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The EBS Business School Q&A

From selling painted stones to tourists, to financial hedging, to being named “little soccer guy”, Benjamin Berndt explains what brought him to EBS

Mon Jan 10 2011

Tell us a bit about your education.
I’m from Hagen in Germany. It’s not very well known internationally, but it’s my childhood home.

I did my undergraduate degree in Business Administration from the University of Cooperative Education in Stuttgart. It was a combined program with Lufthansa, the German airline, which enabled me to study and do an apprenticeship at the same time.

I am currently doing an 18-month MBA program at the EBS Business School (EBS). I started in September 2009, and will finish my course in February 2011.

What sparked your interest in business?
I don’t know how to explain it, but my interest in business has always been there. I remember selling stones at the Baltic Sea when I was on vacation there with my family.

I collected stones, painted them and sold them to tourists. Of course I didn’t get rich from it but for some reason I liked it. Despite no family background connected to business, I just really liked it.

What sort of work experience do you have?
Over the last few years, especially during my undergrad, I have done 10 to 12 internships within Germany and also in China, Mexico and Thailand.

I signed a contract with Lufthansa before I started studying and after my degree I started working with them as an in-house consultant. Then I switched to key account management within air cargo. I’ve worked there for around six years.

Has your work experience helped you in your MBA?
Yes, definitely! Work experience helps me in collaborative tasks and in organizing projects.

Doing an MBA without work experience is almost pointless.

Why did you decide to do an MBA, especially an 18-month course?
I noticed that my learning had flattened after a while on the job. I had to do something new and different to really learn. I figured an MBA was one of the choices to break out of a system of power point presentations and meetings.

And one and a half years is shorter than two years, and a little longer than one year, so it was nice and medium. Also, the 18 months gives you the opportunity to go abroad. And I went to IIMA in India for one semester.

How was your time in India?
India was great! Of course in Ahmedabad the options during my free time were quite limited, but with Rajasthan quite close-by, I was able to visit a number of interesting places. It was difficult to go out at night, because, well, you can’t go anywhere!

Why did you decide on EBS?
EBS is a super practical business school. It gives high exposure to top executives and entrepreneurs. It is not only academic, but you grow your network, although I don’t like the word network. Let’s say that you get to meet a lot of new and interesting people.

And I enjoyed the course, especially the finance module which was my favourite. It prepared me for what I am up to next – which is founding a business.

What kind of business do you want to start?
I want to start a business dealing with financial hedging and commodities. I would like to start it in Germany, but obviously the sky is the limit and I would like to create a product for the European market.

Silicon Valley is of course, the top address for business internationally. That would be an option in the long run. But I would like to live somewhere where there is a beach. I wouldn’t consider only the US – I think Australia and Europe are really interesting places and of course, there are business opportunities in India too.

But my medium term goal is to go to an interesting country with easy access to the beach and sea.

What has been your favourite memory of EBS?
The United States Ambassador to Germany, Philip Murphy, made a visit to EBS for a presentation and discussion. He spoke about how the world was changing and the emerging economies and the shift of power.

I asked a number of questions and informally, I asked him one question about soccer. And the next day, in local newspapers, there was a picture of the ambassador and me and they had called me the “little soccer guy”.

It had been a really good discussion but there was not much about it (in the papers). They had only picked up the soccer thing, which made me look super ridiculous. It was quite funny.

What do you hope to gain from your MBA?
I hope to acquire the skills to start my own company. My aim is to have a nice life, and for me a nice life means running my own business and being in charge. I want the opportunity to put my thoughts and ideas into action. I’m working on my plan now, and I hope to make it live around two weeks after I finish my finals.

What sort of small ventures have you started so far?
I started an online event platform for my hometown. It was new back then, in 2003. The idea was to make information about events more accessible. And therefore encourage more events to happen. It was quite popular.

Who has been your inspiration?
I don’t have any single person who has inspired me. There are numerous people whom you talk to and learn something and think that “Oh, I have to do this, or do that”.

There are my family and friends, and people you meet co-incidentally and learn from.

Of course, I think people like Bill Gates and Richard Branson are great, but they don’t mean too much to me. I don’t get up every morning and think, ‘What would Richard Branson do now?’

What advice will you give to prospective MBA students?
Do an MBA! It holds great value if you want to break out of your habits and system and the standards and routine life. You’ll meet great people who will make you grow as a person. That’s the major advantage. Professors can tell you how life works, but you need to experience it and go through your class.

And an MBA from EBS has a great reputation in Germany and will enable you to get contacts with a number of really interesting people.