Interview with MBA Alumna Marie Masson

We interviewed Marie Masson, MBA alumna 2018, on her experience of the ESMT MBA program.

With your UN/NGO background, what motivated you to do an MBA? 

First, the business and management skills the MBA teaches are useful whether you are working for a hedge fund or an NGO. Every organization has a mission, a strategy, a budget and employees to be managed, and today, I think only a business degree formally teaches this. An MBA gives you the opportunity to reflect on your leadership style, learn from other student’s experiences, and develop business skills to have a helicopter view of organizations.

Second, by pursing business classes during my Bachelor degree in Political Science, I noticed there was often a line drawn between business and politics, which I found difficult to understand because both are so intertwined. By doing an MBA, I aspired to develop a hybrid profile to better understand the relationship between the public and the private sector. I believe that in an increasingly interconnected world, companies will need more hybrid profiles to play on the international stage and create effective partnerships. I therefore would encourage more people to pursue studies in a wide range of complementary fields.

One year later, what would you say surprised you most about the program?

I always pictured an MBA class working in a competitive environment. Instead, study groups helped each other out, finance students helped soft skill students and vice versa (my friend Faraz saved me in all technical classes), students shared job postings and their networks, and during many group presentations I heard: “We conducted our analysis this way but actually the previous group did it really nicely as well!”. This supportive environment was an incredible surprise, and might be very ESMT specific due to the diversity of profiles.

If you had to name one highlight of the year, what would it be?

There were many fun moments, but my highlight a moment of reflection. At the end of Module 1, our classmate Carlos took a picture of all of us in our Module 1 seating plan. It was a strange moment when all of us realized how fast the first few weeks had passed and how the rest of the year would fly. After this picture, all of us already spoke about missing each other 10 months down the road when the MBA would end.

What are your professional plans? How will the MBA degree help you to reach your goals?

I am starting a position in Public Affairs at Lilium, a flying taxi startup in Munich. If someone had told me I would be working for such an incredibly exciting project after my MBA, I would never have believed them!

The MBA taught me how to work with very diverse profiles and in a fast-paced environment -two things which will be vital in my new position. In addition, I hope that the business knowledge I have gained will enlarge my political vision to better understand the core business and work closer with my technical colleagues.

What advice would you give members of the Class of 2019, who started the program in January?

First, say YES! Say yes to as many events or activities organized by the school  and your classmates. In a few years, you will have forgotten how sleep deprived you were, and you will only remember how much fun you had with the most diverse group you will ever be in.

Second, network, network and network from Day 1.

Third, be humble and learn from others.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I am grateful for the faculty and staff at ESMT who make everything possible with their hard work, positive attitude and eagerness to make any student initiative possible. All of us owe a large part of our success to the outstanding efforts of the ESMT Berlin school.

 

Interview with MBA alumnus Kalpesh Ahire

We caught up with Kalpesh Ahire, MBA 2018 alumnus, who shared his ESMT MBA story.

What motivated you to do an MBA?

Prior to the MBA, I had been working as a Business Analyst/Technology Consultant with Accenture. My undergraduate degree is in Engineering, specializing in Information Technology. This made my work quite challenging. While my technical skills were quite strong, on the business side, I had to learn on the job or from my peers. However, as time passed I realized that a structured way of learning would be the most efficient way to prepare for any upcoming business challenge. My approach has always been to refer to the basics – taking what I have learned academically and then building on this to take on practical issues. Naturally, an MBA was the obvious choice. I was always fascinated with the German industry and business landscape and since I had also worked in Germany before, I decided to move to Germany. I chose ESMT Berlin due to a number of factors and not limited to the internationality, age of the school, and the focus on innovation and technology, along with personal development.

One year later, what would you say surprised you most about the program?

The program itself and the cohort. Often times, one does not experience exactly what one has signed up for. I still remember my initial discussion with the admissions team where I was made aware of what to expect at ESMT, such as the international cohort, very practical approach to studies, innovation-based topics, and the focus on people and leadership development etc. Everything turned out to be exactly the way it was portrayed, which is quite unique.

Secondly, the cohort. My class was amazing. We were close-knit and had each other’s backs, with no competition, and everyone bringing out the best in each other. At many points during the MBA, I attended MBA events where I met candidates from other business schools and it was quite evident that the ESMT candidates stood out as a team.

 

If you had to name one highlight of the year, what would it be?

This is probably the most difficult question. This year has been full of highlights and extraordinary experiences, be it our very first week going outdoors for team building exercises or the class coming together to help our MBAT team, or the various cultural events organized by our very diverse class, or the obvious – different classes and professors.

However, if I must choose one, I would choose something personal. I am an aviation geek and have been around jets courtesy of my father’s job. Also, I have always been fascinated by technology and machine learning. An important and in fact differentiating aspect of the ESMT MBA is the consulting project, where we directly apply our knowledge to real time situations in a company. I had the opportunity to work with Lufthansa for my consulting project. The project dealt with how Lufthansa can implement conversational commerce and improve services, a perfect amalgamation of two of my interests, aviation and technology with strategy. I do not think I could have had the opportunity to have this experience elsewhere. On a side note, for one of our meetings in Zurich I was able to fly in a Fokker-100 aircraft, one of the last few left in service. I could finally check it off my long list of aircraft models I always wanted to fly!

I have heard that you have be vigilant in learning German. Why was this so important to you?

 I come from India, the land of many languages. I grew up in a town with almost every culture and language from my country. It was therefore natural to know a few words from different languages. It not only helped understand the people around but also helped to bond with them. This important learning came in handy when I moved to Germany. As mentioned earlier, I have worked in Germany before, which is when I actually started learning the language. Though my working language was English, learning German helped me a lot as my job involved talking to various stakeholders. Understanding and learning a language does not have the sole purpose of understanding a conversation. It serves a bigger purpose of knowing the people and the culture. I had already decided to work in Germany after my MBA and being part of the culture would help me in my stay. As a result, when I decided to take up the MBA, I moved to Berlin 3 months early to continue learning the language.

What are your professional plans?

I come from the IT industry specifically in the Business Analysis space and would like to leverage my knowledge of the industry and technology. Solutioning comes naturally to me; therefore, I am keen on developing my career into strategy consulting with an IT background. However, I am open for any challenge, as I believe the MBA has taught me well about how to transfer my skills and utilize them wherever I go. Also, as mentioned before, the German business landscape is quite fascinating to me, I would like to stay here in Germany.

What advice would you give members of the Class of 2019?

Live and enjoy every moment of this incredible journey, it ends very soon. Be there for each other as it is not as enjoyable if pursued alone. While learning in the classroom is important, it is equally important to meet people, make friends, and build a network. 

ESMT organizes many events, be an active part of them. Berlin has a lot to offer in this regard, go to many of those events. Being a one-year program, it gets quite hectic, especially in the beginning of the year, but make an effort to go out and network, be part of extracurricular activities, it is WORTH it! ESMT listens to students and supports student initiatives, so be vocal and organize events/activities that would add value to you and your class. They supported many initiatives from our class. Above all, the ESMT MBA offers a unique opportunity of getting to know many cultures and people at a single place – take full advantage of it. Cultural exchange will make you prepared for everything that is coming after the program.

Anything else you would like to share?

I still cannot comprehend that this year has ended. However, there are few things which I will always remember and would want everyone to know. We were a class of 66 students and one exchange student in the first half of the program representing 34 nationalities.

Many “firsts” happened during our year at ESMT, be it new clubs such as the Technology Club. The first ever ESMT Hackathon took place, where people from business and technology fields came together. Many cultural exchanges took place, such as a Brazilian barbeque and Italian dinner. We organized an auction to support our athletic MBAT team, who went on to win many international tournaments. Some of my classmates went to Australia to participate in the Global Business Challenge and secured second place and funding to start a company. Last but not the least, we had some of the most qualified, multi-talented, and coolest professors, some who could tango for example, or can be found on Spotify, to name a few. 

I changed my mind about my MBA school

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.

Another standing ovation to the professor, Financial Accounting class, MBA 2018

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?

Marketing Management class, MBA 2018

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?

The best 50 cents I spent in the MBA

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).

Tom Mboya Street, Nairobi

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.

From PowerPoint to Prize Winning (How I Won a Morpheus Prize!)

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.

 

Zenko KawabataI 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.

So alongside my crazy school workload I started looking into each topic and brainstorming. After a couple of weeks, I came up with one idea: to find an innovative way of utilizing waste heat from data centers. The idea struck me as very good, and the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became. Continue reading “From PowerPoint to Prize Winning (How I Won a Morpheus Prize!)”