Full-time MBA alumni voices
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Leonardo Assad - Brazilian - Head of Growth & Rollout Strategy at FRAMEN
While his work colleagues started their careers managing assets, analyzing big data or building financial reports, Leonardo Assad (Leo) was writing headlines for advertising in magazines.
Now a consultant at The Boston Consulting Group in São Paulo, Leo says his background is, by no means, a liability. “I use competences developed in my advertising career, such as creativity, client management, teamwork and communication skills, to leverage my performance as a consultant”, he says with the confidence of a strategy expert. In his last advertising years, on a more senior role, Leo developed other abilities necessary to succeed as a consultant, such as analytic skills, logical thinking and structured problem solving, but it was only during his MBA at ESMT that he realized he could do them as well as experienced consultants. “At ESMT, I learned that skills are not something that you either have or don’t have. They can be taught and developed. I had the chance to talk to many C-level executives visiting the school and all of them, with no exception, told me they were still learning and improving their competences.”
Not that such a career change comes without challenges. Before starting his MBA, Leo had his first consulting applications rejected. When asking for feedback from recruiters, he received some discouraging comments: “Some told me I was old and that my previous experience was not relevant to the job as a consultant”, he said, but on the same breath he stated: “But others told me to not give up my dreams, that my shift was possible and that my skills and experience could be valuable for consulting. I just needed to signal a strong commitment to change my career by, for example doing an MBA at a well-regarded institution”. And that is what he did. Leo applied for an MBA at ESMT, Germany’s top business school, and joined the Full-Time Class in 2016.
More than just a highlight in his CV, ESMT’s MBA gave Leo all the necessary support to succeed in his applications. The Career Team, professors, colleagues and alumni gave him valuable tips to convince future employers that he could win in a new career. “I learned how to tell my story. But for other people to buy it, I had to first believe in it myself.” Leo knew intuitively he wanted to work with consulting, but only after his career coaching sessions at ESMT, he fully understood his motivations behind such a drastic career change: “I always loved coming up with ideas for different companies, but I wanted to deliver solutions to improve my client’s processes, services and products; not just its brand. I also wanted a work environment where I could develop a wider range of skills and get closer contact to decision-makers.”
When Leo’s motivations became clearer, he could convincingly tell his career-change story. Now he just needed to find the right people to listen to it. “ESMT’s career team brought many top companies to the school and that was the easiest way to network and get the attention of the recruiters. I also visited job fairs and my coaches gave me valuable social media networking tips, which got me interviews at top consulting firms.” Leo also had the assistance of a professional CV writing software to create an appealing resume, although he thinks that a career changer should not rely on his CV when looking for a new job. He got almost all his interviews through networking. Just sending his CV would rarely yield results: “A CV only tells what you have done. It doesn’t tell what you can do”.
With scheduled interviews ahead, Leo just needed to show he had potential to be a consultant, by rapidly solving complex cases and to convince he was a good fit to the company he was applying for: “There is a lot of online material to prepare for consulting case interviews, but more than reading it, you should practice it with peers.” In 2016, ESMT’s career team brought a team of professional consultants to simulate case interviews. “That was the most fruitful day. In a 30-minute session, a professional consultant gave me instant feedback on how to perform better in an interview”, said Leo. The overall results were excellent. Besides Leo, students of the 2016 class accepted offers at McKinsey, Accenture and KPMG.
After receiving offers from three top strategy consulting firms, Leo opted for The Boston Consulting Group: “BCG has diversity in its DNA. In my office in São Paulo, there are people from so many nationalities and backgrounds! I have colleagues who studied Biology, Philosophy and Theology… When I say, I come from advertising, everybody smiles. They want to know all about my industry and profession. When we share our diverse experiences, we grow as a team and we offer a wider range of solutions to our clients. I couldn’t be in a better place!”. When asked if there is anything he misses from his old career, Leo smiles and promptly answer: “Not really! Well, maybe the casual dress code. I still struggle every morning to knot my tie”.
Moneef Barakat - Syrian - Board Member Infinity Vogt Solar Services
What did you do between undergrad and MBA?
During the five years between graduating with an engineering degree and starting an MBA at ESMT, I developed my consulting experience across many industries, including oil and gas, utilities, transportation, and airports. I started as a generalist for an IT consulting firm before joining eSolutions as a technical consultant customizing enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Next, I mastered the business process of eSolutions clients in the energy sector and was promoted to lead an ExxonMobil project to digitalize supply chain business processes and help the maintenance team to automate the work order management system.
Why did you decide to pursue a Master/MBA degree? What was the “light bulb” moment you knew business school was in your future?
My last assignment at ExxonMobil enlightened me from two perspectives. First, I experienced the global scale of business operations as wide as it gets which made me realize that soft skills are equally as important as being a technical guru. Second, as I advanced to manage the project, many of my weak points were exposed, such as my lack of finance and accounting knowledge and my primitive toolbox of managerial skills. My limited people management skills became clear with the growing number of consultants on the project. Both factors motivated me to search for a solution until I discovered it’s called MBA!
Please describe your current job and the skills you need.
I have enjoyed working in two different verticals at First Solar in the last two years. I started as the head of Supply Chain for the Operations & Maintenance (O&M) business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) before transitioning to lead country operations in Turkey for the Modules Business Development vertical. The wide scope of the General Management specialization at ESMT played a big role in this transition. I was able to switch from being a buyer to being a seller thanks to many transferable skills I acquired during my career and MBA program at ESMT.
My consulting skills across utilities, power plants, and oil and gas smoothed my transition to the renewable energy sector. I also capitalize on the negotiation skills I developed during the MBA program, daily utilizing the skills and techniques we learned in the pricing, international finance, managerial analysis, and decision-making classes at ESMT.
What did you learn or gain from business school that has allowed you to get where you are today (skills, internships, network, etc.)?
ESMT empowered me in multiple ways. With my career background limited to the Middle East and Africa, the school played a cornerstone role in building the strong and purposeful core of my European network. It is a rewarding network of classmates, alumni, and guest speakers who have helped me land two jobs during the last three years. Additionally, being an active member of the Investment Club at ESMT granted me the know-how I needed to manage my own successful personal investment portfolio.
What was your inspiration for pursuing your current job/career—why did you get into this particular line of work?
I always dreamed of a successful career bringing digital solutions to the oil and gas and conventional power generation industries. Nevertheless, our curriculum at ESMT raised many questions regarding my career plan. Where do fossil fuel exploration and conventional power generation industries fit in the global sustainability context? How can I demonstrate responsible leadership while I'm competing for finite resources and polluting the planet? Day by day, and through discussion after discussion, I developed my passion for the renewable energy industry that I now work for.
Your greatest takeaway from business school?
ESMT changed me from a heads-down employee locked to a fixed career ladder to who I am today. Where before I was a subject matter expert focused on specific topics, now I am open-minded to new perspectives. I can generate more passion not only about topics of interest, but even those I used to dislike. ESMT coached me to be entrepreneurial in every endeavor which has made not just my career but my whole life much more enjoyable and purposeful.
Describe any internships or other professional experiences you had while in business school and what you learned.
During my ESMT MBA program, I was part of a team of five students that completed a consulting project for HERE in Berlin. The project was phenomenally exciting, introducing a new autonomous driving technology to the truck industry. We received a very informative onboarding package that gave us scope to combine our passion for technology and our business analysis skills to bring a new technology to the market. As a result, three out of five students were offered full-time positions with our client.
Hillary Batchelder - American - Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft
Please describe your professional journey from pre-MBA to post-MBA?
My background was working in sales and business development for an online media startup. I was looking to transition from an external role into an internal role, as well as to change geographies, so an international MBA seemed like a great fit. I chose ESMT because of its location in Berlin, reasonable price tag, and opportunities to remain in Germany looking for a job if I needed to. I went through the Microsoft recruiting process from ESMT, networking with a few ESMT alumni along the way, and was delighted to be matched with a role in Germany that has been incredibly rewarding.
How has the MBA influenced and enhanced your career?
The MBA has influenced my career through the group work. We were given so much to do and were in such diverse workgroups (nationality, previous experience, industry, you name it) that the pressure really helped me learn about myself and my strengths, as well as what I knew to work on. Now at Microsoft, I have a strong sense of myself, what I bring to work, and how I can bring out the best in other people to help our teams succeed as a whole.
How was life as a student in Berlin/Germany?
Student life in Berlin was incredible. There is always something (or many things) happening in Berlin, to the point where I did not travel nearly as much as I thought I would just because there was so much within Berlin to explore. It's not a very expensive city by European standards, the cost of living was definitely lower than in other cities where I was considering living. That definitely helped me to relax and enjoy my time here, even as a student.
Who would you recommend the ESMT MBA to, and why?
I would recommend the ESMT MBA to anyone who is looking to make a move and start working in Germany. Berlin has so much going on, particularly with startups, that it's a really exciting place to be in terms of tapping into what is happening in the German market. ESMT provided so much support for moving to Germany, alumni connections to interesting companies, and the ability to extend to the 18-month "looking for work" visa after graduation were all highlights of the program and especially appealing to me. The school itself is very well connected, and you have Berlin at your doorstep to go to events, meetups and network.
Maxime Clermont - Canadian - Sr. Manager Commercial Operations at Kellogg Company
Maxime Clermont, MBA 2017, was looking for a dynamic and practical MBA program that kept up with relevant topics and adjusted to changing economies. Listen to Maxime speak about how he found what he wanted at ESMT Berlin.
Marwan Dessouki - Egyptian - Senior Program Manager at Amazon
With a background in finance and strategic management, Marwan has worked as a Senior Financial Analyst in Cairo, Egypt, prior to his MBA.
"Being in a class of 65 students from 40 different nationalities was a unique experience of its own. The diversity adds a lot to the peer to peer learning experience that an MBA has to offer. With ESMT leading in diversity, the experience is one of a kind. You get to interact with and learn from people coming from unique backgrounds. With the intimate class size these classmates become your friends, transitioning over to a strong and dedicated alumni community."
Liliane Duarte - Brazilian - Regional Sales Manager Allianz Automotive
Current job location: Munich, Germany
Previous job function: Strategy Execution Manager - Global Life & Health
Previous industry: Financial services
Previous company: Allianz
With experience in sales, operations and general management in the financial services industry, Liliane has worked as a Regional Operations Manager in Sao Paulo, Brazil, prior to her MBA.
"Berlin is a vibrant city, culturally fascinating and affordable compared to other capitals in Europe. It is a city where cultures come together in an exciting and fast-moving environment. It has all the comfort and advantages a big city provides, while still offering quiet residential neighborhoods.
Studying at ESMT has not only allowed me to study business concepts, but has also enabled me to learn from a very diverse group of people, creating a very enriching experience. In terms of professional development, an MBA will help you land your dream job. But for me personally, the greatest asset of my MBA is the opportunity to be part of an amazing network at ESMT."
Andrian Gavrilita - Moldovan - Policy Advisor at GIZ
With experience in transport and logistics, international trade, and consulting the government, Andrian has worked as Policy Advisor in Chisinau, Moldova, prior to his MBA.
"The year at ESMT is one of the best things that ever happened to me. It has been a game changer in both my career and life. The year is intense, so it is up to you to balance and prioritize: You can learn enough, a lot, or everything. Some professors were awesome, while others were ‘only’ great. But the learning came both from faculty and classmates."
Kondwani Kampenya - Malawian - Country Manager at JBJ Foundation
Prior to earning an MBA with a specialization in management of innovation and technology at ESMT, Kondwani Kampenya had experience working in consultancy, management, and business analytics. He has organized and implemented career development projects to help engage international companies with Africa’s graduate networks, such as the Next Einstein Forum co-founded by the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences and the Robert Bosch Stiftung. Since graduating from ESMT, Kampenya continues to focus on the development of Sub-Saharan Africa as country manager for Malawi for the JBJ Foundation, which focusses on improving the local healthcare and education systems among others.
“Learning about business in a historic building, formerly the center of government in the socialist part of Germany, to working with brilliant colleagues from 36 other countries, my ESMT MBA experience was everything I imagined and more. The quality of the curriculum and the faculty were remarkable, and the city of Berlin had a lot to offer, so there was never a dull moment.”
Ai Nakajima - Japanese - Head of IT Operations Japan at Wipro
ESMT Berlin alumna leads Marriage for All campaign in Japan
ESMT Berlin alumna Ai Nakajima put her MBA skills to work—not only for her professional endeavors, but also in her personal life, as she became one of the pioneers to launch the “Marriage for All” campaign, which demands equal rights for same-sex couples in Japan. Starting her professional career in the USA and then Germany, she moved into the FinTech industry after acquiring her MBA at ESMT. She is now working in Japan again.
We interviewed her on the occasion of “Sticks & Stones”, Europe’s largest LGBT+ career fair, which will take place on May 25 in Berlin. If you are interested the degree programs offered by ESMT and our efforts for diversity and inclusivity, meet us there.
Hello Ai, please introduce yourself: Where are you from? In which industry did you work before the MBA and in which industry do you currently work? How many years of experience do you have?
I am from Japan, and I was working in the banking industry before starting my MBA at ESMT Berlin. Currently, I am working at a crypto currency exchange company. I have more than ten years of working experience in finance IT and project management.
Why did you choose the ESMT Berlin MBA program? Why should candidates consider studying at ESMT and Germany?
I chose ESMT for two main reasons. One is the emphasis on technology in the MBA program, the other is the strong connection to multiple layers of German companies and government. ESMT provides a wonderful opportunity to get to know the culture and a variety of industries in Germany, from start-ups to big international corporations.
What was it like living in Berlin and being a student at ESMT?
Germany as a country recognizes same-sex marriages, and when I lived there, Berlin even had an openly gay mayor – this is something that is unimaginable in my home country even today. My colleagues from the bank and at ESMT did not bother at all that I had a female partner, and we did not have to hide that aspect of our lives.
How do cultural diversity and inclusion differ between German and Japanese work cultures?
Japan is much more traditional and conservative by nature. It was, and still is, behind in terms of diversity and inclusion. Japan is trying to change, but after my experience of living in Germany, I could feel the difference in terms of accepting diversity in the work environment between the two countries very strongly. For example, in Japan, people do not talk about their private lives in the workplace, but in Germany it is the opposite, everybody can speak openly about his or her private life.
What role do MBA education programs play in creating more inclusive workspaces?
The diversified demographics of my MBA class were a good start to recognizing diversity and creating an inclusive atmosphere to successfully complete group assignments. However, the students did not merely accept diversity – throughout the MBA year, our minds developed a sense of what corporate social responsibility (CSR) means and how we can make a positive impact on society.
You were recently part of a campaign to push the Japanese government to afford equal rights and protections for same-sex couples. How did this come about?
We are following a similar path as the US Supreme Court in June 2015, concluding that the constitution grants the right of marriage not only to opposite-sex couples but also to same-sex couples. I am part of the plaintiff group to claim the same before the Japanese Court. The trial just started in February of this year. It will take roughly five years to go through the court proceedings and have a verdict. I hope Japan changes gradually towards more diversity in the near future. In order for this to happen, we need strong support from all over the world.
Is there any way you can tie in your learning outcomes from the MBA to your marriage campaign?
What I have learned during the MBA has surely helped me to be part of this campaign activity. The biggest impact has come from the leadership class. I can use my leadership skills in court, at events, or interviews and proudly represent the community. The group of plaintiffs and lawyers have diverse backgrounds, and we often have a challenging time to consolidate comments or to decide on the group’s direction. Therefore, I do exercise my negotiation- and problem-solving skills, which I learned at ESMT to help find consensus within the group. I have also been invited as a guest speaker at variety of events, and the presentation skills I learned have helped me to present effectively.
What are the next steps in the campaign?
In terms of court process, after going through the district court, the next step would be the high court, and the last is the Supreme Court. The non-profit organization “Marriage for All Japan” and the lawyers’ group will host events around Japan to promote our case, calling for equal rights. In order to make this campaign successful, we need strong and loud voices from inside and outside Japan. For example, in 2018, five foreign Chamber of Commerce offices requested the Japanese government to protect the LGBT+ community and implement equal rights. This type of visibility and strong pressure will have a significant impact. At the moment, our problem is not widely known. Therefore, our first action is to reach out to a wider audience about the LGBT+ challenges in Japan.
Carolina Rincon - Colombian - Senior Product Manager OLX Group
Current Job Location: Berlin, Germany
Previous company: Amazon
With a background in consulting and technical project management in the IT industry, Carolina has worked as a Project Engineer in Bogota, Colombia, prior to her MBA.
"Career Services are present throughout the year and are as useful as you want them to be. My personal coach helped me improve my soft skills, which was just as important as the knowledge learned in the classroom. The organized company visits were a very useful way to start discerning the career path I wanted to pursue post-MBA. Other important milestones in my career search were the interview day and the case practice day. These two events were crucial for my preparation of job interviews, and helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses – which ultimately benefitted me during my job search."