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Personal and professional development: an MBA case study

This article originally appeared in Ambition, AMBA’s thought leadership publication (in print and online), and has been republished on this website with the permission of AMBA.

Author: Tim Dhoul (Content Editor, AMBA & BGA)

Google Key Account Manager and Digital Marketing Consultant, Guy Luchting, tells Tim Dhoul how studying for an MBA has impacted his career journey.

While studying for his bachelor’s degree in the Netherlands, Guy Luchting was selected for an internship at Dutch multinational, Heineken. The application process was unusual. Interviewees, including Guy, were secretly filmed as they responded to unexpected situations, such as being led to the interview room by the hand or the interviewer passing out mid-interview.

The resulting footage was used to create a viral marketing video, which amassed 2.8 million views within a week and has now had more than 5 million views. Known as ‘The Candidate’, it picked up a Gold Lion PR award at 2013’s Cannes Lions Festival. For Guy, who hails from Germany, it was an early opportunity to gauge where his career interests lay.

He reflects: ‘I was a great fan of Heineken advertising back in the day; I was studying hospitality management and watched all of the company’s YouTube videos. I see now that this was the beginning of my passion for advertising and creativity – I just didn’t know it then. Overall, it was an amazing opportunity, and an amazing stunt.’

The public attention the campaign, and associated footage, received took a little longer for Guy to come to terms with. ‘In the beginning, it was a lot of attention,’ he recalls. ‘I got recognised on the street, for example. I know this is weird, but it took me some time to say, proudly, that I was part of this, without feeling like I was showing off.’

Ultimately, however, he is grateful for the experience and how he benefited from it: ‘What I got from the internship was that I wanted to work in a creative advertising agency. I still follow what Heineken is doing. I think the company is a pioneer and an example of best practice in advertising.’

Developing a personal vision

Fast forward six years and Guy is now a Key Account Manager and Digital Marketing Consultant at Google, based in Dublin, working with clients who represent some of Germany’s top retail chains.

‘It’s a mixture [that involves] advising them on the digital market, technical troubleshooting and stakeholder management,’ he says, explaining that his role takes him to his home country of Germany frequently for meetings and workshops on product solutions with clients.

Guy Luchting.

Guy’s current role is his first since completing an MBA at ESCP Europe and the latest instalment in a career journey that has provided ongoing insights into what motivates him at work and what he excels at.

He explains that his desire to join Google stemmed from his Business School experience. ‘At ESCP, I developed a personal vision, and from that, I derived what I wanted to do and identified companies that would be aligned with this vision. Google was one of these companies. I wanted to work in an international environment and to learn from the best. When I read the job description and the nature of the job, I was hooked. I was reading it and I thought, “this is me”.’

Guy believes that it is not a job he could have done prior to his MBA. ‘Without it, my mindset would not have been ready to apply for a company like Google,’ he says.

Despite the current ‘techlash’ against Silicon Valley’s tech giants, he is quick to emphasise the strength of Google’s position when it comes to recruiting top talent. ‘If you are into business, but business with a purposeful twist, and you want to have an impact, then this is the company to work for,’ he argues. ‘The culture at Google is unique in so many ways that it will attract, and hopefully, retain people who are looking for something more, who are open-minded and see the big picture. I think that Google will continue to attract great talent, especially MBAs.’

While he does not feel able to comment on the current debate around privacy and the EU’s introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018, he points to the importance Google places on its users. ‘The users are the centre of everything,’ he says. ‘Without them, Google wouldn’t be anything. If you don’t respect that, there won’t be a business and you won’t achieve anything. Google is a purposeful company, it’s more than earning money, it’s all the services that Google users can use for free, such as Google Maps, Gmail and Android [the mobile operating system developed by Google].’

Purposeful twist

This ‘purposeful twist’ is something Guy had been searching for prior to his MBA, when the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party rose to prominence in Germany ahead of the country’s federal elections in 2017. ‘The AfD gained a lot of traction in Germany and I was really shocked, thinking “this is not the Germany I want to believe in”,’ he explains.

At the time, he was working in Hamburg for the creative advertising agency, Jung von Matt/Havel, but took the opportunity to move to the company’s Berlin office to work on the election campaign for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

This project, during which he coordinated the production of advertising across TV, online and social media channels and drew up presentations for his superior to present to the Chancellor, was his last at the agency before he opted to embark on an MBA.

‘I was looking to change, although I never thought I would do a master’s degree. Then a friend of mine applied for Harvard and I thought, “well, if he is applying for Harvard, I can at least try for a master’s!”’.

ESCP Europe stood out because of its international dimension, the programme’s length and the fact that it would not require him to sit the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). ‘I was scared of
the GMAT and was working 10-14 hours a day already, plus weekends, and I thought, “I’m never going to be able to do that”,’ he admits.

‘It was all really spontaneous, but I liked the admissions process; it felt personal and I think you can see this in the people who joined the MBA. I went to the Berlin campus and was talking to a programme manager and one other person involved in the MBA. It was a nice, open talk and you could really tell what ESCP was about.’

Valuing diversity

Guy took full advantage of ESCP Europe’s international and multi-campus opportunities. ‘I did half a year in Paris and half a year in Madrid, and I went to Turin, London and Berlin,’ he says, before enthusing about the varied (personal and professional) backgrounds of his classmates; one had been working in Syria’s oil industry while another was a former shopping centre manager from the Philippines, for example. This level of diversity was valuable, although he admits he ‘should have asked way more questions and listened more’.

Having finished the programme in the summer of 2018, the class remains in touch, reuniting for graduation in December and establishing an active WhatsApp group. One of Guy’s former classmate even started working at Google at the same time as him, allowing for frequent catch ups.

Guy stresses that his MBA boosted both his personal and professional development. ‘It helped me to develop myself and my
self-confidence, to learn and strategise about my future,’ he says. He also valued the School’s use of the case study method greatly. ‘I enjoyed the cases – you really saw what the main problem is and how one can go about solving it,’ he says, adding that this has helped him to apply a more structured approach to problem solving in his current role.

Eight months into his job at Google and armed with a greater awareness of his career aims and motivations, Guy is focusing on developing in his current role.

‘My priority is to learn my job well; it’s complex and challenging,’ he says. ‘I enjoy working with clients and giving presentations, and I like the proactiveness and the business approach of sales.’

While he does not know what the future might hold, he is fully aware of the part his MBA experience has played in getting him to where he is now. ‘Without it, I would not be where I am,’ he admits. ‘I am really happy right now. It really changed my life.’

UMIO brings Design Thinking to Cape Town

In November, UMIO’s Carmen Vonken and Dominique Meyers taught an elective course about Design Thinking and Innovation at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. We spoke to them about their experiences in South Africa. 

Design Thinking is a method for solving problems or developing new products and services in a practical and creative way. “It is a user-centered discipline that is very practical and pragmatic”, Carmen Vonken explains.

During the Elective Week of the Executive MBA programme at University of Stellenbosch Business School, the students had to go through a so-called design sprint. Carmen: “This is a process in which you work from a challenge to a solution within a fixed time frame. The students worked in groups on a fictional case that they could fill in themselves. The starting point had to be a challenge for a company near the university, for example a shop or a restaurant. Part of the design sprint is the development of a customer journey. This is the path a consumer follows before, during and after purchasing a certain product or service. Many students indicated in advance that this was nothing new, that they already knew everything about customer journeys. However, immediately after the session they discovered that they had never worked out a real customer journey and that much more is possible than they knew from the books. That was an eye opener for them.”

How it started

Every three years, UMIO welcomes Executive MBA students from the University of Stellenbosch Business School for a European Management Residency. The residency is part of a fruitful and ongoing partnership between Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics and University of Stellenbosch Business School. For the July 2018 residency, the content of the programme was adjusted; the focus was shifted from EU Business Themes to Design Thinking and Innovation.

The week in Maastricht turned out to be a great success with many positive reactions from students. “During the residency, professor Marlize Terblanche-Smit concluded that her business school was in structural need of more depth in the field of Design Thinking”, says Dominique Meyers. “I then suggested devoting an elective to this topic for the Elective Week of their Executive MBA programme. At the end of 2018, we received a request to prepare a proposal for the Elective Week of 2019. The continuation of the elective depended on the interest of the students. Ultimately, no fewer than 26 students chose our elective, which meant that Carmen and I could travel to Cape Town in November.”

A great success

The elective about Design Thinking and Innovation was a great success, with both trainers receiving many positive reactions from the students. Dominique: “It was a bit exciting in advance, since it was the first time that we taught this elective abroad. In addition, we were warned that South African students usually first see which way the wind blows. That also appeared to be the case during the first day; many students were enthusiastic but also critical. On the second day, they came loose. We had apparently shown that we knew what we were talking about. The atmosphere became more relaxed and we laughed a lot. The students asked many questions, they were also constantly busy with the question: what does this mean for my business? That was very inspiring to see.”

“What the students really appreciated is that we, as teachers, have a good command of the knowledge and the material because we implement it within the business community through our projects”, says Carmen. “This allows us to quote many examples of what we have experienced ourselves and what we hear from companies. They also appreciated the interactivity of the elective. They found it useful to be able to apply the theory to their own case. That was a nice change from the theoretical methods that they normally deal with within the MBA programme.”

Next year

In principle, the elective was a one-off assignment, but given the positive reactions from the students and professor Terblanche-Smit, Carmen and Dominique expect that they will also be able to submit a proposal for the 2020 Elective Week. “The official feedback has yet to come in”, says Dominique. “With bad evaluations we would no longer receive an invitation, but the feedback in class was very positive so we do not expect that at all.”