ESMT Responsible Leaders Fellowship Program: A motivation letter by Javier Guzmán de Baya

My name is Javier Guzmán de Baya, an ESMT MBA graduated in 2013. Through this letter, I would like to explain the reasons and motivations for my decision to be part of the RLF; fellowship program between ESMT and Tsiba. Besides, I would like to describe the different programs and activities in which I am involved.

Firstly, I will explain how I got involved on the ESMT fellowship program; when Professor Dr. Wulff Plinke, ESMT Founding Dean, explained the fellowship program to our MBA class last year, I got immediately excited with the idea on participating on that. The possibility for me to work again in social field, especially on the appealing project at Tsiba, where I could apply the knowledge and experience accumulated in my career, and also where I would like to keep developing my professional career, was an irresistible opportunity that I could not miss.

I am an economist with a second bachelor´s degree in Marketing Business and Market Research with background in Multilateral Financial Institutions, International Trade and Investment, Public Administrations and Regional Cooperation for Development. My work experience at the Trade Promotion Agency of Andalusia (EXTENDA), and also my experience as EU Project Technical Expert in Spain focused on Regional Development and Cooperation Program in Latin America are being especially helpful for me when carrying out my activities at TSiBA in South Africa.

My motivations are exclusively related to my passions. I am especially passionate about working for projects related to Social Entrepreneurship, and Sustainability Projects as well as for projects within the Corporate Social Responsibility or Public Institutions. My special sensitivity when working with local communities; my experience with project approach and assessment when looking for solutions, and passion when achieving goals together with people, make me to be really interested in keeping working on the social field. I would be very enthusiastic on having the possibility to apply all of that on future similar projects.

Following, I would like to introduce TSiBA Education in order to have a better understanding of my activities in this Institution:

TSiBA Education is a non-profit private higher education institution based in South Africa, for disadvantaged students who would not otherwise be able to afford a university education.

Tsiba, apart from its academic vision with more than 500 students, provides different entrepreneurial services to an important number of local enterprises; TSiBA Ignition Centre is a hub dedicated to extending TSiBA’s mission of “Igniting Opportunity” to reach beyond our students into the communities that they come from. Most of the projects are focused on Enterprise Development, Community Training and Leadership Development.

I started working at TSiBA in January, where I was assigned to the Ignition Center (Business Incubator and Social Entrepreneurship) due to my professional background, but the lack of human and financial resources have caused that I am also involved on the academic side of the Institution by lecturing different courses, what it is also being an amazing experience for me.

Description of activities

The TSiBA Ignition Center, with the purpose to offer its services, is permanently searching for enterprises, most of them just survival businesses, in the community. We are permanently tracing new potential beneficiaries. It means that we make interviews, create business profiles, classify, and based on their needs and challenges assign these enterprises to the appropriate program.

As any NGO, TSiBA can implement its programs basically through sponsorship agreements. One example is the program that we are running with Sanlam, one of the biggest Insurance Company in South Africa. In this program, we offer training, individual mentorship and professional network, to the enterprises that we previously selected for participating on the program. Sanlam is not only interested on sponsoring this program because its Corporate Social Responsibility but also because the participant enterprises on the program will be included on the Sanlam´s supply chain program and generate synergies with other companies that already operated with Sanlam and other clients.

We are running similar programs to the one described with Sanlam, in which local institutions and corporates support different programs that offer individual mentorship and training to our enterprises.

What it is very unique at Tsiba, is the extremely close relationship of the students with the community and especially with the businesses that operate in the community. Most of our enterprises know from TSiBA through our students. After this first contact, enterprises come to the Ignition Center where we explain them our activities and different support tools.

In line with that, we are also running a program in collaboration with the Northeastern University’s Social Enterprise Institute. In this program around 50 American students together with TSiBA students will support local enterprises by providing managerial support according to their challenges and needs. For this program, what we do first is contact our enterprises, we interview them and create a business profile in which we highlight their main needs and challenges. After that, we allocate students with skills and profiles that can bw helpful for overcoming the challenges of the businesses participating on the program.

On the academic side, I am lecturing last year students. The course is called innovation and we are implementing a very practical program that encourages the students to create their own businesses. At the end of the program, they have to generate income with their businesses. Here, there is also an important field to come up with new collaborations and ways of implementing the program: Business incubator, social entrepreneurship and allocation of our students to corporates for consulting projects.

I am also mentoring students for the Entrepreneurship Course. Proffesor Dr, Plinke had the opportunity to attend to one of my sessions during his visit to the TSiBA Campus.

The final purpose of this document is to raise awareness of the multiple collaboration possibilities that can be developed in South Africa and especially related to Social Entrepreneurship and CSR. The social impact of the activities carried out by institutions as TSiBA is impressive but can be multiplied with additional support especially from corporate world. There are many different ways to collaborate and develop new potential programs in South Africa.

As I explained in the beginning of this document, I am really interested on continuing working on the social field, especially in Social Entrepreneurship. During my experience at Tsiba, different ideas and possibilities for future collaboration programs are arising. I would love to share them with you if you are interested.

I am totally convinced that Social Entrepreneurship is a powerful way to alleviate poverty in the developing world.

ESMT Responsible Leaders Fellowship Program: Evyatar Epstein in Cape Town, South Africa

I was given the opportunity to be a lecturer at TSiBA Education, in Cape-Town.

Evy teaching at TSiBA 3TSiba is a college that educates for a Business Administration degree. The college provides full scholarship for all of its students. Its main goal is to recruit talented high-school graduates who have the potential to become well educated and successful adults, but do not have the financial means to do so. In the broader sense of South-Afriac`s complex political and social environment- TSiBA is trying to help bridging the huge gap between the under-privileged people- namely the black and the colored population- and the privileged ones.

My business school- ESMT- is aiming to use the knowledge and experience gained by its graduates to contribute to a knowledge-thirsty institution such as TSiBA. ESMT is doing it by offering its graduates the opportunity to spend a semester in South-Africa, in which they will volunteer as teachers and mentors at TSiBA.

Evy at TSiBAAfter arriving to TSiBA, I was asked to be responsible of a managerial-accounting course. This responsibility included preparing lectures and tutorials for a class of 60 students, as well as checking the students` work, preparing their final exam and grading them.

I found a very special kind challenge and satisfaction in doing this work, something I must admit I have never experienced before. The students are great- youngsters in their late teens to early twenties who are truly ambitious to gain knowledge and knowledge-recognition, and to find their way out of the poverty cycle. Most of them are truly grateful for the opportunity they were given and are determine not to miss it. Moreover, the students are excited from having a foreigner lecturer- a person who came from a different country, different background, and have proven experience from which they can benefit a lot.

I had great connection with my student and I truly feel I was able to contribute to them, not only with my professional knowledge but also with my life experiences in other areas.

Overall it was an amazing experience for me. I believe that this initiative of ESMT is a truly noble one and I wish that other business schools can find similar ways to contribute to society and “pay it forward”, as TSiBA`s slogan says.


Through the eyes of an MBA mommy – The Battle of Patience

“They throw us into these rooms with people from very different cultures for a month, put us under stress by tough assignments and tight schedules and then they observe our performance. I tell you Diana, some days I feel like I’m living in a Big Brother’s house.” – My ESMT MBA colleague


Around five years ago I visited a dear friend of mine who just gave birth to her first child. She was the first of my friends to have a child so I was very curious to talk to her. In between breastfeeding, burping and changing diapers, she said something that I still vividly remember – “I never knew I could be so calm and so patient. The pre-mommy myself would not believe it.”

My parenting experience is still rather short, but I cannot help but feeling that parenting is as much about knowing yourself as it is about raising your child. I feel you really need to understand yourself and your feelings before you react to yet another tantrum caused by assembling the Legos in a wrong way. Or dressing her in white pants instead of red ones, for that matter. It is a continuous test of calmness and patience.

So is the MBA.

In my view, this MBA is more about learning about myself than it is about learning the “functional” things. Yes, I did learn about the five forces, the B2B, the WTP, the five Cs, the stocks, the bonds, the debits and the credits (although for the latter two I am still not fully sure which is which). But more than that, I learned about myself. I learned how I reacted under stress, I learned how I cooperated with different people, I learned how my body reacted to lack of sleep. I learned it from self-observation, but also from listening to feedback of my colleagues.

I must admit, certain situations or interactions do make me feel frustrated. However, exposure to stress and uncomfortable situations in this MBA, but also in parenthood made me more resilient and calmer. The fires that emerge in my head in such situations are now smaller and remain confined within the boundaries of my brain. Following an advice from my ESMT colleague also helps extinguishing those fires. This colleague suggested me to try exercising the mommy view on certain type of adults as well. Same as small children, adults are also not always aware of the way their actions and reactions affect you. Sometimes they will not become aware even when you tell them about it. This is where the mommy-hood kicks in. You calm down and accept. They might figure it out eventually. Or they might not. But at least you will not feel frustrated because of it.

As for my patient friend, she is now pregnant with her fourth child. I take my hat off in respect for her endurance and patience. Even though in this MBA I will not deal with Legos or choice of pants, I will still get into situations that frustrate me. I just hope that in these moments I will manage to plug into the mommy-view and exercise at least a fraction of her calmness and patience.

ESMT Responsible Leaders Fellowship Program: Kunal in Cape Town, South Africa

‘Open Day’ at TSiBA, Cape Town campus

‘Open Day’ at TSiBA, Cape Town campus

TSiBA Education is a private non-profit institution with an urban campus in Cape Town and a rural campus near Kynsa, both in Western Cape, South Africa. Their vision is to “Ignite Opportunity” by being an innovative learning community that engages young talent into academic courses focused on entrepreneurship and leadership. TSiBA lives on the philosophy of “paying it forward”- students who are awarded scholarships are not required to pay for their education monetarily, but rather to “Pay it Forward” by transferring the knowledge, skills and resources that they gain at TSiBA to their communities.

With BBA students and CEO of TSiBA at a cocktail evening hosted by Bowman Gilfillan

With BBA students and CEO of TSiBA at a cocktail evening hosted by Bowman Gilfillan

TSiBA’s main offerings are the BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration) and HCBA (Higher Certificate in Business Administration) courses. Students are not required to pay any tuition fees. These expenses are covered through TSiBA’s generous individual and corporate sponsors and donors. TSiBA does generate revenue and that is through the executive education offered to the corporate and government sectors.

My role as a pro-bono volunteer was to provide consulting and general management assistance to the administration team in TSiBA’s Cape Town campus and occasional teaching assistance. Two of the main projects handled were-

  • Audit of examination marking system- Apart from delivering quality education, TSiBA’s critical task is also fair and accurate assessment of student performance. This audit was carried out to verify and improve processes which lead to examination marking/grading and course qualification. Both the campuses’ past results were dug out in order to check the methods used for marking. The aim was to standardize the process to eliminate errors in the future. This audit lead to finding anomalies and resulted in standardizing the process for future ease.
  • Streamlining of policies and procedures- Policies and procedures form an essential part for the smooth everyday functioning of any organization. TSiBA is now only in its 10th year of operation and most polices were written during its formative years. This was a project which I ran alone and involved meticulous review of all the policies, especially those affecting student and academic matters. Recommendations, with respect to today’s context and TSiBA’s long term prospects, were made to the Dean and were later tabled across the executive committee.

About the Responsible Leaders Fellowship

As part of the Responsible Leaders Fellowship, three of ESMT’s 2013 MBA graduates put their career plans on hold to volunteer as teachers and mentors for up to six months and pass on the skills learned during their MBA to the students at TSiBA (Tertiary School in Business Administration) in South Africa. The knowledge and experience gained by ESMT graduates will contribute to a knowledge-thirsty institution such as TSiBA.


Through the eyes of an MBA mommy – Is your baby better than mine?

“Diana, how do you do it? I can barely handle myself at this point.”, her eyes surrounded with dark circles looked puzzled. My dark circles stretched into a smile, “You know, it’s easier for me. I know that I have limited time to do something, so I just do it and submit. I don’t revise.”

MBA requires a lot of time and dedication. It’s not so much about the content being academically difficult, it is more about having to spend a lot of time working on different projects. (Luckily, somehow it always happens that all the deadlines are in the same week.) In the beginning a lot of people asked me how could I manage both family and workload that was difficult even if you were alone. The thing was that having my family around really enabled me to focus on the important stuff. When I have a lot of time to do something, I tend to lose a lot of it on procrastination. On the other hand, if I know that I only have two hours to finish the report, I have to be really focused to do it. No Youtube, no party, no walking around, it’s just me and the report. And after two hours, the report is there.

I don’t really think it’s an exclusive mommy thing. And I don’t think that this MBA is more difficult for me because I am a mommy. I look at my colleagues and most of them also have their own “babies” outside of the class. Some are starting a business, some are preparing for marathons, some are attending football matches, some are gardening, and one is even running a successful political career. Their “babies” are also important to them and they also don’t feel happy if they don’t have time for them. They need their “babies” because they make them happy and they help them make it through the tough times.

And yet, the real babies, children, are still seen as a bigger threat for the career, instead of seeing them as making mommies more efficient and focused. We all know the unfavorable statistics about mommies in business – underpaid, not promoted, finding it difficult to find or change jobs. Why is it so? If my child makes me happy and productive, just as training for a marathon makes my colleague happy and productive, why should I be penalized for that?

Being a mommy is wonderful. It has its ups and downs and it just makes everything in life feel more intense – happiness is more intense, worry is more intense. It makes you feel more alive. It makes you relax. It makes you focus. And that helps you do a better job. And I shouldn’t be penalized for being better in my job, right?


P.S. I have to make a little bit of PR for my MBA mommies. There are four of us in class, with five children. We all have the same assignments and the same time as everyone else in class. And yet, I don’t believe it is a coincidence that all four mommies are in the upper half of the class ranking*. All of them are above average. Maybe there really is something in having our little monsters around… :)


*Disclaimer: the sample size of four is really small and the grades are of course not an ideal thing for making comparisons, because they matter more to some people than others and this can distort the comparison. 

Left to right: Marina, Anne, Sarah and Diana.

ESMT MBA 2014 mommies. Left to right: Marina, Anne, Sarah and Diana.


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

MBA rankings and the incentives they present

The issue of goals at the most abstract level, and the incentives we use to motivate people and institutions towards achieving those goals, is not new at all. Yet lately we have been forced to revisit it more and more often. Enron and WorldCom had to happen with Arthur Andersen for us to revisit the incentives of consulting and auditing companies. Just a few years later, the global financial crisis had to happen for us to revisit the incentives set up for the major credit rating agencies. As a follow up, we in Europe are still in the middle of trying to revisit the incentives of EU governments within our complex evolving system governing sovereign debt. So, I look at the most respected rating institutions issuing MBA rankings every year and I can’t help but wonder: is a revisit of the incentives those rankings de facto impose on business schools due before we receive a good reason for it?

I challenge you on a quest to find one prospective MBA student, MBA candidate, or MBA graduate who has not consulted the Financial Times rankings at some point when choosing where to do a program. As an MBA candidate, I certainly consulted it constantly while applying. Indeed, the rankings do a thorough research, data aggregation, and analysis that an individual can never handle, just like players in the bond market, for example, could never handle the due diligence of every single security out there. Add a media as reputable and credible as The Financial Times behind those rankings and you get a truly invaluable tool for anyone out on the search for a good program. Questioning the need for a trusted aggregator of up-to-date information about the MBA Programs market who crunches it in a ready-to-use form for the time- and information-constrained applicant is not only futile, but also irrelevant at this point.

What is becoming more and more relevant, however, is recognizing the growing influence the FT rankings have. The success of business schools offering MBA degree programs depends on their output – research, impact, but first and foremost – alumni. The success of the alumni is, among other things, largely a function of the quality of inputs. And the quality of inputs, in turn, is increasingly dependent on the ranking of the institution. Logically, the next big question is what the ranking depends on.

The FT ranking, I believe, has done a great job incorporating a well-rounded set of determining factors, including gender, nationality, and ethnicity diversity. However, the two factors with by far the highest weights, comprising 40% of a school’s rank (20% each) are still “Weighted Average Salary” and “Salary Increase”. To put this in context, if your aims when engaging in the MBA pursuit differed from higher pay, you are still kept in mind in the ranking process, but with the modest 3%-weighted “Aims achieved” factor. Since rankings are meant in the end to serve the customer, it is not at all a far-fetched deductive leap to say that people do an MBA for the pay increase or at least that is more than twice as important to them as anything else. To provide an extreme counterpoint, entrepreneurship is only now being considered for inclusion, and sustainability is, as of today, not a factor at all.

At first, this does not sound like a reason for concern. To put it bluntly, if you are teaching sustainability, living sustainability, and even managing your school sustainably, but your program is not much good, that’s how things should be – you simply do not belong in the Top 100. However, let’s take a little deeper look into this. Is it so eccentric to claim that a school that emphasizes sustainability, social responsibility, and impact might not necessarily attract more concerned participants, but will most likely produce more concerned, responsible alumni? Turning our heads to the average pay in different industries, is it not a test-worthy hypothesis that these alumni will end up taking on average lower-paying jobs? Not because sustainable businesses pay less but because people more concerned about making a social impact are typically less obsessed with pay and pay increase.

Going back to where we started, MBA programs, and especially MBA programs in the Top 100 of FT’s global ranking, undeniably produce a considerable chunk of today’s (and tomorrow’s) global leaders. Moreover, the FT rankings are also already the established authority (at least in Europe): sure, everyone can use an alternative search engine, but who would if there is already Google? So, I dare ask a perhaps controversial question: is not the Financial Times’ MBA ranking division at least partially responsible for the incentives that business schools face when making strategic decisions, when choosing what to invest in, what to emphasize? At the stage our world happens to be today, can we afford to incentivize the leading business schools to produce – first and foremost – excellent moneymakers, but leave social responsibility as an out-of-scope nice-to-have?

In his article from almost 20 years ago – “On the Folly of Rewarding A, while Hoping for B”, Steven Kerr(1) made the trade-off I tried to paint above simple and clear: we dream of innovating, but feel we must reward safe, proven methods; we glorify teamwork, but most of the time feel obliged to reward individual performance; and most importantly, we crave a vision, but we reward quarterly results.

I am not writing a prescription here, I am raising questions that I myself need answers to. I hold the FT on a rather high pedestal, read it at school in between the demanding MBA classes, follow it on Twitter, I even follow the FastFT editor – Megan Murphy (big fan!). This is precisely why I believe that the FT as an institution has the power, resolution, and skill to lead the entire community of media that rank MBA programs into starting a meaningful conversation about what kind of incentives do we, as a society, want for our leading business schools.

1. Kerr, S. (1995). On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B. Academy of Management Executive , 9 (1).

For the interested, here is the complete methodology of FT’s full-time MBA ranking:

Through the eyes of an MBA mommy – Winning an Oscar

“I know! We should do a survey on class participation! Or… on post MBA salary expectations!”.

When you are an MBA student, your whole life pretty much revolves around MBA topics – class participation, hating the professor for two minutes of lecture overtime, endless fatigue and lack of sleep and of course the lunch menu for the day. So, when your group gets an assignment to do a statistical analysis of whatever topic in the world you want, these are the first ideas that come to your mind. Of course, these were also the ideas that came to mind of other study groups. “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”, I was quoting Scarlett O’Hara that evening. My group decided that we should sleep on it and agree on the topic tomorrow morning.

That evening, I was catching up on some celebrity gossip (yeah, yeah, like you never do that :)) and I was really surprised when I saw that Leonardo Di Caprio hadn’t won the Oscar. Again. This guy has made so many great movies and yet he has never won. What does he have to do to finally win one?! And then it hit me. Really, what DOES he have to do?

The next morning I talked to my group. I was lucky to have very creative and open-minded people there, so we finally decided to analyze what are the most important factors for winning an Oscar. And of course, what does Leo have to do to get one. We gathered tons of data on all sorts of things – from actors’ hair color and country of birth to movie genre and budget. We did cross-tabs, clusters, t-tests, regressions and all sorts of other fancy statistical stuff and actually found four variables that mattered. No, Leo, I won’t write them here, you need to call ESMT to get the results!

We made a really nice presentation with lots of photoshoping (Hollywood style), we all dressed up in fancy dresses and bow-ties and in the end we did the Oscar selfie. We got some good grades, some Facebook likes for the selfie, but we didn’t win the Oscar in the end. Just like Leo. We didn’t mind. We had lots of fun and laughs with this assignment. Probably much more than we would have had with the class participation survey. This just shows that even in this time-pressured MBA, one night of sleep can make a difference between just working off the assignments and having fun doing them.


P.S. In the end I did win an Oscar, but a couple of weeks later with another group in another assignment – the MARGA simulation. It proudly stands next to my window for everyone to see. In your face, Leo!

Through the eyes of an MBA mommy – Meeting the community

Never before in my life had I met a person from India. Or Cuba. Or Guatemala. And there they were. My new colleagues. Sixty-two of them. It took me two weeks, a bowling match, an expedition through a Brandenburg forest and a weird climbing assignment to remember all their names.

“In every module you will be assigned to a study group with another five or six people. And you will work on all group assignments together as a team.” So, I was assigned to a group of five complete strangers with whom I was supposed to work on assignments. And group assignments are a very important factor for the final grade. This was interesting. Basically, my success now depended on those five people. And my study-life balance also depended on those five individuals. How was this going to work?

My biggest concern of all was how am I going to balance the time at school and the time with my family. Classes do finish at five, but work does not. There is still a lot to do afterwards. How is my group going to handle the fact that I cannot stay after classes every day, but only once or twice a week? That I cannot come on weekends? How are we going to work on our group assignments? Will they hold it against me? Will they hate me for it?

I figured it was best to share my concerns with those new people who were now a big part of my student life. I felt really uneasy at the beginning. I thought that they would not take it very well. I was wrong. They were just like me. They also wanted to have a life outside of the school. They also wanted to spend time with their families and friends. So we agreed on how we were going to do this. It was incredibly easy and it took a huge load off my back.

We worked together on all sorts of assignments for almost two months. We had our laughs, we had our disagreements and we had some pizzas delivered at late hours. We were no longer strangers. We became a true team and somewhere along the way we also became friends. It was a very sad day when we had to part and go on to new study groups.

Oh, and now comes my new study group. How am I going to handle my study – life balance? Will they understand? Or will they hate me?

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.