Brexit & The Future of Startups In Europe

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This is a guest post from Marguerite Arnold.

Since 1972, Britain has been part of the European continent. I remember the opening very well. I was a kid, living in London. The new openness meant we could afford oranges from Spain. Every week, an old French farmer would also peddle through London with strings of onions hanging from his bicycle. I thought the arrangement was unbelievably cool and more than romantic.

Fast forward forty years, and the situation is now reversing, and that is not only a shame, but I predict it will have dire and unforeseen consequences for the British.

The England I knew as a child was a fascinating place. It was a country struggling to keep together the concept of a social state, still wounded by the war, and losing the last pieces of its Empire. You could still travel to central parts of London and see unreconstructed bomb sites left over from the war. I will never forget seeing one, incongruent with the bustling scenes around it, and asking my father what it was from. He answered “The Blitz.”

Today, of course, London is a different city, and England is a different country – transformed, much like the U.S. into an economy which may be again calling itself “shared” – but in fact is premised on something very different.

After WWII, most European countries, as well as significant parts of the U.S., believed the future was only attainable by creating a strong social platform upon which the other parts of life would work. “Regular” jobs. A middle class life. A steady pay check. A system to take care of the sick. Retirement funds to take care of the old.

That system is gone now – or at least fading, and we are on the cusp of something else. Thus the explosion of start-ups, start-up culture and the new entrepreneurialism. This is part of the reason that start-ups have thrived in the U.K. – particularly high tech start-ups. The country has been, for a generation, trying to define itself. There is no way the island can survive independently. No country can. The British train system uses German trains. The auto industry is hurting. Oil is an uncertain energy source. Overpriced British real estate in London fueled by foreign investment does not an economy make. Britain, right now, is much like the U.S. Casting off the old very quickly in an attempt to create something that works better (although for whom and how many is still an open question).

However start-up culture is not the same everywhere.

Across the Channel, things are different. There is more social integration and infrastructure. Every country east of France still has a streetcar system that works. There are still national healthcare systems which strive to provide health care for the oldest and sickest. And the approach to start-ups is a lot more cautious – in part because things still work the way they were designed to. People here just do not understand how, for example, a presidential candidate who did not pay his taxes for 20 years can even be credible.

This reliance on a broader superstructure, which the Europeans are loath to destroy in search of something “new”, does not mean there is no innovation. As a professor of mine said to me recently, mobile payments (a particularly hot area of Fintech innovation elsewhere) are just not a priority in Germany because of the continual upgrades and improvements to the customer banking experience (also known as SEPA), that has already created a workable middle way.

However, Europeans in general and Germans in particular, are not deaf to innovation. They too are looking for ways to innovate as the older systems become increasingly outdated. It is just moving a bit more slowly here – and frankly a bit more humanely. Chaos might provide a lot of exciting booms, but that is not a place where most people want to live their lives. And as Britain shuts its doors to the rest of the continent, there are many now who are looking increasingly to both Berlin and increasingly Frankfurt, to be a new platform for innovation.

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In Frankfurt, there is a steadier (and much cheaper) platform for innovation in the form of cheap rent, transportation and an overall standard of living. And it is provided by the security and infrastructure that comes when countries do not throw the baby out with the bathwater in search for “something” if not “anything” new.

Marguerite Arnold is an entrepreneur, author and third semester EMBA candidate at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

(Image Source: BBC and Tripadvisor)

Corporate Career or Entrepreneurial Path?

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This is a guest post from Marguerite Arnold.

I am a bit of a late bloomer in some ways – certainly academically. At the age of 48, I decided, after a life spent in business of all kinds, to go back to school, obtain my EMBA, and focus on an entrepreneurial career.

It’s not really that delaying my master’s was a choice. When I was younger, I couldn’t get a school loan. I had no cosignors. And the jobs I got never paid enough to get the loan either.

But here I am.

If I were to compare myself to any generation right now, it would not be my own but to the generation of young people currently leaving university for the first time. I have no home loan and, despite a good stint on Wall Street earning a six figure salary, all of my net worth was wiped out in the “Great Recession” along with anything like steady employment.

As a person of a certain age, not to mention a foreigner in a country where I still struggle with the native language, I have embraced the digital “gig economy” – I had to. That said, I have always been exposed to it. My parents were self-employed. My uncle was Peter Drucker – a man who wrote about corporate management – yes – but who also foresaw the situation we face now. Going to business school these days, more than ever, is about learning to manage the dichotomy between the way things were and the way things are changing.

Don’t kid yourself. The entrepreneur’s path takes a lot of practice and perseverance. It is never easy. But thinking out of the box right now is the only sure path to longer term survival. The attraction of a steady full-time job, certainly in the U.S. and the U.K., is the comfort provided by getting a pay check each week, or at the end of the month. The concept of job security though has gone out the window. The concept of a “corporate manager” is also changing fast.

As business school students contemplate the future, one thing is very clear. The old ways of doing things, along with old business paradigms, are shifting faster than the textbooks can adapt. Faster, in fact, than society can. That is always the way it has been, but this time, the shift is more profound. Companies cannot survive without acting like lean and agile start-ups, and figuring out a way to make that happen is a core priority for managers.

In some ways, deciding whether to pursue a corporate track job or jump into a start up is not a choice – just a delayed reality. Newly minted business graduates, in particular, could do far worse than reset their expectations and set their vision on leading an entrepreneurial life, right from the start.

Marguerite Arnold is an entrepreneur, author and third semester EMBA candidate at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

(Image Source: Copypress)

The Lessons I Learned From Peter Drucker

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This is a guest post from Marguerite Arnold.

It is not like I knew Peter well – as a real live person. In fact, I only met him once – in Claremont – as a very old man. That said, I always found it rather funny and more than touching that for a man who helped chart the academic progression of American management studies, he never lost a heavy German/Austrian accent. “Zis ist Peter Drucker” – the message he recorded on his home answering machine – was a cause of much delight at one point in my life, particularly because my father spoke with an upper class English accent, and my aunt with a highly Californianized German one.

Peter was the husband of my father’s eldest sister, Doris. My father was not a fan. Apparently in my family’s frantic transition from central Europe via England and then to the U.S. during the 1930’s, the relationship between the two men became fraught with tension and personal squabbles whose original genesis was odd, to say the least. The cause of a decades long civil war apparently started over Peter’s heavy handed English language instruction to my father (then in British boarding school while Peter was a business journalist in the UK). It continued over the course of a lifetime, fuel added to the fire by envy, competition and academic success. My father thought it was fundamentally “unfair” that the End of Economic Man was published to take advantage of the announcement of the Stalin-Hitler Pact. While Peter taught at NYU, my father was at the New School. Peter followed an entrepreneurial academic path. My father a journalistic and creative one. My father also had a fundamental disgust that Drucker covered up the fact that he was Jewish. In fact, he frequently referred to my uncle as “that ugly man” and (more than once) as an “unapologetic fascist.”

Perhaps because of that, I read all of Drucker’s major works as an act of rebellion by the time I entered college (in the mid 80’s). And at that point Drucker was already being redefined, as well as slightly shelved, by the newer generation of management consultants who took his place. I also experienced his work about the “third way” by being exposed to it directly in managing a non-profit as one of my first jobs out of school. Even at the time, I thought it represented a way to redefine his voice in a way that I believe will continue to be redefined in the century “after Drucker”. He was shifting from writing about focussing on management for the manufacture of profit to management to profit society. At that point in his life he also began to believe that his work was being misinterpreted. By the turn of the century, this was much more evident, at least in private. According to my aunt, who accepted the Medal of Freedom on his behalf (because at that point he was too sick to travel), Drucker was also unbelievably embarrassed that “management by objective” had been used to justify the Iraq War.

Interpreting Drucker’s intended meaning has been, as a result, a journey that I have undertaken as part of understanding my family and myself as much as it is about management.

My perspective on Drucker started with my curiosity about why he felt that nepotism was a fundamental evil. As a child I often thought this was because of the ancient family feud between my father and my uncle.

But as an adult, my understanding became more nuanced.

Drucker was, at least in my mind, a business anthropologist. He sought to understand and explain company culture in a way that is akin to an expat trying to understand the culture of a new country. He was no less hurt than most European Jews were about being betrayed by their home countries on the basis of an intangible idea (religion). His writing about nepotism, for example, was I believe a fundamental criticism of the German “Mittelstand” and how easily companies designed for one purpose (efficient production and profit) can be perverted by politics, as happened in Europe with the rise of Hitler. Later Drucker writing on the importance of managers getting out of the way and letting employees do the work they were there to do, as well as his early interest in an IT enabled and remote working environment, was also heavily influenced by the background of a man who relied on his entrepreneurial skills and distrust of office politics to survive in a world hostile to immigrants.

By the time Drucker shifted in focus at the end of his career, he had clearly also become concerned with the way that American corporate life was rapidly undermining the stability of American society achieved after WWII. “The third way”, and his argument for the professionalization of non-profit work, was in some ways a bit of an apology for Drucker’s early celebration of corporate culture in the U.S. His writing on executive pay, for example, was clearly a reaction to the beginnings of private sector greed that has become a major political topic of our new century.

Ultimately, Drucker was a man who sought to make sense of a world caught between politics, society and culture operating within the framework of something else – the corporate structure. While the specific issues that our society is called upon to face are of course different at the beginning of this new century, I also feel that the things he wrote about have never been more pertinent and relevant.

Marguerite Arnold is an entrepreneur, author and third semester EMBA candidate at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

(Image Source: Benandju)

Lessons Learned from a German EMBA

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This is a guest post from Marguerite Arnold.

In the fall of 2015, after spending two years in a small town in the Ruhr Valley starting to learn German (I will appreciate Mark Twain’s perspective on the sprache so much better going forward), I moved to Frankfurt to begin my Executive MBA at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

There are many reasons why I chose to obtain my graduate business degree in Germany (and even more specifically in Frankfurt). I am an American expat, with my future plans in Europe if not the rest of the world. I have felt, for quite some time, that American business schools are myopic when it comes to understanding international business issues and globalization outside of maximizing profit. I also feel that there is something very right going on in Germany specifically, that has been fundamentally lost in the U.S. There is a strong manufacturing culture here that is shifting to the future with a face that is far more humane and sustainable (and certainly more green, the disaster at Volkswagen notwithstanding), and the so-called “Mittlestand” – small to medium sized enterprises – create a business culture in which innovation and change can thrive.

While Germans frequently ask me “why come here when you have the U.S.?” the answer is super simple. Yes, things are regulated in Germany on a level that drives even rules-obsessed Germans to distraction. And yes, change comes more slowly here. But the so-called “creative destruction” that drives American entrepreneurialism is now happening in a way that is destroying companies and lives if not innovation in general (including in Silicon Valley).

Germany is more interesting.

German regulation and the thinking about the regulatory process in general, particularly in industries like banking and Fintech, is a standard which could certainly help redefine not only the German market, but create a global benchmark for those who understand that regulations are necessary. The changes that Germany has managed to transcend (including those of the post war period, reunification and even its acceptance of refugees) were only possible because of a strong national culture that is by definition globally focussed. Germany has no natural borders and, perhaps because of that, the country has created a national identity and operating DNA that is designed to be like an ocean liner on a global ocean, rather than a country which walls itself off from the rest of the world.

Frankfurt itself is also a fascinating city. It is not only where my family is historically from, but has long been defined by international trade, commerce and global thinking. Now it is set to become a thriving cluster for FinTech entrepreneurs in a way that other cities cannot match due to the winning combination of its size, infrastructure and proximity to global banking players.

The Frankfurt School itself is also a very interesting place. Started as a school for more traditional bankers and executive education, it is rapidly moving up the global rankings and redefining itself in a rapidly changing world; the school is perfectly positioned to address the transformations happening in the banking industry with the impact of digitalization, cryptocurrency and mobile payments. My class has also achieved a number of “firsts” for the school: we are a highly diverse international group, classes are taught in English, and we are 40% women.

In terms of coursework, it has by far lived up to my expectations (and I have high ones, partly because of my 25 year professional career in the U.S. but also because I am Peter Drucker’s niece). Our professors are drawn from the ranks of both the school’s faculty and drawn from all over the world (including Ghana and the U.S.) However, the perspective offered here is exactly what I was hoping for. And the lessons learned from the teamwork exercises and my classmates are ones I will take with me for the rest of my life. We are drawn from every industry, and every kind of background. And more than a few of us are using the EMBA experience to either begin or more seriously launch our entrepreneurial careers and aspirations. Drucker once wrote that once a subject becomes obsolete, it is taught in the classroom, but that is not the feeling I have here. In fact, the Frankfurt School has made it a priority to present classical business education in the context of a world that is changing fast (from every perspective). And while there is a healthy appreciation of American innovation, it is taught in a way that is separate and distinct from a mind-set that is focused mostly on the American market.

Students who want to understand a world outside the U.S. on topics ranging from globalization to sustainability would do well to consider a German business education.

Global business is about understanding the needs of stakeholders who come from a diverse range of cultures; being able to create a remarkable “journey” for employees and customers; and responding to and managing change in a way that does not upset the core mission of the enterprise. It requires innovative responses to both the mundane and the exception.

At heart, those are some of the real lessons I have learned here at the Frankfurt School. It has been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.

Marguerite Arnold is an entrepreneur, author and third semester EMBA candidate at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

(Image Source: WallpaperUp)