Why This MBA Quit His Corporate Job To Start A Craft Beer Business In Berlin

The latest in our series of China MBA stories from the book—Changing Careers, Changing Lives—written by BusinessBecause editor Marco De Novellis

This story was originally published in a book written by BusinessBecause editor Marco De Novellis, in collaboration with Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB).

Thirsty locals sit chatting at the bar. In the warmth of the restaurant, groups of friends enjoy hearty German cuisine, Czech specialties, and Italian pizza cooked in a traditional wood-burning oven. In the six guest rooms upstairs, weary travelers settle down to rest.

In a village near Mainz, an hour’s drive from Frankfurt in western Germany, Filip Klippel’s family guesthouse hums with the sound of happy guests.

Filip grew up just two streets away from the guesthouse. He started helping out when he was 12; first in the kitchen—his job was to prepare the pizza—then at the bar. His parents worked 14-to-16 hour days—everything revolved around the family business.

As a teenager, he grew restless; “I didn’t want to stay close to home forever,” Filip recalls. “I wanted to leave; I wanted to see something else, and go to a big town far away.”

Filip’s sense of adventure would lead him to Berlin in former East Germany then later to the Far East for a full-time MBA and a successful corporate career in China. But things go full circle. Today, Filip is back in Berlin building a family business of his own.

East meets West

Born in Prague, to a Czech mother and a German father, Filip moved to Cold War-era West Germany when he was two years old.

His village was located close to a military base—low-flying fighter jets and helicopters were a common sight. When he went to visit relatives in Czechoslovakia, it would take 40 minutes to cross the border. His family car would be stopped, everyone forced to get out, and everyone’s luggage opened and inspected.

Filip was 10 years old when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. After that, everything changed.

“The 1990s was a big party!” he smiles. “The whole feeling in Europe was much calmer. The threat of war had gone; everyone was celebrating in Europe at that time.”

With a renewed sense of freedom, Filip enjoyed himself as a teenager growing up. He wasn’t always the best student—he almost got kicked out of high school when he was 17.

But, at 19, just before his college entrance exams, he took a table out of the family guesthouse, put it in his room at home, and set himself to work. He caught up on three years of high school classes in three weeks to land a place at university.

He studied a master’s degree in economics in Berlin before spending three years in a research position at a consulting company, advising the German government on economic policy. Again, he became restless and was keen to move on.

His girlfriend at the time was studying in Beijing. After visiting her there—despite having no contacts in China, no full-time job, and no knowledge of the language—he decided to uproot and start a new life in the East.

“I enjoyed it so much I wanted to stay,” Filip explains. “Beijing’s a rough-and-ready city, similar to Berlin. Everything was new—the food, the culture—and I like new experiences. I thought if I did an MBA there, I could get to know people, make contacts with companies, and get a foothold in China.”

Changes

Filip was one of 15 international students in the 50-something MBA class. Through his MBA experience at CKGSB, he developed a farm-to-table food delivery concept with a team of fellow MBAs, coming third in a social entrepreneurship competition in Shanghai.

He visited India for the first time. In a venture capital (VC) competition in Hyderabad, he and his classmates took on the role of a real VC firm, evaluating the business plans of real entrepreneurs.

“At CKGSB, I made friends with people from China, Malaysia, Korea, India,” he says, “I’m much more open-minded now than when I came to China from Europe.

“I liked CKGSB because of the smaller class size—it was like a family. With people from so many different cultural backgrounds in the MBA program, you learn how to approach things differently,” he continues.

“Eventually, the MBA helped me get on the right career path, and I managed to stay in China and find a job.”

Filip’s life changed completely after CKGSB. He settled into a new career in China, joining the Volkswagen Group, charged with planning the introduction of two new Skoda cars into the Chinese market. He met his future wife, Yingyi, and moved in to live with her in Beijing.

Then, tragically, in 2012, his brother Florian died from cancer at age 28. For Filip, his brother’s life was a source of inspiration: “He knew he was sick, but he wanted to get the most out of life,” Filip explains.

“He didn’t compromise—he bought a Porsche, he raced Italian motorbikes—he did what he wanted. He made me realize that you only have one life—you should do what you want to do—and I didn’t want to spend my whole life working for a corporation.”

Filip married Yingyi in 2015—a German-Chinese church wedding in Guangzhou. In late 2017, after six years at Volkswagen, he quit his job and, together with his wife, returned to Germany to start something new.

Beer

Now back in Berlin, Filip and Yingyi plan to open a craft brewery together. Craft beer is on the up globally and big beer groups are getting involved.

The world’s biggest brewer, AB InBev, recently opened a new mega-brewery in Fujian, in southeastern China, to meet the increasing demand for high-end, craft-type beers. It is AB InBev’s biggest facility in the Asia-Pacific, producing 160,000 cans of beer an hour; 1.5 million tons of beer in a year.

Caught in the midst of his own craft beer revolution in Beijing, Filip started brewing beer in his kitchen at home. He found out he had a knack for it, and decided to turn his passion into a business.

Filip’s links to China remain strong. His lessons from CKGSB helped him write his business plan. In the future, he wants to export his German craft beer to the Chinese market as well.

“I come from a family that runs their own business—I grew up in that environment,” he says. “I’ve always had the feeling that I want to do something on my own.

“Now, we have a business plan; we’ve researched the market. We just have to get the funding and then we’ll begin.”

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