Byrne: How do you start the conversation with someone you don’t know about a school? What do you say?
Les Spalthoff: You should ask about their motivation to join a school. What were the key points they considered to make that decision. What was their criteria? Because we always see if the financial times, economics, all these, they do rankings, but they have different criteria.
Roma: It’s pretty much a matter of fit and when you find the right school, you realize it pretty fast. I think first you need to know, where do you want to go? What’s your 15, 20 years long-term goal? Some schools are more focused on consulting or banking and then others in general management or other things. Then I think you need to go to the school, you need to talk to people, alumni. At this school, alumni are quite receptive. Ask them why they did their MBA here? How it turned out and what their experience was like.
Buetefisch: Listen to your heart. When you visit the different schools try to spend as much time as you can on the campus itself. Go to the cafeteria and sit at a table where you don’t know anybody and just start asking questions.
Byrne: Good advice. Christina, what would you say was one of the core things that you learned here to help you make your transition into this other career?
Les Spalthoff: It gave me the tools to do what am doing now, really the basics of business.
When I came here, I was like, “What are they talking about?” For me the key point was, identifying the right incentives to get the best out of people. Sometimes we trigger decisions in others just by giving them a framework that does not fit with them. It’s also the impact our decisions have on others.
Byrne: Timo, I imagine this school implanted the entrepreneurial bug in you, right?
Buetefisch: One of the things which is very helpful is that you see a lot of cases. During the MBA time you see almost 1,000 different business cases. You see different companies from different stages. That’s something that I lived through the last 13 years. I started with me only and now we are almost a thousand employees. It has been a tremendous experience. There are a lot of things that I remember from the cases that we have had to deal with over the last 13 years.
Secondly, I think the MBA gives you a lot of self confidence for the future because you have to solve different problems. It’s a mindset. When you’re an athlete you need to be convinced that you’re winning. Otherwise, there’s no way you can win. I think after this experience here, I’m very confident about my business skills. And, thirdly it’s about the network that I’ve made. The network of alums is incredibly high, with future business partners, investors, and employees. A lot of IESE alums work in our company.
Byrne: Self confidence is often not thought of but MBA programs do breed a level of confidence that’s extremely important to be successful in business. Victor what did you learn here at IESE that set you up to be successful at Amazon?
Roma: In my particular case, I would say I learn pretty much everything I needed in order to be successful in my career. I had zero knowledge on anything related to business at all. I got a good background on finance and on leadership, and everything that you need in order to be able to lead one business unit. The case study method also helped develop my decision making processes. I think this planted the right framework in my mind. It has been super useful for my career in Amazon.
Byrne: Tell me how you experienced the case method. Describe what it’s like to be in the classroom where you primarily learn by case studies.
Les Spalthoff: I’m an introvert. I was forced to speak out. because it’s much more easier to just lay back and see how people are doing it. You may do all the work you want. If you don’t tell people that you’ve done it, it’s useless. This is same in business.
Byrne: Victor, what as your most embarrassing moment in a case study class?
Roma: Probably at some point I came to class without having read the case. When you’re not familiar with business, you can jump into these cases because you need to participate and then have the feeling that you are going to say something stupid at least in the beginning. The good thing is that it’s a safe environment to fail in. If whatever you say doesn’t make sense at all, you’re still going to learn a lot during that process. It really pushes you out of your comfort zone. One professor here once said in a class that “Learning doesn’t come without pain,” and it’s true. Whenever you are outside your comfort zone, then you’re going to learn. If it’s too convenient and you’re sitting in your chair just listening, the level of learning that you’re getting is way lower than if you’re participating and being challenged by the professor or by your other colleagues in the class.
Byrne: They say “No pain, no gain.”
Buetefisch: The different thing here is the pain is not coming directly from the professor. It’s more from the peer pressure because you have 70 talented, ambitious other people around you and you don’t want to bring down the level of participation. It’s not a competitive environment at all, but it’s a challenging environment. It’s like, playing at a very high level all the time. I think that’s the most enriching part of the case method. You can see already here the variety of our backgrounds that comes in the classroom from different countries. In my class there were 25 or 30 different nationalities, with different ages, different backgrounds, different primary studies. So that was really enriching and I think that’s where the real power is. In the end, the professor is nothing more than a facilitator because the content comes out of the people in the classroom.
Byrne: How did you prepare for a case?
Buetefisch: In the first two trimesters you’re basically together with your study group. You are seven or eight individuals who meet for an hour the day to prepare each case. We felt well prepared and trained to hit it in the classroom.
Byrne: What did you learn here that you use in your job, Fairly frequently. Chris?
Les Spalthoff: Decision making. My job is basically based on problem solving. Some decisions may go well, and some may go wrong, but at least you have the framework to try to make the best decision with the information you have at that moment in time.
Roma: It was the same for me. I learned decision making and leadership, something that has helped me lead a fulfillment center of 2000 to 3000 people. That’s a lot of people. It’s almost like size of a small town.
Byrne: Timo what do you use from your experience here that’s been very helpful to you?
Buetefisch: To add something new, communication skills. There is a very good communication class here and that helped me a lot. I am very conscious now about my external written communications. As a leader it’s one of the most important tools for all kinds of situations.
Byrne: Do all of you think you could be where you are today if you didn’t have an MBA?
Roma: No way. At least in my situation I would say clearly no. The MBA opens doors. Some companies have programs specifically designed for an MBA so It’s obvious that if you don’t have one, you will not access that. At Amazon, we have a pathways program for MBAs that has been quite successful. Then, once you are there, you need to show what you are able to do. You need to deliver results. Definitely, I wouldn’t be able to do my job without the MBA. With the MBA, there’s a very clear acceleration of how you ramp up your career skills in just a year.
Byrne: Christina, would you have your job without your MBA?
Les Spalthoff: Well, I agree with Victor that probably sometime but definitely not now With my technical background, there’s no way I would be doing this job without the MBA. It’s about the capabilities an MBA gives you to learn new things in a very short period of time.
Byrne: Timo, would you have been as successful as an entrepreneur without an MBA?
Buetefisch: I think it helped me a lot in growing the business through different phases. As an MBA, you learn different skill sets for different phases in the company, including some basic skills like how to hire and how count. And you learn the general management techniques that you need as a CEO. You don’t need an MBA to found a company, but running a business as a CEO, it’s definitely helpful.