MBA International Field Seminar 2019

This year MBA students at ESMT had the opportunity to travel to a different part of the world in order to learn more about international business as part of the International Field Seminar. The class of 2019 traveled to China to experience business life in one of the most remarkable economies in the world, presenting the class with some unique challenges and opportunities.

Preparation for the IFS begins long before the trip to China. To begin with, students were split into groups and then tasked with finding companies to visit that reflected a range of learning opportunities. A variety of different types were considered before deciding on Startups, Venture Capital Firms, Accelerators, and Corporate Investment Centers.

“The benefit of meeting with accelerators and startup hubs is that they are a great way to get exposure to smaller startups, thus broadening our reach and getting access to enterprises that would have been out of reach otherwise” – Alex Bernhardt, MBA Program Manager

One of the first visits was to the Microsoft Research Lab – Asia, providing the opportunity for the class to dive straight into the booming tech economy of China. The Microsoft lab employs more than 200 full-time scientists and specializes in areas such as machine learning and cloud computing, looking at their specific applications to the Asian economy.

“Coming from a city like Berlin with a large tech economy, it was really interesting to see the differences and similarities in innovation practices between the two countries.” – Agnes Horvath, MBA Program Manager

The class visits tech companies to learn about innovation in the Asian economy

The class also managed to make time for some global diplomacy whilst in China, spending time at the Delegation of the European Union to China to learn more about international relations between the two economies. China is the EU’s biggest trading partner, and together they make up two of the largest trading partners in the world. Making the appropriate connections and learning the skills to take advantage of this positive relationship is a vital take away from the IFS for the class, paving the way for international employment opportunities in the future.

Students at the Delegation of the European Union to China

The total list of visited companies:

  • Viessmann
  • Ottobock
  • Microport
  • EU Delegation in China
  • Tencent Incubator
  • Microsoft
  • Bosch Software Innovations
  • Fudan University
  • Vale
  • Chinaccelerator
  • Eaton Partners
  • Mobility Asia
  • Keenonrobot

The IFS is an intense week, but the team still made time for plenty of sightseeing. With such an international and diverse cohort of students, some were able to impart a bit of local knowledge to the rest of the group in the moments away from the official visits.

“The IFS was an amazing trip. It was a very intense week but we learned so much about the Chinese economy and its relationship to Europe. It will be incredibly useful when it comes to employment after graduation, as I will have a depth of knowledge and a contacts book that many others won’t.” – Animesh Srivastav, MBA Class of 2019

The IFS is not the only international experience on offer to students, the Global Network Week and Responsible Leaders Fellowship are available to the class of 2020.

DigitalFuture Summit 2019 – Distinguishing itself from the mass of digitization events

We all know the conferences where you end up wondering why you really went. Indeed, we often take away insights from mostly monotonous lectures, but there is no real fun. Experts from different industries are on stage, and as a simple participant you won’t come closer than sitting in the first row. We are constantly preaching that we should build our networks and increase the number of our LinkedIn and Xing contacts. According to a 2017 study (IAB-Stellenerhebung), around 30 percent of all new hires are based on personal contacts. How is a simple student supposed to get to these contacts and expand their network to the maximum, apart from internships?

In fact, there are several career fairs at which different companies of all sizes present their company at a stand where you have the opportunity to talk to employees. However, these events do not offer more than a brief company presentation and a small selection of vacancies. An exciting experience is a different story.

The DigitalFuture Summit was founded a few years ago by students of ESMT Berlin to discuss the constantly growing topic of digitization, which affects all industries and small start-ups as well as large corporations. The objective was to create a two-sided platform with students on the one hand and partner businesses and experts on the other. International students with different backgrounds received the opportunity to get in contact with leading experts, enrich their own knowledge, and network to accelerate their career. A constant for the event is that top executives and experts give interesting lectures, participate in panel discussions, lead engaging master classes, and interact with students in workshops (more about the different types later). Nonetheless, annual trends are always changing in the field of digitization. Thus, this year’s DFS was focused on connectivity, sustainability, creativity, and mobility.

To understand the work and processes behind the two days of the summit, let’s take a look at the phases behind the scenes leading up to the event.

The first phase started off with the formation of 4 teams with over 30 highly motivated students under the leadership of Patrick Schiebel and Sarah Ziegler. Those teams were structured in the following groups:

Strategy and Communication: Dedicated to design, shaped the topic and schedule, and provided a unique learning experience and information exchange.

Event and Participants Management: Coordinated all venue related topics to ensure a smooth event.

Partner Management: Supported the realization of DFS19 by establishing and managing partner accounts, helped to connect one with people who are active in the field of digitalization.

Finance and Legal: Managed the budget and facilitated legal coordination and communication between the work streams and other stakeholders.

The teams continued the organizational preparations for the second phase of the event by defining this year’s strategy and concept at an early stage. Followed by setting up the budgets and invitations for the participants from previous years and selected companies. Never does preparation for a big event like that go perfectly smooth. The organizers faced occasional setbacks, which lead to the identification of adequate alternatives and new solutions to ensure its success. One of the bigger goals this year was to ensure 300 participants at the event. In order to achieve this goal, it was imperative to provide a well-structured and varied agenda. Throughout 20th and 21st of June 2019 after the welcome keynote speech, participants had the opportunity to participate in four different types of sessions:

Keynotes: Listening to the views and forecasts of leading executives about the future of digitalization.

Panel Discussions: Discussions of recent market trends and expected development in the field of digitalization.

Master Classes: Interactive sessions given by experts in the field of digitalization allowing students to interact with speakers and ask advanced questions.

Workshops: Direct engagement with attendees, helping them to learn more about digitalization through case studies, discussion of problems, or presentations.

One of the challenging tasks for the teams was to secure top-class partners.Some of the companies that the DFS had the honor of welcoming to the ESMT campus were: Accenture interactivity, Accenture strategy, Amazon, AUDI, Axel Springer, BNP Paribas, BVG, heycar, Pfizer, N26, SAP, Siemens, Volkswagen, Wayfair, Simon Kucher & Partners, Huawei, Microsoft.

Besides the highlighted companies, the top managers, who provided participants with their expert knowledge and forecasts for the future, contributed to the overall content of the summit, part of those were:

  • Daniel Behar, Managing Director at Accenture Strategy
  • Georg Hauer, General Manager DACH at N26
  • Dr. Nari Kahle, Head of social sustainability & xStarters at Volkswagen AG
  • Markus Kroeger, CEO at heycar
  • Dr. Karina Rigby, Vice President & Head of Siemensstadt 2.0 Project at Siemens
  • Georg Tacke, CEO at Simon-Kucher & Partners

Finally, after months of preparations, two interesting days with discussions on different topics such as “Might Artificial Intelligence be the last invention of humankind?“, “The future of mobility – evolution vs. revolution: does the future belong to completely new ways of mobility models or do current ways of transportation just have to evolve?” and “Mobile banks, robo-advisor, digital wealth manager… is disruption the new normal for the traditional banking industry?” were complemented by entertainment for the participants. An e-scooter test track from Circ was set up on the site and a photobooth was also designed to capture unforgettable moments. Friday evening ended and with it the two-day event with drinks on the house in the specially rented House of Weekend at Alexanderplatz.

The highlight for many on the DFS team was the breathtaking and overwhelming feedback that was received from partners and participants throughout the event. It showed that the efforts of the past months (and in some cases more than 30 kilometers of running around during the event) were worth it.

In conclusion, one can definitely say that not only the partners and participants had a lot of fun but also the entire team! We are already looking forward to next year’s DigitalFuture Summit 2020 on the 9th and 10th of July!

ESMT Berlin alumna leads Marriage for All campaign in Japan

ESMT Berlin alumna Ai Nakajima put her MBA skills to work—not only for her professional endeavors, but also in her personal life, as she became one of the pioneers to launch the “Marriage for All” campaign, which demands equal rights for same-sex couples in Japan. Starting her professional career in the USA and then Germany, she moved into the FinTech industry after acquiring her MBA at ESMT. She is now working in Japan again.

We interviewed her on the occasion of “Sticks & Stones”, Europe’s largest LGBT+ career fair, which will take place on May 25 in Berlin. If you are interested the degree programs offered by ESMT and our efforts for diversity and inclusivity, meet us there.

Hello Ai, please introduce yourself: Where are you from? In which industry did you work before the MBA and in which industry do you currently work? How many years of experience do you have?

I am from Japan, and I was working in the banking industry before starting my MBA at ESMT Berlin. Currently, I am working at a crypto currency exchange company. I have more than ten years of working experience in finance IT and project management.

Why did you choose the ESMT Berlin MBA program? Why should candidates consider studying at ESMT and Germany?

I chose ESMT for two main reasons. One is the emphasis on technology in the MBA program, the other is the strong connection to multiple layers of German companies and government. ESMT provides a wonderful opportunity to get to know the culture and a variety of industries in Germany, from start-ups to big international corporations.

What was it like living in Berlin and being a student at ESMT?

Germany as a country recognizes same-sex marriages, and when I lived there, Berlin even had an openly gay mayor – this is something that is unimaginable in my home country even today. My colleagues from the bank and at ESMT did not bother at all that I had a female partner, and we did not have to hide that aspect of our lives.

How do cultural diversity and inclusion differ between German and Japanese work cultures?

Japan is much more traditional and conservative by nature. It was, and still is, behind in terms of diversity and inclusion. Japan is trying to change, but after my experience of living in Germany, I could feel the difference in terms of accepting diversity in the work environment between the two countries very strongly. For example, in Japan, people do not talk about their private lives in the workplace, but in Germany it is the opposite, everybody can speak openly about his or her private life.

What role do MBA education programs play in creating more inclusive workspaces?

The diversified demographics of my MBA class were a good start to recognizing diversity and creating an inclusive atmosphere to successfully complete group assignments. However, the students did not merely accept diversity – throughout the MBA year, our minds developed a sense of what corporate social responsibility (CSR) means and how we can make a positive impact on society.

Marriage for All, Japan

You were recently part of a campaign to push the Japanese government to afford equal rights and protections for same-sex couples. How did this come about?

We are following a similar path as the US Supreme Court in June 2015, concluding that the constitution grants the right of marriage not only to opposite-sex couples but also to same-sex couples. I am part of the plaintiff group to claim the same before the Japanese Court. The trial just started in February of this year. It will take roughly five years to go through the court proceedings and have a verdict. I hope Japan changes gradually towards more diversity in the near future. In order for this to happen, we need strong support from all over the world.

Is there any way you can tie in your learning outcomes from the MBA to your marriage campaign?

What I have learned during the MBA has surely helped me to be part of this campaign activity. The biggest impact has come from the leadership class. I can use my leadership skills in court, at events, or interviews and proudly represent the community. The group of plaintiffs and lawyers have diverse backgrounds, and we often have a challenging time to consolidate comments or to decide on the group’s direction. Therefore, I do exercise my negotiation- and problem-solving skills, which I learned at ESMT to help find consensus within the group. I have also been invited as a guest speaker at variety of events, and the presentation skills I learned have helped me to present effectively.

What are the next steps in the campaign?

In terms of court process, after going through the district court, the next step would be the high court, and the last is the Supreme Court. The non-profit organization “Marriage for All Japan” and the lawyers’ group will host events around Japan to promote our case, calling for equal rights. In order to make this campaign successful, we need strong and loud voices from inside and outside Japan. For example, in 2018, five foreign Chamber of Commerce offices requested the Japanese government to protect the LGBT+ community and implement equal rights. This type of visibility and strong pressure will have a significant impact.  At the moment, our problem is not widely known. Therefore, our first action is to reach out to a wider audience about the LGBT+ challenges in Japan.

For more information about the Marriage for All campaign in Japan, visit

For more information about ESMT Berlin and our degree programs—Master’s in Management, Full-time MBA, or part-time EMBA—go to or visit us on campus at Schlossplatz 1, 10178 Berlin.

Action and compromise: What I’ve learned from President Obama’s town hall at ESMT

Shan Qiao

Along with several other ESMT Berlin students, Shan Qiao attended the Obama Foundation Town Hall Europe with President Obama at ESMT on April 6. In this blog post, she shares her thoughts and experiences.

When then-presidential candidate Barack Obama visited Berlin in 2008 for the first time and gave a speech in front of the Victory Column, I was just over 20 years old. I remember watching that speech live on TV. I was probably as enthusiastic as the tens of thousands of people that were there cheering and shouting the famous campaign slogan “Yes, we can!”

I almost felt like I did 11 years ago when President Obama walked onto the stage at my home university ESMT Berlin on Saturday. I was sitting in the front row, having the privilege to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event in person. The crowd in the lecture hall was cheering. Everyone was excited and looking forward to the things to come.

Back in 2008, people imagined that once Obama had been elected the world would somehow dramatically change for the better – overnight. The culmination of these high hopes was the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama, shortly after he started his first term.

President Barack Obama at ESMT Berlin

In hindsight, it is obvious that no one could live up to such high expectations. And President Obama has since been criticized for not delivering on all of his campaign promises. Despite the excitement ringing out throughout the halls of ESMT, I think we all were more sober than the crowd of 2008.

The importance of compromise

Radical changes just don’t happen overnight – or even within four or eight years for that matter. At least not the kind of changes we would like to see. In his town hall speech at ESMT, President Obama reminded us that “when you start trying to radically change things quickly, the track record has not been great.”

Indeed, I think we should be grateful that our societies are organized in a way that people with different opinions are able to express them and be heard.

“You have to recognize that the way we structure democracy requires you to take into account people who don’t agree with you,” the President said. “That by definition means you’re not going to get 100 percent of what you want.”

Pointing to examples like his passing of the Affordable Care Act and the Paris Climate Agreement, President Obama stressed the importance of compromise in making progress within a democracy among citizens who don’t agree with a given policy.

Full lecture hall at President Barack Obama's town hall event at ESMT Berlin

I think the value of compromise is often underestimated. Of course, it means that you, or the representatives you elected will not reach each and every goal on their agenda. But it also means that no one can impose their ideas, which you might not agree with, entirely on you.

Taking action

Being open to compromise, however, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be politically active and complacent about the future you desire. Quite the contrary – the President urged us young people to stand up and fight on behalf of our generation.

“You would not let your grandfather or grandmother decide what clothes you wear or what music you listen to,” he said. “So why would you let them decide the world you’re going to live in and the politics that you’re going to be subjected to.”

I was particularly impressed that President Obama explicitly discussed the “Fridays for Future” movement – these thousands of people protesting all across Europe, calling for ambitious action on climate change. Some German politicians have ridiculed the movement, saying that such matters are for professionals to sort out, not for children running in the streets.

“A lot of those people can’t vote, they’re too young to vote yet,” the President said. “But they know what’s going on and they’re making change. Those habits and that sense of power that they’re developing now is going to carry over for the rest of their lives.”

People raising their hands at President Barack Obama's town hall event at ESMT Berlin

It felt good to hear the President is taking the concerns of the young generation very seriously and actually trusts and encourages us to take matters into our own hands. That is – unfortunately – something you rarely hear from politicians these days.

I would like to thank President Obama for sharing his inspirational thoughts. I hope the other people attending the event and those watching via the internet are as inspired as I am.

Photo credits: The Obama Foundation

Interview with MBA Alumna Samantha Barlow

We interviewed Samantha Barlow, MBA alumna 2018, on her experience of the ESMT MBA program.

What motivated you to do an MBA?

I sought an MBA to acquire the hard skills that would allow me to grow as an effective entrepreneur. Specifically, my aim was to increase my literacy in financial accounting and be able to transmit this knowledge into operational strategy in order to effectively launch my own company. My traditional employment prior to the MBA was as a program manager in the nonprofit sector, but I had also been on the founding team of two international social enterprises and wanted to pivot my career trajectory in that direction. The gaps in my knowledge and skills were immediately apparent to me, and I knew I needed to learn the language of business and increase my financial literacy to be successful.

I also wanted to engage with a global community, exchanging diverse ideas and experiences. I often think about how my movement through the world as a white, American woman affects my leadership practices. I am especially cognizant of these practices in the context of my business ventures in Ghana, West Africa, where my fiancée and I currently reside. I was motivated to do not just an MBA, but an international MBA so I could be even more thoughtful about working in different cultural contexts.

One year later, what would you say surprised you most about the program?

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the power of the ESMT network. When you read the brochure and the statistics about how many different countries are represented, they cannot do justice to the real thing. The distinct life experiences of my classmates and idea-sharing that took place during group work throughout the year challenged me. Months after graduation, people still post helpful job links and funny photos in the class WhatsApp group every day. The way alumni would respond to networking emails, the way professors would take time outside class to answer my questions, the way the administrators went out of their way to invite me to interesting events or connect me with relevant professionals – it all astounded me.

If you had to name one highlight of the year, what would it be?

The Munich company visits in May 2018 doubled as a thought-provoking glimpse at two companies and an enjoyable social experience with my classmates.

Thirty of us crowded onto the 7:00 a.m. Easyjet flight to Munich one Friday morning, changed into suits in the airport bathroom, and marched off to Holidu and Amazon. The companies – one a local startup and one a multinational tech giant – contrasted interestingly and we all discussed cultural fit and personal preferences on the bus ride to the hotel. We spent the rest of the weekend drinking beer with alumni, taking the free walking tour, and laughing together over meals of Schweinshaxe and Käsespätzle.

What motivated you to become a Responsible Leaders Fellow? What will you be doing?

The Responsible Leaders Fellowship (RLF) is an amazing springboard to the next step in my professional career. I am seeking a career in social enterprise and have personal ties to West Africa, so the ability to pursue a six-month opportunity at Impact Hub Accra, the premier entrepreneurial empowerment agency in Ghana, is a dream come true.

RLF provides a great foot in the door, since it’s easier to join an organization as a pro bono consultant, thanks to ESMT’s generous Circle of Friends.  Now that I’m here, Impact Hub Accra is opening up doors for me and creating numerous networking opportunities.

I am able to flex my new MBA muscles as a financial and strategy consultant for the Hub’s health innovation program, taking on a variety of tasks I would otherwise be unable to as a traditional employee. My diverse fellowship consists of program and business development support, impact evaluation, and creating a separate budgeting system and long-term financial strategy for the health program.

What advice would you give to new students?

Take advantage of the opportunities! In the beginning you may feel overwhelmed adjusting to a new country and tackling the considerable amount of homework. Focus on learning, but do not worry too much about grades, and dive into the extracurriculars. Join clubs, attend events, stay out late, take up leadership roles, and be tired. You get as much as you put into the MBA.

Anything else you would like to share?

To new students – leave a legacy. You have one year, and whether you want to address sexism in the corporate world, make ESMT greener, strengthen the alumni network, increase diversity, or start a new club, think about how you want to be remembered and act on it.