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Looking back at my MBA one year on, I realise that most of what I learnt and apply today in my work at SAP, the software company, came not from the lessons but from my peers.
Having started as an analyst in telecoms, I was interested in an MBA to learn more about business fundamentals but also because I wanted to understand how investment decisions are made and justified. This was important in my work, where I had been responsible on the client side for managing IT projects and procuring systems.
I remember feeling overwhelmed on the first day of the Mannheim Business School MBA when I sat next to finance, legal and investment professionals. We were split into teams and my group comprised a German IT security auditor, a Russian businessman and an Emirati defence industry executive. “This is the real deal,” I remember thinking, but everyone felt the same – not knowing what to expect, nervous but keeping an open mind. We started connecting by sharing our motivations and hopes.
My main motivation for coming from Singapore was the thriving technology sector. Having worked in big data, I felt Germany was right not only for what I would learn on the MBA but also for the industry talks I attended. It helped that technology-orientated firms such as SAP, Bombardier and Deutsche Telekom were nearby.
My mentors advised “keeping an open mind and remaining flexible”. Sure enough, I found at first that in most of the business cases I lacked skills or the industry insight needed for challenges in areas such as mining supply chains.
I had to tap into my peers’ experience – a lesson in leading teams of people with more experience in a particular field.
One project involved rushing overnight to complete a pitch involving train propulsion systems, for which we had to tap into our Russian teammate’s experience of heavy industries and another’s knowledge of government procurement. Although we did not get the consultancy assignment, it was great preparation for a project redeveloping distribution and pricing strategies for one of Europe’s largest building materials companies, based in Frankfurt, where we had the opportunity to present to the chief executive and the chief procurement officer.
“Having an open calendar” was another lesson, and it was especially important to me. Being interested in technology, the next opportunity may lay just around the corner. There was the temptation to skip industry presentations because of the workload, but I followed the advice that it is “not the grades you make, but the hands you shake” and made the effort to attend.
‘This is the real deal,’ I thought, but everyone felt the same – not knowing what to expect, nervous but with an open mind
I remember learning how German venture capital firms such as LBBW Venture Capital made funding decisions for start-ups, and how tech companies such as SAP make a business case for investing in new database technologies that help businesses accelerate their processes.
Having come from an operations background, I was finally learning about “the other side of the table” and how investment decisions are made.
The MBA also gave me an opportunity to participate in business plan competitions. It was great practice to apply what we learnt and I had the chance to work with three classmates on a mobile app for the restaurant industry, which made the finals of the European Business Plan competition. Our school connected us with alumni who did similar business cases and while we did not win, I learnt a lot about cashflow planning, growth rate forecasting and market adoption strategies.
Looking back, nothing is more satisfying than applying such “start-up” lessons to my work at SAP on go-to-market strategies for new technology concepts. The MBA was certainly life-changing, if tough. But as one classmate put it, it builds character, and as I am discovering that higher up in the business world, character and integrity are what matters the most.
Yongkang Ng graduated from Mannheim Business School’s MBA programme in 2013. He is now a technology professional with SAP, an enterprise software company in Walldorf, Germany, and focuses on market and technology strategy. Originally from Singapore, he previously worked within the telecoms industry in Asia-Pacific in operational roles covering marketing and big data strategy.