Daniela Pillhofer started her wine import and distribution business while still an undergraduate student in London. Little did she know that Newcomer Wines would become her full-time job.
While peers and industry experts had doubts about the company’s potential, Daniela proved them wrong and turned a profit. But taking the business further, she soon realized that a stronger educational basis could help her to become a better business manager.
With this in mind, she started looking for a business master's program that would provide with the theoretical knowledge and soft skills in leadership to take her business forward.
Choosing the SIM
It was Daniela's sister, who had just completed a bachelor’s degree at the University of St. Gallen, who took her to Switzerland and, more specifically, St. Gallen’s Master in Strategy and International Management (SIM).
As master’s programs go, it’s a good choice. St. Gallen’s SIM program has been ranked the best Master in Management program in the world by the Financial Times for eight years in a row—but it's not just the SIM’s ranking that attracted Daniela.
The SIM program has a focus on building responsible leaders, giving students time and space to consider their personal growth as leaders, and what kind of manager they want to be. For Daniela, this meant St. Gallen was the ideal place for her business degree.
“I looked into the curriculum and saw courses like strategic leadership and thought, ‘that would be a perfect fit,’” she says. "I had always been very busy in my role as an entrepreneur, and I was also looking for time to actively reflect on where that path should continue."
Looking for a community of like-minded entrepreneurs, St. Gallen offered the perfect chance for Daniela to meet students from all around the world. The year Daniela enrolled, in 2017, the SIM program boasted a 50/50 gender split for the first time.
“It definitely didn’t feel like they forced it,” Daniela continues. “There are incredible business women out there and the program is good at attracting them."
Daniela enrolled at St. Gallen with three goals in mind: to enhance her leadership skills, reflect on her career as an entrepreneur, and meet other inspiring business people. On the Master’s program in Strategy and International Management at the University of St. Gallen, she found all the space to explore all three, albeit in an intense environment.
“My master’s journey was challenging in a sense that there certainly were times you were put under time pressure,” Daniela explains, “but these are the times you learn about yourself and other people.”
In the 2017 cohort, Daniela was part of a community of 58 SIM students, from 28 different nationalities. Along with the impressive gender equality on show in the program, all this made for a pivotal master’s experience.
“Community is that one word that sticks with me the most,” says Daniela. “I didn’t have any feeling of being disadvantaged compared to the male participants in the program—instead, there was a strong bond because we shared the same values like teamwork and integrity.”
Daniela says she felt this community atmosphere from her very first contact with St. Gallen at a recruiting event. The community atmosphere at St. Gallen is strengthened through initiatives such as the SIMagination Challenge, a core part of the SIM curriculum in which students work on challenging projects that aim to leave a lasting social impact on communities around the world—Daniela had the opportunity to work on a project in Guatemala.
“Without St. Gallen, I don’t think I would have had that international experience,” she says. “It made me realize that if you put amazing talent and a strong work culture into the same room then amazing things can happen.”
Theory to practice
Overall, Daniela credits St. Gallen with giving her the tools necessary to take her business to the next level. When she wasn’t working on group projects with her peers, Daniela also had time during her master’s to work on her own business.
“My thesis supervisor stressed that I should make my project as relevant to my business as possible,” Daniela recalls. “He wanted me to have something at the end of my time at St. Gallen that I could leverage in practice. In that respect, he truly encouraged me to continue on my entrepreneurial path.”
As part of a dual-degree initiative from St. Gallen, Daniela is currently focusing on her studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, but she says she’s looking forward to getting back to working on her startup.
“I have so many ideas in my mind of what can be improved in the business,” she says. “I’ve reflected on what went wrong and what we need to change. The puzzle pieces to the business make sense now.
“Thanks to the Master in Strategy and International Management, I feel more prepared not just to build a promising business but to also build a fantastic team.”