Vroom Vroom: MBA Plans To Drive The German Automotive Market

After five years in finance, David Saravia is banking on the automotive sector. The MIP MBA student has been putting Germany's booming automotive sector into gear.

It’s 5:30PM in Germany. The AUDI AG worker is trudging his way home after a tough day. Yet David Saravia, travelling to a temporary home just outside of Munich, is still simmering with energy.

The full-time MBA student is only a couple of months into his internship with the German car giant, but he is already sold. He clearly has a renewed passion for the automotive sector; by the time he left Italy, he had already turned down offers from a few big consulting and pharma firms.

When David got the call from AUDI on a Tuesday earlier this year, he might have bitten the recruiter’s virtual hand off. “By that Sunday, I was already here in Germany,” he laughs. “They told me: ‘OK, you start in two weeks’. I said why not?”

He had been losing hope. His automotive ambitions were seemingly driving away. “I had already applied to a couple of big companies outside Italy and had had no reply yet,” recalls David.

So when he landed his project work with the German car manufacturer, he was already packing his bags – literally. “I looked for accommodation and booked German lessons beforehand,” he enthuses. “I prepared everything in advance because it was the chance.”

It was just last March that the Salvadoran was working for an equity fund in Panama, Central America. A few months later, he was enrolled at MIP Politecnico di Milano, the leading Italian business school. Europe, he says, “opens up your mind” and he had every intention of making it his new home. David is half-Italian.

“So I decided to do an MBA, mainly because I wanted to improve my knowledge and expand my network,” he says, “and do it outside of Panama.” MIP has a “strong network” of alumni and a broad network of companies.

But there are more motivations behind David’s transition. He was seduced by Italy’s charms after betting all on a career in the automotive industry, which has enjoyed encouraging growth in Europe this year.

After hitting a two-decade low last year, the sector is in rude health. Car sales in the EU rose above 10% last month, and are up more than 8% so far this year. Analysts are hopeful that 2014 will be the first full year in seven that car sales rise on the continent. The UK and Spain are the stand-out performers, but key markets Germany and Italy have reported growth above 5%, according to data from the European Automobile Manufacturer's Association.

“The growth comes on the back of an improving economic scenario with sales bottoming out in major markets,” said Peter Fuss, senior advisory partner in the Global Automotive Center at EY.

But he added: “However, there should be significant concern about artificial growth… driven by discounts, self-registrations and scrappage schemes and the impact on bottom-line, which continues to be under severe pressure.”

David is about to set off on the return journey home from a small town just outside Munich to wrap-up his MBA program in Milan.

It has been a baptism of fire at AUDI – not least because of the language barrier. “It’s really demanding but that’s a positive,” says David. “It is a great environment with great people; there is an unbelievable work-life balance.”

Is he not fluent in German already? “No, not yet – it’s very basic. But I’m improving it bit by bit."

But that has not dampened his spirits: “Everyone has been extremely open with me and very helpful. And very patient.”

David is hoping he can engineer similar success after graduating in Italy. His expectations may be high. The EU bought 1.45 million cars last month and the UK posted sales increases of a staggering 18%.

And we haven’t even touched on the technology boom that is driving the automotive sector sky-high. Some European governments have been pooling millions into the production of energy-efficient cars. Commentators say it has safeguarded jobs and brought in billions in investment.

The cash injections have also given rise to tech-powered vehicles, which include electric motors and hydrogen-powered engines. The theme has dominated this years' motor shows. It has also given rise to a feast of job opportunities for MBAs.

David is in the business of logistics – but he doesn’t rule out extending his repertoire. “Logistics is a really important part of the sector. I really like what I’ve done so far and I hope it all works out,” he says. “But of course I’m not closed to other opportunities.”

He joined MIP’s MBA program from Ecos Sustainable Equity Fund, where he spent about five years in various positions, concluding as an investment analyst.

His work focused on sustainable and renewable energy investments in Latin America, with a strong focus on small hydro, wind and solar powers.

His career switch has clearly been extreme. He admits it was difficult – in both a financial and personal sense – but he has no regrets. “I knew it was risky because it’s not completely ensured that you get what you want,” explains David.

“I thought: I’m young, why not? This is the moment to try; you get more compromises as you get older. I felt this was the moment.”

Business school has been a guiding light. David has specialized in innovation and entrepreneurship. He will graduate later this year.

The career services department at MIP, he says, “was amazing”. The internship period, which allowed him to spend three months at AUDI, “is an amazing opportunity to take the first step out of university into the working world”.

He has always been a big fan of Formula 1 racing. It is easy to see where he gets his automotive drive from. “I hope it doesn’t sound too cheesy,” he laughs, “but I’m keen to find out what my passion is and go for it. So I think you have to make sure you get what you like – or you have to like what you get.”

When it comes to the MBA – as it invariably does – David is convinced his classmates have taught him a great deal.

“It’s not the same way as if I were switching careers when working,” he explains. “You have a different mind-set; you’re more experienced, you feel you’ve grown personally and professionally, and you get the chance to prove that to yourself.”

Making the switch from one sector to another is not easy. But an MBA gives you the right tools.

But David must dash. He is home now and has another day of logistics to plough through tomorrow. But most importantly, he has but a few weeks to impress his German employers before flying home.  

“My next step? I would love to stay here. I’m not closed to new opportunities, but if they give me the chance to stay here I would no doubt stay,” he says. “And besides, you’re in the middle of the country; you get to explore all of Germany by car.”

And does he drive an AUDI? “Not yet,” he laughs. “But I already have the model I want picked out.”

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