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Why MBA: Rotterdam School of Management

Starting a new department as part of a multinational company’s foreign expansion plan would satisfy many people, but not Icelandic software developer Alli Thorgrimsson.

Thorgrimsson wants a practical education to revise his “hard management style”.

“I had to recruit people… set up the division and get the department running. I had to do it the hard way by trial and error,” recalls Thorgrimsson, who is in Rotterdam School of Management (RSM)’s MBA Class of 2011.

Thorgrimsson was stationed in Prague to open Creditinfo Group’s Czech Republic headquarter in 2005.

Thorgrimsson, who was born in the small town of Husavik, was a 25-year-old software programmer when he was asked to start an IT division for his employer, an Icelandic data provider for financial markets.

He took on the challenge and went on to do well: the department was established within three months and he was promoted as head of professional services.

But Thorgrimsson demands more for himself: “I always thought I needed more practical education to help focus my development [as a recruiter and a manager],” he says. “I thought it’s time for me to learn the right way, and hopefully by doing a MBA.”

At the time – in 2009 to be precise – Thorgrimsson was considering three business schools: the NetherlandsRotterdam School of Management, Italy’s SDA Bocconi School of Management and Switzerland’s University of St. Gallen.

But RSM won out. It was the first school he researched thoroughly and the only campus he went to visit. “It was the first love,” Thorgrimsson says of the School, whose MBA program is ranked 25th best in the world.

At RSM, he soon found out that his seven years at work – four at managerial level – wasn’t so unique: “In a top business school, you realize that there are so many smart people. I was quite senior in my business, but here I am just an average dude!”

Thorgrimsson says studying at RSM has been a “humbling” experience so far: “Diversity is one of the key things that the school is known for,” he says. His study group includes a Japanese student, an Indian, a Vietnamese, a Russian and a Canadian. The MB class overall has 38 nationalities.

As a 30-year-old, Thorgrimsson admits it was “hard to get the momentum going” in the classroom. He was struggling to keep up with the readings in the first semester, but self-motivation gradually came back. 

“I want to do this type of studying and need this kind of experience. Every time I was stuck or was frustrated I would go back to this thought: this is why I am here”, he says.

To measure the progress he’s made at business school, Thorgrimsson reads the Financial Times regularly.

“When I read the FT three months ago, it was really superficial and I didn’t understand a lot of the technology and business terms. But now it’s like the fog’s been cleared from my mind! When I open the FT, I realize that I understand a lot more.

“It’s a good assurance that your tuition is worth it,” he jokes.

However, Thorgrimsson nearly missed out on a Euro 10,000 scholarship the school offered to him: “I received an email in red capital letters that said ‘CONGRATULATIONS’ before Christmas in 2009. I thought it was junk mail and I almost deleted it!” he recalls.

Luckily, he checked back with RSM and avoided making a mistake he’d regret – at least until he finds a well-paid job.

Thorgrimsson says he shares this story with his professors and classmates because the school is “just like a small family”.

Though he’ll stay in IT after the MBA, Thorgrimsson is open to explore managerial opportunities in other areas, such as the auto industry.

“It doesn’t matter how many people work for you,” he says. “Making decisions that can influence where the company is heading is more important for me. I want to have my say in a company.”

But Thorgrimsson knows it takes effort to get there. In an “I WILL” campaign where MBAs at RSM are asked to create their personal statement on a personalized business card, he writes “I WILL see my decision through”.

“Anyone can make the decision to do an MBA, but really seeing it through is something that requires a lot of work," he says.

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