Lessons Learned from a German EMBA

lessons-learned-from-a-german-emba

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)

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