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Copenhagen Business School

The Queen of the Blue MBA

Irene Rosberg is the head of the prestigious Blue MBA at CBS. Here giving instructions to her graduation class. (Photo: Anne M. Lykkegaard)

Persian born, Swedish based and working in Copenhagen Irene Rosberg is the epitome of a cosmopolitan. Just like the shipping industry she works within. On 12th August, her class of 2017 graduated from the Blue MBA, one of the most prestigious MBA’s within the shipping industry at CBS.

Anne M. Lykkegaard


Irene Rosberg is surrounded by her MBA graduates who are clad in black and blue capes and graduations caps. She tries her best to be heard over the insistent tones of an eleven-man bagpipe band standing in the courtyard at Porcelænshaven.

Her graduates need to form a line and they have to stand in the right order when they march inside Ovnhallen to receive their Blue MBA-degrees. Irene Rosberg’s arms direct the positions of her graduates who are paying close attention before marching behind her to the pompous sound of the bagpipe band.

Never standing still

People come from all over the world to take the Blue MBA at CBS. For instance, in this year’s class, there are participants from countries like Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, America, Finland, Greece and Egypt. And the international representation is part of the shipping industry’s DNA.

“The different nationalities who work with shipping are not what makes shipping global. Shipping is global by nature, and that’s what’s so interesting about it,” says Irene Rosberg and takes a bite of her lunch even though the clock shows way past lunch time.

She has just finished today’s exams when I, a few days before the graduation ceremony on 12th August, meet her in her office. The white and blue color scheme match her navy-blue summer dress and white pearl earrings.

The shipping industry is like a river – always moving

Irene Rosberg, Director of the Blue MBA, CBS

Being the program director of the award winning Executive MBA in Shipping and Logistics, also known as the Blue MBA at Copenhagen Business School, Irene Rosberg has just had 48 participants finishing the MBA, making it the largest class to finish the Blue MBA at CBS ever. Each and every one of them trying to change the shipping industry for the better with their newly acquired tools.

“Traditionally shipping is a conservative which is run by practitioners,” says Irene Rosberg and continues:

“In order to stay competitive, you need new tools to face the challenges in this industry. It is, therefore, vital to have a holistic view of the shipping industry, knowing about the market cycles, cyber security, big data, financial risk management etc. And these are the tools we try to provide to our participants at the MBA,” says Irene Rosberg, who has been working around the world with shipping for decades.

“The shipping industry is like a river – always moving. It’s not a pond which stands still,” she reflects.

The graduates of Irene Rosberg all came to give her special thank you before leaving Copenhagen. (Photo: Anne M. Lykkegaard)

Diversity matters

Irene Rosberg became the director of the executive MBA program back in 2001 when she was headhunted by CBS to head the newly launched executive MBA. When asked what she considers to be the most important thing in regards to the MBA.

“One of the main things I consider, when I run the program is the diversity of the student body. I want representation from all the different segments of the shipping industry such as ship owners, equipment manufacturers, logistic providers, shipping financiers, managers, and lawyers etc. The idea is that the participants not only learn from professors and lecturers, but also from each other, which I find very important,” says Irene Rosberg.

According to Irene Rosberg, it’s a little easier to put together a student body representing different segments of the shipping industry – it’s something else attracting enough women. For this year’s Blue MBA class only four out of 43 graduates are women. But this is something Irene Rosberg is also trying to change – of course.

Hasta la WISTA

In Irene Rosberg’s office, the maritime theme is obvious. She has four different kinds of model ships decorating her window frame and a bookcase.

One of the tiny model ships bears the name WISTA. This stands for Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association in which Irene Rosberg holds the position of the President in its Danish Chapter.

WISTA seeks to connect and provide women around the world with business and skill building opportunities so that they can climb higher up the career ladder within the shipping industry. And women’s career opportunities shouldn’t rely on quotas, argues Irene Rosberg.

“Quotas are common, but I believe we have women who are competent, knowledgeable and have the know-how to hold higher positions, and could do based on merits and know-how. With quotas, we are in danger of satisfying statistics, rather than giving opportunities to talented women,” says Irene Rosberg.

The bagpipe band has been a crucial part of the graduation ceremony since 2005. (Photo: Anne M. Lykkegaard)
For the graduation ceremony Irene Rosberg always invited prominent people from the shipping industry. On her left Ms. Helle Hammer, Managing Director of The Nordic Association of Marine Insurers, and Poul Hedegaard, the MBA director from CBS. (Photo: Anne M. Lykkegaard)
People within the shipping industry are very devoted. (Photo: Anne M. Lykkegaard)

To her, the shipping industry has changed a lot in recent years, now covering a wider range of job opportunities which women are more and more interested in taking up.

She mentions that in addition to those with practical experience such as seafarers, now others, such as lawyers, directors, and financiers are all capable of serving the shipping industry in one way or another.

But still, she sees some obvious barriers that need to be overcome in order to have women better represented in the shipping industry.

“It would, of course, help to close the gender gap if we give the necessary support to women in order to acquire the tools they need for advancement in their career. And women who want to move to the top should do their part as well. They shouldn’t just be satisfied with having a job, but need to aspire to have a career,” says Irene Rosberg.

I’m Irene's biggest fan

Thomas Damsgaard, Blue MBA graduate

She hopes that her Blue MBA can do a little to change the gender imbalance in the industry in the long term.

“The shipping industry is dominated by males, and this shows in the program where the majority of the participants are men. However, this Blue MBA is designed for shipping and shipping related companies and that cater for more female participants. We are hoping to bring a better gender balance into the student body, but women themselves should be a little more proactive and ask to be considered for opportunities like this,” she says.

When job equals passion

Irene Rosberg is an established name within the shipping industry. And this is partly due to her vast international network, but it has taken time to get the needed respect from the male colleagues, and she asks female colleagues to persevere.

“To penetrate a male dominated environment, it is of course, more important for women to prove themselves. Once this is done the respect is immense and there is a lot of support from the male colleagues,” she says.

In general, Irene Rosberg likes to see herself as fortunate, since what she’s doing “isn’t a job – it’s a passion.” And says that being a 9-5 person never really suited her anyway.

“I love what I’m doing. Not that many people are that fortunate,” she says.


In Ovnhallen, the audience is recording videos and taking pictures as the bagpipe band with pump and splendor enters followed by Irene Rosberg and all the graduates. The entertaining feature seems to come as a surprise to many, and Irene Rosberg likes to take people by surprise.

Back in 2005, Irene Rosberg had a student from St. Petersburg, who played the bagpipe himself with a band in Copenhagen, and it was his suggestion to bring the bagpipe band to the ceremony, and so it came to be.

“The first time we had the bagpipers, people were surprised,” Irene Rosberg says and smiles. “No one knew about it, except for me and the one graduate. It has been a tradition ever since, and I always think of him, when the band plays,” she explains.

Tuning the bgapipes requires some lung capacity. (Photo: Anne M. Lykkegaard)
Isn't it cute? (Photo: Anne M. Lykkegaard)

Irene Rosberg might have surprised her students at first, but this afternoon in Ovnhallen it is also the other way around.

Thomas Damsgaard, one of this year’s blue MBA graduates, takes the stage to congratulate his classmates, who he calls “the fab 48”, but also to give a special thank you to Irene Rosberg.

“You are a super woman, Irene,” he says and then presents a gift to her. Irene Rosberg puts on a big, warm smile in response.


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