She worked at Lisson Gallery, one of the principal contemporary art galleries in London, for five years before switching career paths. Now, she is a management consultant at one of the most popular firms in the MBA Jobs scene. But ten years ago, she was graduating from UCL with an MA in History of Art.
Karolin is in a minority of business school graduates whom use creative backgrounds to deliver at the top of their field. She may have left the arts industry behind, but she knows it gave her the skills to break into a fiercely competitive function.
“It was a very exciting role at Lisson Gallery and I did enjoy it,” she says. “I was managing artists, in the role of artist liaison, but also worked on the commercial business side of the art world. So I was doing sales and managing client relationships.”
In five years, she managed a range of internationally acclaimed artists, including Turner-Prize winning artist Anish Kapoor, who built London’s Olympic Tower.
“My strong points are the client facing side of the business, commercial strategy and building relationships,” she continues. “Those were the three key things I wanted to take out of the art world.”
Karolin has learnt a lot from her creative background. But she left because she felt the industry was getting small. Art is a niche market and the pay varies greatly on whether you work in the private or public sector.
Studying an MBA at ESADE Business School, the second-highest MBA Ranking program in Spain, was a tool to transition into another business area.
“After living in London for nine years, I was ready for a change,” she says. “I wanted to gain some perspective from abroad and ESADE’s culture stood out. There were people from so many different backgrounds. What I liked about ESADE was having the option to go into any industry I wanted to.”
An MBA may open you up to a great many career paths, but Karolin was set on consulting. It is a fast-paced, high-earning function; a staple of the business school graduate. Her choice was not surprising and a great many ESADE graduates break into the Big Four. But what makes Karolin’s case unique is the way she leverages her art background to deliver results.
“People always say: ‘Oh wow, it must be so different for you working at PwC. Is this hard for you?’,” she says. “But actually it’s not that different. What you realize is that doing business is the same; you have the same challenges as any other business.
"A commercial business needs to build client relationships and develop a strong go-to-market startegy, so what you’re doing day-to-day is not that different. It’s just the product is very niche (in the arts industry).”
After graduating from ESADE, she went to work for CEB, a leading member-based advisory company, in London. Coming from a creative background, gaining experience across a wide variety of industries was crucial.
“When you transition form an MBA with a different background, it can be hard to judge what to do next because you haven’t lived it,” she explains. “You don’t get a true sense of what it’s like to work for a big corporation. CEB was a great way to learn about lots of industries without actually having to work in them.
“The experience was a great way to decide what I wanted to do next. It leveraged the things I had done before; being able to deal with heavy lifters - C-suite executives or Rich List Clients - building a commercial strategy and building relationships.”
After breaking into PwC two years later, she has no doubt that ESADE was the enabler. You don’t need an MBA to launch a consulting career, but an art student may need one to speed up the process.
Karolin loves working in the services industry, and was looking for a more strategic role. But what made PwC stand out was their people-culture. “Being at a company with the right values becomes important at a certain point in your career,” she says.
“Speaking to people at the Big Four firms, what stood out for me was the culture at PwC. It was important to me. And I have to say, now that I’ve been here for a month, it’s true.”
She now works in Client and Market Development at their London branch.
“I don’t think I would have gotten here that quickly without an MBA...maybe with a lot of grit and persistence,” she says. “Having an MBA makes getting the interviews much easier, because people know that you have a certain amount of knowledge.
“It makes the interview process easier as well. Business School was definitely an important step for me, especially coming from an industry like art.”
There is often a perception that only traditional backgrounds make for the best consultancy candidates. But that is a thing of the past. Karolin’s art background has helped her break into one of the best advisory firms in the world.
While the art industry made her path clear, an MBA from ESADE made the transition a reality.