As Harvard grads go, Norwegian MBA Fredrik Marø has come from comparatively “humble” beginnings. He knows that the business world often favours the well-connected and wealthy. Back in his home country, Fredrik used to spend his summers packing sausages at a meat processing plant. Flash forward twelve months, and he was an investment banking analyst at one of the biggest banks on the globe.
He has prevailed in making his dream to study in the US a reality. Now, he can boast of attending two of the finest business schools in the MBA education world.
Fredrik has blasted through a Finance degree at Wharton, an MBA at Harvard Business School (HBS), investment banking at Lazard and a three-year consulting career at McKinsey & Company. Harvard may have been displaced as the #1 ranked business school in some MBA Rankings, but it is an institution consistently held in the highest academic regard.
It is some achievement studying an MBA at HBS, and one that Fredrik passed with aplomb.
The Baker Scholar - Harvard’s highest honor – always had a keen sense for business, even during childhood. “I always was someone who took initiative, launched projects and tried to make things happen,” Fredrik says of his upbringing in Norway.
“When I was little kid I was obsessed with Lego, but I didn’t have enough money to buy what I wanted. So I formed this club with my brothers and neighbours to pool our allowances so that we could get more Lego together. I’ve always had that business instinct and urge.”
Indeed, Fredrik pursued his dream to one day study in the US and did a dual-degree in Political Science and Finance at the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School – considered one of the best b-schools in America.
Investment banking was a staple for the Wharton graduate. In one of the most popular MBA Jobs, Fredrik followed suite with an internship at Lazard, the world’s leading financial advisory and asset management firm. “Wharton is a factory for investment bankers,” he says.
“It was pretty awesome coming from humble beginnings in Norway. My summer job before that had been at a meat processing plant packing sausages and all of a sudden here I was surrounded by these people doing million-dollar deals. It was incredibly exciting.”
Ivy League schools are synonymous with connections, and a buddy of Fredrik’s convinced him to try his hand at consulting with McKinsey – one of the best firms in the world. Over a drink, Fredrik’s friend described his experience in finance as “being treated like a rat”, but at McKinsey they “treat me like a prince”.
Fredrik was inspired. His friend helped him prep his resume and coached him for the interview process. “I think I was lucky,” he says. “I felt very privileged to have been given an offer to work at such a prestigious firm.”
Rising through the ranks to an Associate, Fredrik had a clear cut career path: he wanted to become a Partner with the consulting firm, and was working back home in Oslo, Norway’s capital. But like many MBAs, he had always dreamed of studying at Harvard. “Why not try? Apply and see what happens,” he tells me. “Once I got in, I felt like that was an offer I couldn’t turn down.”
As soon as he set foot on campus, he was “ninety per cent” sure he would return to McKinsey. “But by the end of it, I realised that I was ready for something else,” Fredrik added. It must have been an immensely competitive process, on top of what is now $56,175 in tuition.
But it was worth it to study at one of the best business schools in the world, alongside some of the brightest and most well-connected MBAs. “It was a fantastic experience on so many levels,” Fredrik continues. “I made friends for life and connections in a way that you always know somebody or can always get a meeting in any industry or company, and that’s incredibly powerful.
“Students don’t really compete for grades. You’re not out there to get the best GPA, you’re out there to try to learn as much as possible, build your connections and set your career on the right path.”
It was while studying at Harvard that Fredrik was inspired to match his classmates and take on an entrepreneurial challenge. “Seeing all these amazing people at HBS, doing all these inspiring things, made me realise that maybe I could do what they were doing as well,” he says. “It was a turning point in my career. Harvard was the perfect fit for me. It was incredibly rewarding.”
Fredrik was incredibly temped to return to McKinsey, but left the banking and consulting world behind and established Evisors, a service that connects job-seekers with alumni of top companies who offer on-demand mock interviews, resume critiques and career conversations. In a world where connections are key, Fredrik wants to give everyone access to the best possible career network.
If Harvard MBAs had contacts in every industry, so should everybody else. “When I was applying to American colleges in Norway, I had no friends, no family, and no connections that had ever gone to college in the US,” he explains. “I had no idea what I was doing and made a ton of mistakes.
“When I got to Wharton, I realised that the vast majority of my classmates had had a much easier path to get there because they knew what was expected of them in their applications. They had friends and family to help them out.
“I saw that it wasn’t necessarily the hardest working people who got the internships; it was the people who happened to be connected, the people that were in the know, and were in a position to know what to put on their resume, know what to say in the interview; these are the people who got jobs.”
A college fraternity brother had given Fredrik a route into Lazard; his buddy from Norway gave him a route into McKinsey; connections had influenced his career path considerably. He was inspired by the power of expert knowledge while working on a project for McKinsey. Fredrik was under the pump; it was midnight and his team was prepping for a critical final presentation the next morning.
Thanks to a phone-call with a specialist from the expert network Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG), the team got an hour long download from an industry expert. They got a standing ovation for the project they pitched the next day.
“I was struck by how incredibly powerful that conversation was,” says Fredrik. “There are so many more instances in life where you are willing to pay for expert advice like this. It could be the difference between landing the job at Goldman Sachs or at a local bank. That’s how the idea of Evisors came about.
“Every single lunch hour at Harvard, somebody was helping somebody else with their resume, giving them a mock interview or giving them tips. Lots of other people are just as hardworking, but the difference is, at HBS everyone was getting the best possible help. I thought that we should give everyone that access.”
Three years on, and Evisors works with over fifty of the world’s top universities - including Oxford, Cambridge, and Georgetown – to help students land jobs at top employers like Google, Bain & Company and Goldman Sachs.
Thanks to HBS, entrepreneurship is now Fredrik’s passion. “It is so much bigger and grander a challenge that management,” he says. “It’s very easy to look at entrepreneurs and say ‘I could do that. That’s easy.’ It’s easy to underestimate how difficult it is and I definitely fell for that trap.”
Fredrik thinks that the transition from finance and consulting firms to start-ups was the most difficult part of forming Evisors. He had to overcome many predicable stumbling blocks and learn a lot from his mistakes. But you sense that it has only made him stronger.
In three-years' time, Fredrik wants Evisors’ Alumni Mentorship Platform, which leverages Evisors’ technology to turn alumni networks into mentor networks, to be available to all students at the world’s major universities.
Inspired by studying an MBA at Harvard, one of the best b-schools on the planet, Fredrik has the best chance of making that happen.
In a world where connections are everything, Fredrik wants to give everyone a fighting chance of success. He has come from humble beginnings and made that dream a reality.