A highlight of our recent trip to Berlin was meeting two of ESMT’s new MBA students, the dynamic, globetrotting duo Gizem Baskocagil and Javier Vallaure.
Gizem is from Turkey where she worked in online banking for a major local bank, and Javier is Spanish and worked for real estate firm Grupo Lar in Mexico.
Each of them came to the ESMT MBA for very different reasons, but what they have in common is that they’re making the most of all the opportunities the program offers, inside and outside the classroom!
Immediately prior to her MBA Gizem, 27, spent four years as a marketing specialist for the commercial banking business of Turkiye Is Bankasi in Istanbul.
Her team was responsible for increasing the use of internet banking among SME customers - a segment that accounts for most of the bank’s profits. It was a tough challenge: small and mid-size businesses in Turkey are reluctant to shift to the internet to make transactions or buy savings products, even pretty standard ones.
Penetration of online banking in this segment is only about 20 per cent: “They even phone the branch manager to find out their balance” said Gizem. She learned a lot on the project, particularly a big initiative to make the commercial banking website more user-friendly, and wanted to take advantage of ESMT’s excellence in technology.
“I started thinking about an MBA about three years ago... I searched a lot and met a lot of schools.” The deciding factor for Gizem was ESMT’s Management of Innovation and Technology track – directly relevant to the opportunities in Turkey’s banking sector.
After the MBA, Gizem wants to shift her career to a more internationally-focused bank, still in Istanbul. “I’ve learned a lot about leadership and coping with diversity, and this will help me a lot if I work for a more international bank.”
Javier, 29, comes from an entirely different sector: real estate. Since he graduated with a BA in Business from Universidad Pontifica Comillas in 2004, he has spent most of his career with Spanish real estate giant Grupo Lar.
Most recently he spent three years as a senior project manager in Monterrey and Mexico City, Mexico. He was involved with everything from acquiring land, getting permits, design, planning, marketing, to the management of projects under construction.
Just two months into the program, Javier said he could already apply lessons to his experiences: “What we’ve learned about leadership has been really useful… I can relate it to my experience in real estate. I was always interacting with different people: architects, bankers, construction firms,” he said. “Now I’d be a lot better at aligning these different people.”
Javier had offers from both INSEAD and ESMT. He knew that he wanted an international experience and, had he gone to INSEAD he would have chosen the Singapore campus. He finally chose ESMT in part because of the program, in part because he wanted to use his MBA to focus on Europe. His girlfriend, who he met in Mexico, is German and convinced him that Berlin is a great city to live in as well.
“Reading the newspapers, it was a good decision!” he joked, in reference to Germany’s booming economy and job opportunities. Javier spent five months earning German before the MBA started – he said it was very important to get a job in Germany.
Another major factor was that Javier wants to switch into the green energy sector, in which Germany is the world leader. He was attracted by ESMT's founders’ network of 25 companies, which have close relations with students and faculty, and include energy giants such as E.ON and RWE.
He’s also getting involved with student clubs and using it as an opportunity to network with executives at his target firms, to invite them to speaker meetings and events.
Javier’s father is head of the World Food Program in Latin America, and he’s even inviting him to speak to students about how businesses can partner with non-profits effectively!
Clubs are a particularly great way for students to gain exposure and experience at ESMT, because the program is small. It’s easier to get involved, and events and achievements get lots of visibility.
The full-time MBA program started in 2006, so a lot of clubs don’t even exist yet – students can take the initiative and set them up!
Gizem quickly decided that she wanted to join the Social Impact Club when she came to ESMT. It has been a great experience so far, not only because there aren’t many opportunities to volunteer in Istanbul, but also because the Club is starting some long-term projects that it will hand over to the next year group in 2013. “We’re setting it up so that it’s sustainable. We don’t want the Social Impact Club to disappear when we leave,” she said.
Finally, what sights and sounds would these two recent arrivals to Berlin recommend to newcomers?!
Javier recommended a Korean restaurant in the hip Kreuzberg neighbourhood. Gizem arrived in the city only three days before the program started, and said she hadn’t had time to do much touristy stuff. She had been to Berlin super club Water Gate though, also in Kreuzberg, and loved it!