There was pin-drop silence for a moment and then everybody was on their feet, clapping and cheering. He had delivered his last one! The claps did not stop until he himself stood on the chair and thanked his audience for their support. More claps followed. I said to myself, “How humble! Appreciating others for his hard work!”
It wasn’t a normal performance though. It wasn’t delivered by an actor from one of Berlin’s many theaters. Rather it was our last class for Managerial Analysis and Decision Making (MAD) with Professor Francis. He was no less of an artist. He showed the same conviction in the class as artists showcase in their performances. He practiced what he taught, too. He even shared an instance from his personal life where he applied what he was teaching. Above all, he was all about the fun of learning. Never did I imagine that this so-called intense MBA would bring me so much joy.
What made the experience special was that this was one of the early classes of the MBA 2018 program. It made it evident that what was going to follow would be good. And that did happen. Generally, all of the classes I have had until now have been good learning opportunities. I had never imagined that a quantitative methods class could be taught simply and without involving a lot of numbers. And I dare not miss the unique, elementary-school-like experience of learning financial accounting.
I must elaborate on this! Having just two accountants as students and another 3 to 4 students with similar work experience out of a diverse class of 67, the professor had to teach accounting basics. How did he do it? He got us handouts for every topic and went through each of them like one would do in a school! Today, if you give me any financial statement I can explain it with ease. If anyone would have asked me to do so a month ago, all I would have said is “Are you kidding?” Maybe all the B-schools have this pattern or maybe not, who can tell. All I can say is that, as a student, I can vouch for ESMT.
With such an intense curriculum, there have been several occasions when I was not prepared for the class or was not very interested. But I never missed a class. I was always sure I would learn something new or have some new experience every day. Did I mention that we toasted to our successful completion of marketing classes and the beginning of spring break with some Irish whiskey, courtesy of our Irish professor?
It is not just about learning but about celebrating this year. Three months have already gone by. I hope that the rest of the year passes by slowly because I want to enjoy every moment of this adventure to the fullest.
Prof. Francis said in one of the classes, “Deciding is to give yourself a true chance to change your mind.” Yes, I did change my mind last year and decided to come to ESMT Berlin. Do I need to say it was one of the best decisions I ever made?
I stood in the middle of a crowded street, people weaving past me, their bags occasionally bumping into me as they hurried past. Around me chatter in Swahili from families and couples doing their shopping. I can hear the occasional vendor singing his inventory to attract customers. To the left of me, a man selling knives breaks into a demonstration for a woman and tells her, “Nothing sharper than this madam.” I could spend all week watching the people on Tom Mboya Street. Describing how every person is the heart of a business transaction, how the smart talking salesman can sway a person going about their chores and magically turn them into a satisfied customer when they never even knew the product they bought existed this morning.
To make this story make sense, I need to tell you a little about me. I’m in love with entrepreneurship. I’ve loved every chance to study it during my MBA program. From the International Field Seminar trips to London and Tel Aviv, to networking with founders and advising participants in accelerators and incubators, to classes on how to be an entrepreneur, investment rounds and venture capitalists, I have loved EVERY WORD spoken about Entrepreneurship during my studies, which since we are based in one of the best tech start-up cities is A LOT!! Unfortunately, I’d begun to associate all start-ups with technology. And even worse, I was beginning to frame successful entrepreneurship with models based in developed countries, I was beginning to think that a business that doesn’t disrupt an industry, or one that isn’t supported by government and infrastructure had no hopes of being successful. Till I was standing in Mboya Street. Something that at first looked so foreign and chaotic, began to look passionate, organized when instead of dismissing it, I used my training to I look at it from the business perspective. I could spend all day talking about the beauty of doing business in the underground economy and how elegant, delicate and endearing entrepreneurship is in Africa but today I want to tell you about my journey to Kiambu.
I’m only on Tom Mboya Street to catch a matatu to Kiambu. In case you haven’t been to Nairobi, look at the picture, (taken from my very terrible phone and Google).
The roads are filed with matatus. These small minibuses are public transport. They are a private industry. While matatus get licenses from the government, the system of which matatu takes which route and when is largely regulated by the drivers and their conductors (conductors are the individuals who partner with drivers and are responsible for collecting money and getting customers)
This is my first time going and I have no idea how to get there besides vague instructions from a friend. I’m nervous to ask since my Swahili is all google translate based. But there is no need. The conductor approaches me. He asks me what I need. And here the businessman in him seizes the opportunity. “Where are you going my sister?”He eases all the uncertainty I was feeling, and assures me, his bus is the right one. I enter his empty matatu. As I sit in the heavily decorated matatu, I realize the passion Matatu owners have. We often don’t see it as that in our daily lives, but take a look at the picture of the matatu: this man is clearly passionate about Kobe Bryant and his business. These matatus are often covered head to toe in pictures of an inspiring leader e.g. Bob Marley, Martin Luther King. Secretly, I dream of the day I see a matatu covered in pictures and quotes about me.
As I look around I realize there are other matatus filling up and leaving before ours. I stand up ready to search for another one, but the conductor catches me and convinces me to stay. He offers to show me where to stop and which road to take to reach my destination. He makes himself the best option and I sit down. Finally, the journey starts, I and 18 other passengers, fit in a 15-passenger bus. Somehow, he’s found a way to stretch his goals to increase utilization.
As I’m nervously checking the route, trying to find any of the landmarks my friend described I notice a police block. As the bus driver slows down to stop, the risk-taking conductor jumps out of the still moving matatu and goes over to negotiate the penalty. He’s back before I’ve even had time to count the number of police at the road block. (A story for another day is how I find in Zimbabwe police road blocks are where you find the highest density of government employees, but that’s for another day.) Before long we are now going up a hill, the car slows down and even with my basic understanding of car engines, I can sense something is wrong. I can feel panic begin to creep up, until I notice the driver is turning into a gas station. He eases in and the conductor jumps out and gets the matatu refuelled. I realize the two-man team knew exactly when they needed to refuel, they had planned this journey up to the number of kilometres to the gas station. At this point the conductor calls for my attention- he’s telling me it’s my stop. As I descend he’s holding a pregnant lady’s bag so she can enter the matatu with ease. I’m amazed at the level of care he takes with his customers- amazing people/customer relationship management. The best part of this journey is it’s only cost me the equivalent of USD 0.50, true value for money.
There are many models to use to study business, we learnt some key ones at ESMT, but the Responsible Leaders Fellowship gave me a chance to apply the models. I loved watching business in Nairobi and Harare, realizing the similarities between Amazon and a flea market, how street vendors are like pop up ads on a site, knowing when and how to enter your line of sight and get a sale; or how Uber gives you a map as rider so you can make sure you know where you’re going, similarly, in a matatu the driver assures me continuously I’m on the right route. But most importantly I loved working with Welthungerhilfe’s farmers on treating farming as a business. Doing trainings on analyzing output, increasing efficiencies and record keeping was such an amazing experience. Discussing and working on what elements of a digital platform would be valuable to farmers and working on a strategy for Kenya and Zimbabwe with the organization reminded me, business can change the world positively.
Since 2015, students attending European universities and graduate schools are invited to compete for prizes as individuals and teams in an innovation lab sponsored by some of the world’s top brands. For the students, this Morpheus Cup and Morpheus Prize event provides an opportunity to present innovative ideas to potential industry employers and investors; for employers and investors, the event is insight into the talent and ideas developing on European campuses.
Below, ESMT MBA student Zenko Kawabata writes about competing for (and winning!) at this year’s event.
I came to know about the Morpheus Cup and the Morpheus Prize from one of the ESMT MBA office’s Friday emails in January. It was the most hectic month for me, so it was not my intention to do any extracurricular activities like this. However, as I checked the details of the competition, I found out that all you need to enter the competition for the Morpheus Prize is to make and submit a 10-slide presentation.
There were indeed many different and interesting topics to choose from. I especially liked the format, sending only a 10-slide presentation, and how they stated that it should be “an entertaining presentation.” I find that 10 slides are the right length to convey any idea, and I also agree that presentations should be entertaining.
In the past 10 years the world has faced many dramatic changes,from a new economic and financial scenario after the 2008 subprime crisis to a new geo-political setting marked by Brexit and the proliferation of populism in the western world. Many companies and governments continue to struggle with the effects. Nowadays, adaptability has become one of the key factors that determine whether managers succeed or fail, whether companies grow or stagnate, and whether politicians stay relevant or face irrelevance.
In management, adaptability is a critical skill. As a matter of fact, a recent report states that 91% of HR directors think that by 2018 people will be recruited on their ability to deal with change and uncertainty (2014, The Flux Report by Right Management). In my case, the ability to remain adaptable has helped me beyond any expectations.
In 2015, before moving to Germany from Chile, I co-founded Tree Digital, a digital marketing consulting company, which I managed remotely during my MBA studies at ESMT Berlin in 2016. This year, after the MBA, I made the decision to keep managing the company from Berlin. I saw an opportunity to expand our operations to Germany and the advantage of being in the most important startup hub in Europe. However, I experienced hard resistance from colleagues, family, and from my team. Many thought that this was not a wise decision, stating that it is almost impossible to manage a company remotely and that physical presence is one of the keys to success.
Adapting to the vessel
I have found out that remaining flexible and adaptable has allowed me to make faster decisions, to see a clearer picture, and to respond to my business needs much quicker. Also, I have learned that emotional intelligence is a vital competency when communicating change to any team.
To achieve growth with Tree Digital, I have been promoting an inner culture that embraces change to make us move quickly. We have designed a light organization with fewer hierarchies, yielding more freedom to design, think, and propose new ideas. This has been the secret sauce to keep high levels of motivation, productivity, and growth.
The eight key lessons that I have learned during this experience are:
A flexible manager must be willing to move out of his/her comfort zone.
There is no such thing as “doing things by the book.”
Allow yourself to learn continuously as a vehicle to constant adaptation.
See opportunities where others see failure.
Ask yourself: “What would someone else do in my position?”
Sometimes it is good to do things in a different way.
Focus on the core strategy; do not get distracted by the details.
Embrace change and make it part of your culture.
Even though the future is not written, I know that the only certainty is change. Therefore, I know that staying adaptable will always be the best approach when facing the future.
About the author
Enrique Planas is the Chief Motivator Officer at Tree Digital, an entrepreneur, and an enthusiastic amateur chef. Write to him at email@example.com or +49 176 35747757
The work of an entrepreneur is never done. Since I started selling awesome paper wallets as BERLIN slim, I’ve realized that what I really signed up for is a never-ending list of tasks. Everything needs to get done yesterday.
After a brief honeymoon period, it dawned on me that if I didn’t start making money soon, I wasn’t going to make it. The pressure slowly began to mount. I found myself working longer and longer hours, in a vain effort to finish one more thing.
It sounds a lot worse than it is though. Honestly, I love it!
I want to share some of my observations on starting a business. I went in with a few misconceptions and my own personal blind spots. I hope to spare you from some of the problems I’ve had.