Stanford Graduate School of Business
Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Hyper-efficient German. Who needs 15 words to describe themselves?
Hometown: Hamburg, Germany
Fun Fact About Yourself: I was ten years old when my parents gave me a fish tank for Christmas. They had no idea that this would mark the beginning of a semi-professional career in fish breeding. A few years later, I had eleven aquariums stacked on top of each other, which made for a nearly tropical climate in my bedroom. I was obsessed with my fish and freshwater invertebrates and an active member of an aquarists’ club (where the average age was 55). In short, I was quite a weird kid, but I loved it.
Even though my career as a fish breeder eventually came to an end, this obsession with marine life has remained over the years. Three years ago, I got certified as a PADI Rescue Diver and had the opportunity to work with marine biologists in conserving coral reefs in the Caribbean. While this experience was a childhood dream come true, it also made me acutely aware of how fragile these marine ecosystems are. I feel strongly about marine conservation and hope to inspire others to join me in this cause.
Undergraduate School and Major: Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW), International Business
Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation:
McKinsey & Company Summer Associate (pre-MBA internship)
Daimler AG Project Manager, Mercedes-Benz Cars Strategic Finance Program
Daimler Trucks North America LLC Project Analyst, Business Innovation
Daimler AG Analyst, Mergers & Acquisitions, Joint Ventures, and Business Development
Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: When I joined Daimler Trucks in late 2013 as an Analyst, the Global Powertrain division was barely two years old and had just gone through a major transformation to increase efficiency. Once operations had stabilized, the recently appointed CEO wanted to re-align the organization’s strategy. Despite (or maybe because of) the fact that I was only a few months into my first full-time position, I was asked to lead this high-visibility project.
I remember being thrilled but also intimidated by the broad and ambiguous nature of the task. Over the years, various sub-strategies had developed in the functional silos of the organization, and now it was my task to harmonize these fragments and help develop a shared understanding of the business unit’s overall strategy. Left without clear direction, I had no idea as to how to do this, but I was eager to figure it out.
After literally Googling “strategy development”, I analyzed the individual functional strategies to identify inconsistencies and interdependencies. My proposals to harmonize these strategies failed repeatedly, and I soon realized that I could not just come up with a solution in a vacuum, but had to engage the whole organization in the process. After many failed attempts to get executives more involved in the process, I was able to form a Strategy Group with management representatives from each function. Getting everyone’s buy-in took a lot of convincing, but proved essential to the project’s success.
The joint efforts of the Strategy Group eventually triggered an overdue discussion about cross-functional alignment and the division’s overall strategic orientation at top management level. Through many iterations, we formulated a new vision and mission statement, and created a comprehensive strategy document, which was communicated to all 20,000 employees.
In retrospect, this was an empowering experience that taught me the importance of thoughtful stakeholder management early in my career. Bringing together a team of seasoned executives and winning their support towards a common goal made all the difference and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn this first-hand.
Looking back on your experience, what advice would you give to future business school applicants? In general, I started early and took quite a structured approach to the application process, which worked out well for me. In a more or less sequential order, I would advise MBA aspirants to consider the following:
(1) Do you want an MBA for the right reasons? This is probably the single most important question to ask yourself. If you’re willing to invest two years (or potentially one) of your time and pay tuition rather than earning a salary, you should have a crystal clear understanding of (a) what you will gain from the MBA from an academic and network perspective and (b) how this will make you more successful on your career path (or, allow you to change it). As a GMAT coach, I have talked to dozens of students who want to get an MBA for their resume, or because all their friends are getting one.
It is important to carefully assess your individual situation and be honest with yourself. I found it quite hard to be specific about the above-mentioned points, but it is worth taking the time to do so. After all, an MBA at a top business school is easily a $300K+ investment decision (including opportunity cost). In order to get the most out of an MBA, I think it is crucial to have a good sense of what you want from it going in, even though you might change paths along the way.
(2) GMAT: There are countless resources out there that help you prepare for the GMAT. Working through the Official Guide at least once and capturing your progress in an error log is a must. Other than that, consider looking at online resources like gmatclub.com and beatthegmat.com. Some students find it helpful to work with a tutor, or do online courses, but note that these are the most expensive options for GMAT preparation. In general, start early with your preparation and be disciplined.
The GMAT tests for a combination of intellect and discipline (i.e. quality of preparation). Depending on your schedule, try to study consistently over a longer period rather than taking two weeks off work and trying to take the GMAT at the end of those two weeks. Lastly, I strongly believe that you will be more successful on the GMAT if you have fun studying for it. This may sound ridiculous, but embrace those moments when you have figured out a tough math problem all by yourself. I promise you, this really makes a difference!
(3) Application process: Crafting an application that is an accurate presentation of not only your achievements, but especially the person behind those achievements, is an art in itself. I remember that I often felt overwhelmed by the sheer variety of feedback I got when asking people for advice on how to craft this application. Throughout this process, you may end up with more questions than answers. Who is the right person to ask for a recommendation? Will he or she put in the effort to help you stand out? How do you make those bullet points precise and short at the same time? Does your resume tell a coherent story? And most importantly…what should you write in your essay? If you struggle with these questions, know that this is perfectly fine. In fact, it is an important part of the process and you can learn a lot from it.
Try not to make the mistake of comparing yourself to “the people that got in” with their polished LinkedIn profiles. Instead, focus on what makes you a unique candidate. Think about your greatest strengths and your deepest fears and how these have influenced you in various situations. Which people and instances have shaped you and made you the person that you are today? This is an opportunity to reflect on your life. Take the time to do this thoroughly and you will find the answers to these questions. Ultimately, trust that all this self-reflection will give you a strong foundation for your essay.
In general, try to start early and come up with your first draft. In the beginning, it is more important to start than to come up with the perfect first sentence. Iteration is key. Don’t aim for perfection; rather, try to really take the opportunity to show your personality through your words. The best essays (and applications) are those that make a candidate literally come to life through vivid descriptions and storytelling. Aim for connection, not perfection.
What led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA? When selecting which MBA programs to apply to, I relied on common metrics such as various MBA rankings, online resources, and the opinions of those in my network. I also reached out to current students and alumni to get a better sense for the subtler differences between individual programs as they relate to my personal and professional goals. In this context, the Stanford GSB particularly stood out in three ways:
(1) With its highly flexible MBA curriculum, the Stanford GSB allows students to customize the MBA program to their individual priorities. Since the GSB is only one of seven professional schools at Stanford University, you can also take classes “across the street”. Since I already had a business degree, I wanted to customize my MBA curriculum and have the freedom to explore a broad variety of other disciplines, such as engineering and computer science, as these fields would be directly relevant to my future career in the automotive space.
The Stanford MBA also offers interdisciplinary education through a variety of dual and joint degree options. Given my career goals, I am pursuing a Joint Master of Science in Environment and Resources, focusing on (a) energy infrastructure, production, and storage, (b) automotive engineering and design, and (c) artificial intelligence and computer vision. Having the opportunity to learn with and from experts and interact with PhD and graduate students from other disciplines has been a major factor in my decision to choose the Stanford MBA over other programs that are not as well integrated into a larger research institution.
(2) Another important factor was Stanford’s approach to leadership development and its increased emphasis on soft skills and experiential learning. I think it speaks volumes that Interpersonal Dynamics, better known as “Touchy Feely”, has been the most popular elective for over 40 years at the GSB. The Arbuckle Leadership Fellows Program is another signature leadership track, in which second-year students learn to effectively develop first-years through coaching and mentoring.
Overall, I felt most attracted to Stanford’s MBA program because of its focus on the interpersonal aspects of leadership that cannot be taught but only be learned experientially.
(3) Finally, and most importantly, I chose the Stanford MBA because of its collaborative culture and tight-knit community. While I never fail to be amazed by my classmates’ incredible accomplishments, it is their humility and genuine care for others that make this place truly special.
One of the most fascinating traditions at the GSB is the student-led TALK. Once a week, the whole class comes together to listen to the unique story and perspective of two classmates. TALK is not about sharing career aspirations or professional accomplishments – it is about sharing who you truly are as a person, what matters most to you, and why. It is one of the many ways that people here form deep connections with each other, and vividly demonstrates the spirit of the GSB.
In the end, choosing the right MBA program was an intuitive decision for me, as I struggled with making a decision solely based on the data I gathered from secondary sources. I attended Stanford’s admit weekend to get a better sense for the school’s unique culture and to meet some of my future classmates; and I would highly encourage everyone to do this. At least for me, this gave me final certainty in my decision – and I have never looked back.
Tell us about your dream job or dream employer at this point in your life? Working for the inventor of the automobile has fueled my passion for the future of transportation and individual mobility. Autonomous vehicles will be a game changer, allowing people — including the young, old, and disabled — to move around safely and independently – without having to necessarily own or drive a car.
In the era of autonomous cars, long-established auto companies need to form strategic partnerships with tech firms, drive innovation through acquisitions, and attract top talent specialized in a variety of new domains (e.g. Artificial Intelligence). My vision is to drive this strategic change in the automotive industry and play an active role in making autonomous, emission-free driving a reality for future generations – either from the perspective of an investor or by leading high-powered teams in the industry.
What would you like your business school peers to say about you after you graduate from this program? While my “German efficiency” is certainly among the first things that come to mind, I hope to be remembered as someone who made a small difference in people’s lives by being a trusted friend and good listener; someone who genuinely cared for others – and stood up for what is right.