CEO By 30: B-School Was The Key For These Young Professionals

Eliomaria Narducci studied a master in management at Frankfurt, graduating in 2015. A year later he became CEO of the Italian Chamber of Commerce for Germany – at the age of just 24. Courtesy photo

Eliomaria Narducci was in love. It changed his life — but not the way he expected.

While an undergraduate student at SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan, Italy, Narducci, smitten by a love interest in Germany, traveled regularly to see her in Frankfurt.

It was the beginning of a journey that would see Narducci, at 24, become CEO of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Germany — the youngest ever to hold his position, and one of the youngest CEOs in all of Europe.

MAKING THE MOST OF OPPORTUNITY

“As Italians would say, there is always a name behind every decision,” Narducci tells Poets&Quants. “In my case this name was blonde and with blue eyes.

“Apart from the jokes, thanks to her I had a chance during my bachelor in Bocconi, where I also applied for a MiM program, to travel regularly to Frankfurt and to better get to know the city and understand the opportunities.”

While in Frankfurt enrolled in the master’s in management at Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, Narducci learned German and served as the B-school’s Student Council speaker — and that’s where he met his future employer, the Italian Chamber of Commerce for Germany. ITKAM supports enterprises and organizations across the German and Italian markets.

After graduating in 2015, Narducci started work at ITKAM as a project manager. Just one year later he became CEO.

GRADUATE BUSINESS DEGREES: A BOON TO INTRAPRENEURS, TOO

There’s plenty of talk these days about what B-school can do for entrepreneurs. But for much longer, business school has been about achieving advancement in established companies. Narducci is one of the up-and-coming graduates in Europe and the United States who are showing that for young and determined professionals, a graduate business degree can be a springboard to rapid career success — as much a boon to those focused on  intrapreneurship as those planning entrepreneurship.

Graduate degrees are not necessary to reach the C-suite, as many leading CEOs can personally attest. But those same CEOs will also tell you that MBAs and other master’s degrees aren’t likely to hurt a candidate’s prospects for upward mobility. The Financial Times has dedicated an entire site to tracking the pipeline from MBA to the top of heap; U.S. News has one, too. A well-known poll in 2018 showed that a third of the world’s top CEOs have MBAs; more recently, an online survey by consultancy MBA Crystal Ball showed that the once widely held view of the MBA as a stepping stone to leadership is still shared by many — but not universal by a long shot.

Sameer Kamat, CEO of MBA Crystal Ball, wrote a few years ago about how many CEOs of Fortune 500 companies had MBAs:  40 from Harvard Business School, 13 from Wharton, 10 from Stanford GSB, etc. “The ten colleges with the most alumni in the top job at Fortune 500 companies,” he wrote, “were Harvard University, Cornell University, Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University, the U.S. Military Academy, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Princeton University, Stanford University, and Miami University.” In December 2021, Kamat updated his 2018 story with new poll results, after asking respondents their view of the best degree to become a CEO — MBA, engineering, or specialized master’s.

The poll received 5,142 responses from around the world, and while 28% chose MBA, more than half — 51% — said degree is irrelevant.

“We had assumed that the MBA degree would grab the highest share,” Kamat writes, “but we were wrong.”

‘I NEVER HAVE A DOUBT I MADE THE RIGHT CHOICES SO FAR’

Eliomaria Narducci was motivated to go to Germany to attend graduate school and pursue an MiM — Europe’s most popular graduate business degree — not only for love but because of the employment landscape in his home country. “At the time, the youth unemployment in Italy was at its peak and I decided I wanted to boost my career choosing a country where I could have the most chances,” he says. “Germany remains as of today still very competitive for this perspective.”

He says his subsequent success has very much been a result of the Frankfurt School’s so-called “three days” model, where students gain not only theoretical knowledge in class but also hands-on experience working three days a week for a company.

“The experience and knowledge that the students receive translates immediately after the study program into a high rate of employability,” Narducci says. “The fact that many discussions among students and professors within the classes are held by students with a working experience enriches the know-how. The international environment allows for enlarging the view on the topics given the exchange of experiences in different parts of the world.

“I cannot really tell what would have happened have I not gotten the degree and I can tell you I almost never ask myself the ‘what if’ questions. My studies have definitively made me think always in terms of the future and in making forecasts. I never have a doubt I made the right choices so far.”

See the next pages for interviews with other young CEOs who credit their rapid success to graduate business school. And read P&Q‘s Q&A with Eliomaria Narducci on page 4.

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