2021 MBAs To Watch: Clifford Curda, ESMT Berlin

Clifford Curda

ESMT Berlin

“Curious, driven, and supportive. I feel best when exploring new opportunities and helping others succeed.”

Hometown: Fairfax Station, Virginia (USA)

Fun fact about yourself: I’m a gamer. Computer/console games, board games, yard games, escape rooms – you name it, I’m in. Gaming provides a constant stream of challenges to overcome and problems to solve, allowing me to utilize and develop critical thinking, strategic planning, teamwork, and communication skills. Plus, they are a lot of fun. What’s not to love?

Undergraduate School and Degree: I received my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from The American University of Rome in Italy and I strongly recommend their program.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Prior to enrolling in business school, I was a Business Operations Analyst for Volkswagen Group of America.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? As our program is a challenging 1-year curriculum, we do not have a long summer break, thus I did not intern during the summer of 2020.

Where will you be working after graduation? Not yet determined.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:  While attending ESMT, I was a class representative, member of the academic committee, and a student ambassador.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the work I did alongside my fellow class representative, Diego Cammarano, to help navigate the challenges that came with the Coronavirus global outbreak. During this time of online transition and isolated lock-down, we strove to maintain high quality instruction, keep our community connected, and provide a voice for our classmates.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I consider any moment in which a problem is solved, a new idea is generated, or collaboration is realized an achievement of which to be proud. That’s because it is the combination of these seemingly invisible day-to-day micro-achievements that lead to the attention grabbing macro-achievements. However, one of my favorite projects in which I had a leading role was to design and build a new facility. It was incredibly rewarding to learn the needs of new tenants, put those needs on paper in the form of a complex building design, and watch the building come to life. Additionally, I once established a group of colleagues dedicated to improving the working culture of our multi-teamed office. It was a great feeling when colleagues told me these efforts had increased collaboration between teams and made them more excited about coming to work each day – something I won’t forget and hope to replicate as I continue my career.

Why did you choose this business school? Aside from its high business school rankings, ESMT provides a unique blend of theory and practice in management and strategy for today’s agile and technological world. ESMT’s location in a city increasingly known for its start-up scene (Berlin, Germany) and its close connection to some of the world’s most successful businesses means that there are valuable opportunities for every student, regardless of their intended career path.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I find it difficult to pick one favorite professor because so many of the professors at ESMT are incredible. However, I would like to recognize Guillermo Baquero (Associate Professor & MIM Lead at ESMT) who went above and beyond for our class when we first transitioned online due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Tasked with teaching everything a manager needs to know about finance to a class of students grappling with the challenges of life in lockdown, Professor Baquero brought a high level of energy and fun to each lesson. Additionally, he spent time to create extra videos, agreed to late night meetings, hosted additional teaching sessions, and sacrificed his breaks to answer questions. He delivered one of ESMT’s most complex and intensive courses online in a manner that we were able to digest, follow, and enjoy. We are truly grateful for his enthusiasm and effort.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? At the start of the program, we all took a bus headed for a secret location in the German countryside. We arrived at a beautiful hotel, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and spent the next two days engaging in team building activities. I am not going to say more because I don’t want to give anything away for future students, but this event was a ton of fun, helped us get to know one another, and was a nice welcome into the ESMT community.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? It is difficult to look back over the past year and not include the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. We were lucky to have a few months of “normalcy” before needing to transition online. However, with hindsight I believe that I did not take full advantage of this time. Therefore, if I could do it all again, the one thing I would do differently is spend more time with my classmates before the lockdowns and social distancing regulations were implemented.

What is the biggest myth about your school?
I can believe that because we are founded by large, global organizations and that we are located in a former government building (which is absolutely beautiful). ESMT may have the appearance of being similar to a large, slow, pre-digital institution. However, this is inaccurate. As I said above, when explaining why I chose this business school, ESMT’s curriculum has a phenomenal balance between large business and agile start-ups. Additionally, the administration and faculty are some of the most responsive, agile, and change-ready individuals I’ve ever encountered.

What surprised you the most about business school?
Accessibility of professors and industry leaders – I expected much more formal distance between professors and industry professionals and students. Conversely, I am happy to say that my experience showcases an environment of highly approachable and interested experts eager to share their knowledge and help students succeed. Furthermore, many of the professors are also industry leaders who bring both theory and practical experience to the classroom and discussions.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I think candidates often suffer from tunnel vision during application processes. They focus on their academic accolades, test scores, and the titles on their CVs, while overlooking their individual life experiences and personality; they forget that recruiters meet hundreds of applicants also focusing on the same topics. I believe this can lead to recruiters having seemingly identical conversations with applicants who are unique. Therefore, I always try to ensure my conversations are a break from routine by being open about myself, curious about my counterpart, and humorous yet productive. If I was able to gain an “edge,” it was likely a refreshing conversation and not my academic or professional achievements that helped me stand-out.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The quality of our diverse class composition at ESMT means I can honestly list multiple things about each classmate that I truly admire. My classmates are smart, talented, and kind individuals from whom I have learned a lot. Yet, one classmate has stood out in their dedication to cultural immersion and to the university. Coming from India, knowing no one else, and being completely new to the country, Aparajith Raman has worked tirelessly over the past year to become a local by learning the language and embracing the culture. Additionally, he has built an impressive network within the ESMT ecosystem and is always ready to support the university and its students. I admire how he set a personal goal, developed objectives to reach that goal, and went to work to achieve those objectives. I have no doubt that he will achieve this goal and more.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? All of us had specifically chosen to join a program that was solely classroom instruction. Coronavirus moving instruction fully online became an unwelcome event. As with most students around the world, it was a huge disruption to the social aspect of learning and networking. However, EMST was fast to react and capable. As such, we were on campus one day and online the next. While there was a learning curve for all of us, faculty and staff did not miss a beat in transitioning us to online and later to hybrid instruction, ensuring there was as limited disruption to our educational and networking experience as possible. I commend them for their hard work and dedication to our class in dealing with the unexpected virus outbreak and the unavoidable governmental restrictions that followed. Thank you!

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My mom, hands-down. She has a very entrepreneurial and determined spirit who is always coming up with business ideas and currently owns her own company. From a young age, she showed me how a business could be started in subjects and hobbies that I was interested. I think from this, I began to see that business drove everything around me and became interested to learn more of the models, strategy, and management methods that made businesses successful.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?
1) Lead a team that is recognized by employees as one of the best places to work.
2) Start my own business.

What made Clifford such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“There are a number of things that stand out when getting to know Cliff: His broad outlook on the world around him, his inclusive personality, his determination, and his smart sense of humor. These characteristics make him a great leader and a role model for those who want to become “people-winning” managers.

From the beginning of the MBA program, Cliff played a central role for the group dynamics. In a class with students from 24 nationalities, different cultures and backgrounds, who had just moved to a foreign country, he made it a little easier for everyone to settle in – always taking the time for a chat, attentive to the individuals around him, and often with a kind joke up his sleeve. He was engaged in bringing the group together throughout the year, a challenging one on many levels, especially the social one. Cliff has a natural way of making people feel seen and included – because he is genuinely interested and a good observer.

While he has strong willpower and knows what he wants, Cliff looks at things from different perspectives, which is one reason why he has great leadership potential. His ideas and feedback are constructive and aim for the benefit of everyone rather than individuals. It is not surprising that Cliff was nominated for all awards an ESMT graduate can be presented: The President’s Award, Faculty Award, and Best Fellow Award. These awards acknowledge participants’ leadership potential, outstanding contribution to the class’ learning experience and sense of community. Cliff also won the Academic Award. In addition, by graduating from the MBA as top of the class, Cliff has proven both his social and academic capabilities.”

Sophie Schaefer
Career Development/Corporate Relations Manager