Alexander Kern liked what he did, was paid well, and had an interesting job, but what he wanted was a complete career restart. For him, there’s nothing more suited to making that jump than an MBA.
Before his MBA degree at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), Alex worked for the family business, a small civil engineering firm in Europe, but he felt he’d stagnated in his personal development. He wanted to make a career triple jump; changing location, industry and role.
Alex chose CEIBS over top-ranked business schools in the US and Europe, keen to experience China and improve his Mandarin. He graduated in 2016 with multiple offers of employment. Now, he works in Singapore as an assistant manager at Daimler AG, the automotive group which owns big name car brands like Mercedes-Benz.
Alex thinks are many options available to MBA grads outside of the traditional finance or consulting roles. And the automotive industry is ripe for disruption.
Why did you choose CEIBS over US or European business schools?
I spent time in China during my undergraduate degree. One of the drivers for choosing CEIBS was that I wanted to, not just to know China from a student or tourist perspective, but to really deep dive into how corporate China works and improve my Mandarin.
I also found that, honestly, CEIBS was one of the most affordable MBA programs out there. I compared it to all the other top schools and back then CEIBS was one of the cheapest of the top-20 MBAs – not just for tuition, but for all the additional costs like housing and living.
I applied to US schools, but CEIBS was one of the first schools I got an offer from and it included a scholarship. So, I said, ‘okay CEIBS it is!’
What was the value of learning Mandarin as part of your degree?
Language, culture and history go hand in hand. You cannot learn one without learning about the others. So, the only way you really experience Chinese culture is through language.
In job hunting, that’s where people want to see Mandarin. It helped me to connect to my fellow students faster and got me into a Chinese environment with a Chinese circle of friends.
How did program prepare you to work in a different culture?
An MBA is really strong is on soft skills ranging from self-awareness to how you approach people to self-confidence and cultural awareness. These are generic enough that they work wherever you are.
Having gone through the 18-month CEIBS experience, you work in countless groups with countless people, so you naturally get better at managing and working in teams under pressure.
You also learn to appreciate diversity on a whole new level. It is never the easiest option in the short term, but diversity has really strong value when you work on things that wouldn’t have been possible independently. Everyone has a different angle, experience, skills and ideas. If it all comes together, then the sky is the limit.
What opportunities are there for MBAs in the automotive industry in Asia?
It’s one of the most disrupted industries out there. This can be a challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity if you make the right decisions. You’ve got to see where companies are growing and where they’re scaling back.
If you are in the innovation space or in marketing there’s a lot of revolution. If you just think about moving from today’s vehicles, to robo-cabs or autonomous shared mobility, to get there needs tremendous effort. This is where the MBA skill set is suitable. The automotive industry is a big opportunity and a good career option.
How should MBA grads choose between multiple job offers?
Making the choice was one of the toughest things. You have to somehow ask: Do I want to work really long hours and earn a lot of money? Or, do I want a decent income with a good work-life balance?
Corporate culture is a factor with high pressure and long hours. I did several internships – not all companies are that great when it comes to working experience. You have to think about how much you want to sacrifice. There are other options out there and that’s where an MBA can really help.
What advice do you have for anyone considering an MBA?
I’d say people underestimate how much fun it is. There’s pressure, deadlines, tasks and long hours, but you enjoy the free moments on a very intense level. These moments create families because going through so much together is very uniting.
You have to be open to exploring the culture of where you study as where you go to school is strongly correlated to where you end up working. A strong network when you leave correlates to job offers. So, be a yes-man or woman. ‘Yes, I want to learn Japanese. Yes, I want to join the soccer team. Yes, I’ll go to the movie night.’ It really helps.