M.B.A & C.E.O – An attempt to connect these six characters

The term “Chief Executive Officer” is believed to have come first into existence (or) acceptance around the year 1917, roughly the time when modern managerial form of business was being shaped in the western world. Much has been written about this role, often considered the pinnacle of the corporate ladder.

M.B.A & C.E.O - An attempt to connect these six charactersA brief look back in time reveals a rather interesting evolution of the CEO. Starting in the 1910s, moving into the 1950s and 1960s (a period that was characterized by major western economies and Japan recovering from the ravages of the second world war) to all the way till today; the CEO has evolved from being an “entrepreneurial individual” who developed his/her own institution to the “corporate leader” of today focused in maximizing “stakeholder value”.

In trying to comprehend whether or not a management degree primes you for the role of a CEO, it is necessary to understand what key attributes characterize today’s CEOs (and hopefully the future CEOs’ too). I understand that a CEO must be honest, positive but not overly optimistic, tough but at the same time inclusive, forward thinking and inspirational. By no means is my list exhaustive but all that I am saying is that the role of a CEO demands a multitude of characteristics, a few of which complement one another and few that do not. That being said, does a management degree equip you with all the aforementioned?

Well, yes and no. Yes, because I believe that management education indeed encompasses both theory and practice that delivers leadership, managerial, entrepreneurial and collaborative skills to the graduate. No, because that is only a part of the picture. The learning comes as much from outside the classrooms as it does from within them. The numerous group assignments will teach you team dynamics, and necessity to engage with & listen to other voices in the room. The coffee break chats will reveal interesting stories of your peers, stories that will be a part of your conversations years down the road after you have left your campuses. The field trips will give you a perspective of the ground realities in a variety of industries. The simulation exercises, business plan competitions, and case challenges will bring you the much needed perspective to understand and analyze the dynamic & complex world of business. The research thesis will initially drive you to think about contemporary and complex issues within your  field of interest and later push you to apply the numerous frameworks/ theories/models into practice. I could go on, but let me conclude.

Ace the exams, do the assignments, crack the cases but at the same time, make genuine connections, embrace new experiences, volunteer, learn a new language. In brief, maximize every available opportunity to learn. The path to becoming a CEO is challenging and chances are today’s graduates will progress to become CEOs in a world of business that would have changed drastically than what it is today. The best we can do is to stay prepared. It is not the degree alone but the “MBA experience” that prepares you for this exciting ride ahead. All the best.

References: The Lives and Times of the CEO, a strategy+business report

First snow of my life and more…

“Look deep, deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better” said Albert Einstein. The faculty at ESMT seem to have taken inspiration, as we found out on our way to Schloss Boitzenburg for our two day outdoor leadership workshop. The hour and half journey northwards from Berlin has a calming effect on you as the hustle of the city takes a backseat and the greenery of Boitzenburg land comes in view. Every individual of the diverse MBA Class of 2014 was looking forward to the experience, and this excitement added a sense of inclusion and team spirit within the community even before we got started. Snow has a beautiful character to it; the softer it falls, the deeper it sinks. As we alighted the bus at the entrance of the castle, nature greeted us with soft white chunks of snowy advice, as if to remind us of the purpose of the workshop – to explore oneself and learn to team effectively.

Outdoor day team building
Outdoor day team building
We were split into multiple teams and the endgame was to find our way from the castle through the forest to the destination using only maps, compass and of course common sense. The four hour hiking trip into the wilderness on the first day had its similarities to an entertaining Bollywood movie. The script opened with a twist, when we were asked to exchange the maps we created with another team. It was a test of trust and confidence as we let go of our prime asset (this being the hand-drawn map) in exchange for another one created by our colleagues. It was a harsh reminder of the uncertain nature of today’s business and the need to place mutual trust & respect in our colleagues to manage crises. My team started well, or so we thought until we reached a point in the open field which diverged into three paths. Our guide Andreas Bernhardt’s timely advice (the guide’s role was to only monitor and speak if we drifted way too much from the intended route) and our navigators led us on the right route. Listen to experience, and trust in your colleague who is better equipped to make decisions at a given point in time are two key pieces of advice I drew from this event. It was getting dark, it started raining, and most importantly the wilderness was having its effect on us. We had each other’s back, motivated ourselves through the cold rain & snow and managed to reach the destination without compromising on any of the goals we had set ourselves before we started the trek. We, as a team, had told each other that we will enjoy the trek, ensure each other’s safety and finish as a team. As I said, like in a Bollywood movie, it was indeed a happy ending.

I could go on writing pages about the trek, the dinner at the castle, the events of the second day when we climbed trees, walked on ropes, built tents and much more. I will let you find it out by yourself, all it takes is to get admitted into the ESMT MBA Program.

IFS – some photos

Just a few days ago I and my classmates came back from the amazing International Field Seminar (IFS) that took place in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, California. We visited lots of interesting companies there and met energetic and innovative people who were very open and willing to share their ideas and experience with us.  IDEO, Tesla Motors, Mozilla Foundation, Asset Management Ventures, Levi’s and other companies were among those we visited. IFS is definitely one of the unique and important highlights of the ESMT MBA program. Through the IFS we got an opportunity to learn from the best businesses first hand, and to experience the innovative and open culture in the Silicon Valley. This wonderful experience will be helpful in our future careers, for which I am very thankful to the ESMT. I will soon post my reflection on the IFS on topmbaconnect.com, but for now I would like to share some photos from our trip which I and Malati took. Our team had a chance not only to visit companies, but also to see some interesting places in San Francisco and Palo Alto and have fun.

Preparing for the International Field Seminar

It’s almost time for the MBA 2012 International Field Seminar. I attended a presentation yesterday from the Silicon Valley group. Super impressive list of companies that they have confirmed – Ideo, Software AG, Tesla, Mozilla, Stanford, Levi’s in San Francisco, Khosla VC and lots of others. Should be an amazing trip. I am sure photos will follow on the blog. Looking forward to seeing the itinerary from the other group for Moscow and Istanbul on Friday!

Shared risk and rewards of an MBA

The fourth module is fraught with frenetic student scheduling and is quite distinct from the rigorous structure of the first three modules.
We have autonomy to define our group compositions. It was interesting to watch the social dynamics of the classroom affiliations during the formation of these self-selection groups. Our negotiation classes with Mark Young proved helpful as we managed to co-ordinate ourselves without significant loss-of-face or politicking. At ESMT the co-ordination of group schedules is not unlike the co-ordination of an UN summit, in fact, our diverse nationalities makes the analogy ring true.

Our classroom atmosphere is more moderately charged. I believe the following factors are contributing most significantly to this; firstly our upcoming international field trip as well as the consulting projects and secondly, the brutal reality – formal ‘substantive’ lectures end in a mere three weeks time.

A note on the international field trip – perhaps a precursor of what to expect during the job application process (which in itself is a further activity, running in tandem, to the above mentioned module 4 mania for most students). During the international field trip our groups of between 12 – 24 students will be visiting Californian based companies. Confirming these corporate company visits is proving, yet again, just how important that negotiation classes were! **P.S. If you are a Californian based company, and would like to host a group of German MBA students from ESMT in September please feel free to contact our MBA team!

The consulting projects sees members of our class scattered as far a field as India to Morocco. The diversity and scope of the business challenges which we have been presented with for our consulting projects is interesting. After working within our consulting companies for 7 weeks, a one week deadline looms before the submission of our final thesis and the presentation of a business plan for a start-up, finally (without a moment to spare)… we graduate.

At this point, it may be appropriate to reflect on an observation I made whilst I was back in South Africa during the summer vacation. During the trip I visited my business back home and touched base with colleagues and business partners. I was really satisfied by the outcome of the visit as I realized how much this year has contributed to my own business skills and self development. My business partner confirmed the same observation (in writing!). For companies in developing market economies losing an employee for a year, is costly. This is generally the case because developing countries lack qualified and educated staff and is especially true for emerging market South Africa, faced with the with the added disadvantage of the apartheid brain drain and mass emigration of skilled labour during the late 1990’s. For my own company, my move to Germany is more likely to have been perceived as a risk as opposed to an investment in human capital. It was rewarding (and a bit of a relief) to receive consensus on the “added-value” from the firms perspective which the MBA has given me. MBA programs are criticized as a vehicle which enables candidates to switch and leapfrog into new sectors or join competitor companies. In those instances where this is the case, I believe there is still greater value to be gained for the firm.

This is not merely a sugar coated shop-front perspective. Consider the employee who does not rejoin the ranks after MBA. He is no less positioned to add value to the firm by reference of his employment status internally or externally. Employees don’t lose touch with previous industry networks. Career moves are informed by previous employment, even where the job sectoral movement is wide. For the previous employment firm the possibility of developing open and unique networks increases the likelihood of company collaborations and innovation.

Prior to my visit back home, I have spoken and usually think in terms of the risk that I took in choosing to do my MBA. I now realize the risk which our previous employment firms also accepted, when each member of my class decided to do an MBA and invest in our mutual futures. It is a privilege to have had so much support and trust placed in my capabilities and therefore refuse to whine about the magnitude of the workload before me.