Recently nominated by Forbes IT among the 100 most successful women in Italy, MSc in Marketing & Creativity alumna Elena Lavezzi spoke to the Creativity Marketing Centre about her career and her time at ESCP Business School.
From her graduation in 2013, to Uber, Circle and, today, Head of Southern Europe at Revolut, she shared with us the current challenges the company is facing due to the COVID-19 crisis, some career tips and another very exciting project she works on.
Let’s start with a small introduction! Can you tell us your name, nationality, current position and location, year of graduation?
I’m Elena Lavezzi and I’m Italian. Currently I’m the Head of Southern Europe at Revolut, I’m based in Milan, and I graduated the MSc in Marketing & Creativity (MMK) in 2013.
Can you tell us more about your background and what led you to apply to the MMK?
I did my Bachelor degree in Business & Management at Bocconi University in Milan. After that, I really wanted to live abroad, so I took a year off and went to New York to work and do a few internships.
In the meantime, I started to prepare myself to apply for a Master. As I was looking at all the options available across Europe, I came across the MMK. Several things convinced me: the fact that ESCP is one of the top Business Schools in Europe and not only France; that the Master was related to marketing but also extremely practical; and the most important: it was taking place in two countries and highly international cities: London and Paris. Can you imagine that we were 52 people from 47 different nationalities in the same class? Everything was extremely international!
We read on Forbes that you went through several internships in big companies before trying the startup adventure - how come?
I did three in total: one in New York for a marketing agency, one at the European Commission, and one in a big corporation; and then I applied for the MMK. It’s only after the programme that I started to apply to startups. I think I was one of the first who absolutely wanted to do my final year internship in a startup, it was not really sexy at that time. These types of career and environment were just emerging, so I asked my professors and they approved! They supported my decision even if it was not a typical career path expected after top business schools at that time.
It wasn’t sexy but you still decided to go for it. Why?
I was looking for a more entrepreneurial context, I wanted to work in a small environment where you start from zero and really get a chance to have an impact. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so for me it was pretty natural to look for an environment to build from scratch. That’s why I decided to go in this direction more than looking for a big and already established corporation.
Looking back, what would you say have been the most valuable takeaways from the programme?
The international perspective, the competencies, and the way to structure creative thoughts. Structuring creativity can seem hard, but during classes our professors really gave us the tools to extrapolate, to drive concrete actions from our creativity, and put them into business decisions as well.
We could almost call you a “unicorn wanderer”, from Uber to Circle and today at Revolut. How did you decide it was the right moment to change job?
To me it’s really intuitive. I just feel it; when you believe that you’re done, you’ve achieved the most you could at your place. When I joined Uber, it was completely unknown in Europe. We were opening the first cities outside the US, and we were probably 10 or 15 people across Europe and three only to launch Italy. Four years later, when I decided to move, we were a company with thousands of employees, spread all over the world, and the brand was already established. For me it was time to move on and look for the next challenge.
While in the case of Revolut, I decided to join because it was combining the tech consumer experience knowledge I acquired at Uber, but also the FinTech international experience I got from Circle. Circle is one of the top cryptofinance companies across the globe, based in Boston, so Revolut was the perfect match to put together both experiences.
Can you tell us more about your current position and the upcoming challenges you’re facing at Revolut?
I lead the Southern Europe region. At first, my mission was to build the teams around the market and to build the strategy to grow the customer base and raise brand awareness in the region. Today, most of the challenges are linked to the evolution of the FinTech industry in a new scenario: the COVID-19 crisis. Then, of course, we aim to educate the region around the value of a cashless society, the use of digital payment and Revolut versus the use of cash for example.
In your position, how did the COVID-19 crisis impact the business?
Imagine for an industry like ours how much the virus accelerated the cashless society. Many more people tried digital payment services or mobile payment, because they simply couldn’t physically go to the bank anymore. We were all forced to do grocery shopping from home and buy online for months. So for us, it was actually a strong push towards a cashless society, and we keep witnessing changes in people’s habits, in the way they consume and purchase. Obviously, we’re curious to see how it’s going to evolve, but it’s still too early to say.
In your opinion, what are the qualities required to succeed in a career mixing tech and finance?
You have to be entrepreneurial deep inside, because most of the time you have to build everything on your own, from the most practical to the most strategic things. Second, be data driven in your decisions, and extremely flexible, because you’ll be dealing with different scenarios everyday.
UNICEF Next Gen – Can you tell us more about the project? How did it come to life?
It started two years ago already. The project aims to build a new generation of donors and to collect donations through innovative and digital channels. It is super old to do a donation through an sms or a bank transfer, it seems very far away from our generation. We wanted to build a new chapter of UNICEF in order to make it attractive for millennials. We set up a digital way to approach a new audience of donors and actives in the field, so each year, we can support a different project.
And how is it going so far?
The real year zero of the project was last year. We decided to support the Innovation Labs in Lebanon, and we raised our initial estimate twice. It was extremely successful so every year we will choose a new project, and develop a plan to collect donations for it.
We started with four founders, now we are 33 members in total, all members are very relevant in their own field, from tech to startup, design, fashion, food. The group is made up of artists, models, entrepreneurs, many different profiles. It is really heterogeneous and each of them are also a kind of ambassador of the project in their own field.
If you had an advice to give to Elena in 2013, freshly graduated from the MSc in Marketing & Creativity, what would it be?
Probably, don’t be afraid to trust your gut feelings. I always had the same approach in the decisions I made. Some things were risky, but I was never afraid to take risks, dive into something completely unknown and it always ended up extremely promising. So to me, just follow my intuition.
Your hopes for the future?
I hope I will keep enjoying what I do as much as I enjoy what I’m doing now!