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COBE Success Story

Certificate of Business Excellence: a Greater Sense of Freedom

headshot of Martina Kolpondinos

COBE Alum: Martina Kolpondinos, Digital Innovation Strategist

Martina has honed an expertise and dedicated her professional life to digital transformation, starting out in healthcare as the industry was undertaking the herculean effort to move paper medical records to an electronic format. She supported digital transformation before the term became part of our mainstream lexicon – acting as the visionary and “fixer” in the middle – the liaison between IT, business and the customers.

Fast forward, today Martina is a digital strategist, currently serving as Sr. Digital Innovation Manager for a Swiss energy-sector client. “I envision how to apply technology in order to bring the best value for the business and for the customers in the near and medium-term future.”  

In 2020, while successfully navigating her career with a Computer Science PhD in hand, Martina wanted to challenge herself even more. She was seeking a way to share and grow her expertise in digital transformation and innovation, but she needed coursework that would be adaptable to her on-the-move lifestyle. Searching online, she found UC Berkeley Executive Education and was drawn to the topics and flexibility of the programs and the idea of international exchange, something that was very important to her. She was also impressed with the program descriptions on the website. “I thought, wow, these guys really seem to know what they are doing.”

Martina enrolled in her first online program at UC Berkeley Exec Ed, Digital Transformation: Leading People, Data and Technology and was amazed by the program. “I felt excited when I realized that the program highlighted a very similar approach and perspective as my own – one that I regularly advocated for despite skepticism and resistance. The program’s approach in digital transformation went beyond technology, and offered a dynamic strategy to keep the underlying continuous cycle of experiments and innovation rolling. The program also helped me update my knowledge on data strategy, and I learned latest insights on company and cultural enablers, privacy regulations and algorithmic bias. It just felt as if all of the pieces came together.”  

After completing the Digital Transformation program, Martina learned about the Certificate of Business Excellence (COBE) track and knew it would be her next pursuit. She enrolled in a second program of this track: Product Management Studio, sometimes participating online at 3 a.m. on Saturdays given the Switzerland/U.S. time difference. “It was intense, but well worth it!” she says. “Product management is much more sophisticated than simply developing a product; also it’s an important piece of digital transformation. This program combines creative approaches like customer journey creation and storytelling, hard facts on market segmentation and pricing, and innovative techniques like JTBD (jobs-to-be-done) and RAT (Riskiest Assumption Test). Plus, it refers to the experiential learning theory, which I also had applied in my PhD topic on gamification.”  Through this program Martina complemented her experience in product development with improved strategies on value creation and value delivery – and on challenging viability testing. “I now have a lot more competitive knowledge in this area, which elevates my work.”   

Next up for Martina was Financial Data Analysis for Leaders, a program that to her surprise, was quite enjoyable. “I learned that financial data analysis can be fun! Also, I now better understand how to use financial data analysis to navigate through times of uncertainties to create more informed decisions,” she says.

Her next program, Leading Strategy Execution through Culture, shaped Martina’s awareness of the importance of company culture when it comes to her work. “I absolutely recommend this program to anyone who wants to introduce change in an organization. I gained a deeper understanding on how integrating company culture into my work is critical for success, along with how to drive change through culture. Not considering company culture is very likely to cause a breaking point or even the downfall of visions, strategies and leadership. This program also provided me with the ability to understand if an organization is ready for change – or not – in terms of technology and innovation. It gave me a lot of insight and self-reflection that I am using going forward.”

Following, she chose Blockchain: Technologies & Applications for Business. Martina explains this as an area she would like to further explore, especially with focus on Self-Sovereign Identities. “The program covers different aspects of the blockchain technology with their implications in several sectors. I learned about potential structural changes and new business models, their impacts on societal good – including food safety and data ownership – and about different strategies for applying blockchain technology in business.” 

In addition, Martina says that the Blockchain program sharpened her understanding about the role of policy committees, regulators and consortiums when it comes to dealing with disruptive technologies. “I think that this is especially important for blockchain technology. While other emerging technologies often focus on how to make already existing ways of doing things more efficient, blockchain technology is more disruptive, focusing on new ways of doing things. It comes with a paradigm shift in many areas. This is what the program taps into and the driver that motivates me to get more involved with the blockchain technology and community.”  

Martina’s final program was Artificial Intelligence: Business Strategies and Applications. She appreciated the discussions about the possibilities and limitations of AI, as well as the questions raised about ethical dilemmas. “The back-and-forth discussions with international peers, who brought their diverse backgrounds and global experience, was truly amazing!” says Martina. “This topic is scary for many, and comes with some ethical challenges perceived differently by people across the globe.” Martina also benefitted from the provided different perspectives on data, technology and business for the same subject. “I learned a lot from building AI architectures, what to consider to properly train a model – even when data is limited – to how to uncover and address threats of algorithmic bias. In summary, this program helped me how to identify AI business opportunities and build corresponding AI strategies.”

Martina also recommends UC Berkeley’s Exec Ed to people around the world who want to learn about and connect different perspectives on digital strategies – including those who are not shy of constructively questioning the status quo. She learned first-hand from other spirited innovators who, like herself, are curious and bold, and willing to go beyond the comfort zone to explore new ways of creating value for societies, customers and organizations. 

“Pursuing my COBE gave me the opportunity to work with, grow with and gain insights from people at the pulsating heart of the tech world, Silicon Valley. That was a real highlight for me.” Martina also valued the exchanges from people across the globe, “… the different industries and diverse backgrounds of the people I met made the whole experience energizing, inspiring, fun, thoughtful, emotional and intense.”

Martina credits her Certificate of Business Excellence for the final piece of inspiration, recently launching her own website that shares her personal experiences inside, and outside, the broader view of digital transformation. When asked about the most profound outcome of completing her COBE, she says, “The innovative spirit of UC Berkeley Exec Ed really touched me. My COBE journey has empowered me to further drive my passion of seeing and looking beyond the traditional sense of digital transformation and acting on it. It gave me a sense of freedom.”