Appetite for challenge: Emilia Paunescu talks changing roles and moving abroad 

4 April 2023

My path into trade credit insurance may be a bit unusual. While I did study finance and economics at university in Romania, where I grew up, my primary focus was languages. I studied English, French, Spanish and Czech – and I wanted to work in a role where I could use this skill.  

Early in my career, I identified that credit and collections at an international company would be a great fit, so I became a collections analyst. The position is so diverse, combining accounting, finance, customer service and complaints management. And I was able to use my languages! I loved it, and figured I would stay in this kind of role for the rest of my career.

That’s when Allianz Trade called. 

The Allianz Trade recruiter wanted to know if I’d be interested in a career move and promotion. They needed a new claims and collections team leader and, while I’d never managed people before, I was interested in trying something new. So, I started there in 2018. Little did I know how much Allianz would push me professionally. 

In early January 2022, the CEO of the Competence Center for Northern Europe requested a meeting. It was my first meeting with him that year, and I thought it was a standard check in. So it was a bit of a surprise when he asked me to consider relocating from Romania to Dubai to become Head of Operations! I really wasn’t sure it was a good fit – this would be a completely new position. However, after speaking with my HR Business Partner, my husband, and my manager at the time, I decided that it would be a great step for me.

My manager in Romania consistently challenged me to achieve more. In some ways, he had more confidence in me than I had in myself. He was the one who put me forward for the head of operations role. His rationale? I was great at my job and always delivered, and he knew that I could bring that same energy to a new challenge. And you know, I agree with him. So, I moved to Dubai in March 2022.

The cultural differences between Dubai and Europe were intimidating in the beginning. Firstly, I had a lot of preconceived notions about how I would be treated as a woman. I was happy to see that there is a lot of gender equality in Dubai. The other big shock was that negotiating is a common practice here – even in grocery stores and pharmacies!

I also faced challenges professionally. I had to understand a new business culture and role, rebuild my network and make sure I kept in touch with my existing contacts. And I wanted to ensure that my replacement in Romania was well supported, so I helped with training. Plus, we have a very small team in Dubai. I was used to working with a large team and delegating work – so this was a change!

However, I decided to focus on the opportunities instead. Thanks to my background, I have insight into how other markets operate, and can leverage and implement best practices from Northern Europe over here. I’m also learning Arabic; there are some words that have no direct translation, and I love having a window into culture through this vocabulary.

The smaller team I have here has showed me that I can achieve what I need to – even with fewer resources. I’ve learnt how to work faster, smarter, and prioritize better. I’m now a Certified Six Sigma Black Belt, a methodology that focuses on improving business processes by reducing the likelihood of errors, and I use its best practices in my day-to-day work. 

Living and working abroad is about mindset. If it’s a real ambition of yours, then don’t overthink it. Don’t ask, “What if I fail?” – that kind of self-talk can prevent you from potentially making a positive life change. This experience has brought so much diversity and knowledge into my life. I’m grateful that my managers at Allianz Trade knew I was up for the challenge and pushed me to realize my full potential.

Got questions? Connect with Emilia

Emilia Paunescu 

Head Of Operations GCC

Allianz Trade in Middle East