.