“In the end, leaving the straight and narrow path might bring you more opportunities than staying on it.”
SAP IMPACT Graduate Leadership Program Member
Graduated in 2010
Exchange year in China (Fuzhou)
After graduation you rejected a job offer by SAP and joined a start-up company instead. What was your motivation for joining the start-up?
I was actually writing my Bachelor thesis for SAP and had the opportunity to join the company. The company culture and the high job security really appealed to me; however, I decided that it would be more interesting to get a more complete picture of what the business world is about from a bottom-up perspective first. At the time I thought that joining a large company would provide a limited glimpse of this world as a clear job description typically focuses on one particular thing. In addition, I found it to be quite hard to decide which department or business area I wanted to work for right after my bachelor degree.
It was also very important to me to learn and to grow quickly in order to make a disruptive impact. So I decided to join a start-up company for a racier start to my career.
Which tasks and responsibilities were entrusted to you?
When you work for a start-up, you are supposed to be a jack of all trades. You are thrown into all kinds of situations where you alone are responsible for figuring out how something works and what exactly needs to be done to solve a problem. So my job was to be the handyman (putting up the office kitchen), the marketing manager (organizing, hosting fair and events, redesigning the company website and print media), the procurement officer (dealing with suppliers) and to be an assistant to the CEO. But the main focus of my job was to provide consulting services on million-Euro investments for our clients in the automotive industry. There was no real definition of what my job description really was.
On one hand, it was challenging because I had to deal with so much uncertainty, but on the other hand, looking back, I realize that this is exactly one of those key learnings and advantages that sets you up for the rest of your career. I think that when it comes to working for a start-up, it is less about knowledge and expertise in one particular area, but more about learning how to take ownership of tasks and drive them towards success.
After two and a half years, you left the start-up and continued your career within the consulting business.
After being with a start-up company for a while and having experienced this hands-on mentality, I really wanted to move in a more professional and mature direction, develop a distinct skill set and gain knowledge of strategic tools.
This is why I decided to join a strategy consultancy which was, again, a completely different experience from the one I had had prior. Within the consulting business, there is a high level of professionalism and extremely high expectations towards the quality of your work. Sometimes it takes weeks and months to figure out how to solve a complex business problem. PowerPoint and Excel have to become your best friends, and in the end you also have to learn how to moderate a workshop or how to give a presentation in front of top management. In other words, you get fully equipped to take on any type of business challenge that comes your way.
Looking back at your time at the East Asia Institute, what do you think was essential for your career that you learned back then?
What I find especially beneficial is that the EAI’s program is not purely business-focused but also has a cultural aspect to it. This really makes you think about business from an unconventional perspective because you are made aware of the cultural differences in all of its contexts when dealing with people from other cultures. And this is the insight you usually do not get in a classical business study program.
In addition, the mandatory year abroad is a good way to push the students to get out of their comfort zone and take on a quite adventurous challenge in order to expand not only their knowledge about the world but also to develop their character.
How did the year abroad in China influence your career path as well as your personal life?
Though I do not have much to do with the Chinese market in the business context at the moment, the year abroad during my bachelor’s degree definitely opened several doors for me as it has always been a unique selling point within my profile, that’s for sure. Furthermore I think the year abroad shaped my personality and helped me learn more about myself.
Besides all that, the year abroad in China was a very special time for me. Not only did I fall in love with the country, but I also fell in love with a very special person who is now my wife and the mother of my son. So even though it was long ago, the year abroad played a large role in my life.
After gaining several years of work experience you decided to enter university in 2016 again to get a MBA degree.
When I graduated from the EAI, I did not consider getting a master’s degree right away, but after a while I developed this need or craving to study again and reconnect with what I had learned in my bachelor studies. For me, having a practical phase between a bachelor’s and master’s was great as it had a much deeper impact on how I came to view the interplay between the different business functions and processes.
Currently you are working at SAP as a member of the SAP IMPACT Graduate Leadership Program. Please tell us more about the program and your personal experiences.
The SAP IMPACT Graduate Leadership Program is a one year program that was founded and sponsored by the CEO, Bill McDermott. Within this one year, you are given the chance to do three rotations within the company in different areas and to learn and understand the company and its needs by working on high-level impact projects.
Each rotation takes about 14 weeks. Two rotations are within your home country, in my case, Germany, and one is abroad. My first rotation was in the Products & Innovation board area, working at the SAP AppHaus in Heidelberg. Here I had the chance to work on the next big project in SAP’s portfolio, SAP Leonardo. My next rotation will be in New York City, where I will be working for SAP’s Chief Marketing Officer, Alicia Tillman.
Taking a look back at your various experiences from graduation until now, do you have any advice for our students?
When students graduate, they are determined to make big decisions about what to do next. Everyone feels pressured to make the “perfect” decision to get the “perfect” job and start the “perfect” career.
I would like to advise each and every student not to worry too much about making the “perfect” decision, but to think outside the box and have the courage to take a more unconventional path. What may not seem to be a logical decision now will likely make perfectly sense when looking back and will add to your personal career story. In the end, leaving the straight and narrow path might bring you more opportunities than staying on it. Always look for ways to challenge yourself, accept the fact that you must make sacrifices and work hard for what you want to achieve. That is the path that will push you to reach your fullest potential.
Thank you very much for the interview and all the best for your time in NYC!
(Das Interview führte Svenja Neu.)