Why this Chartered Accountant went on to do an MBA?
When we think of Switzerland, our mind gets drawn to the majestic snow-covered Alps, astounding scenery, skiing resorts, placid lakes, chocolates, and cheese - a perfect connotation for the month of love! However, Switzerland has much more to offer than just this. It is one of the best places to work, is the second happiest country in the world, and is a hub for some of the best study programs.
One such program is the St. Gallen MBA program, which is ranked 7th in Europe by the Financial Times. To understand more about the program and Swiss life, we had a tête-à-tête with Shrihari, who completed his MBA from St. Gallen in 2017.
As far as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to do an MBA. However, I pursued Chartered Accountancy and worked with a few firms in their finance and accounting teams. But, I always yearned for something more and hence decided to steer away and pursue an MBA. I ventured out to Switzerland and commenced with my MBA at St. Gallen. I now work as a business controller at the H&M group in Stockholm, Sweden.
I pursued a Bachelors in Business Management during my undergraduate, which helped me gain an initial understanding of the world of business education. Post that, I tried my hand at appearing for the CAT exam, which is usually taken if one wants to pursue an MBA in India, but I did not end up with a good percentile. Fortunately, I had started my CA journey alongside, around the same time. Hence, my plans of pursuing an MBA were put into hibernation mode for around 4-5 years.
When I started working at Intel, interactions with my peers made me realize that I had a lot left to go out and explore. I also realized that I wanted a generalist work profile rather than a specialist profile. And, I realized that an MBA would equip me to work at intersections and provide me with a deeper understanding of running a business.
So, my dreams of an MBA that started in 2007, took shape during my Intel experience and got actualized in 2016!
I initially attended an MBA event and met the admissions committees from various schools. I was very clear of where I wanted to study; it was either in Europe or in Canada. On that basis, I had a set of four questions about the:
Course and the academic structure
Based on the information that I gathered, I shortlisted the schools I wanted to apply to. I was very particular about obtaining financial aid. Hence, I conducted extensive research on the scholarships that I could avail.
With my shortlist ready, I started my GMAT preparation. While I was preparing for GMAT, I came across a competition hosted by St. Gallen for their MBA admissions. I had to submit a three-page essay on the core challenges faced by Switzerland in the medical tech or manufacturing sector. From there, I got shortlisted based on my essay and got the opportunity to appear for two interviews as well; the first with the admissions director and the second one with the dean.
I was elated when I learned that I had been granted a 100% scholarship for their MBA program. This provided me with a great opportunity since I had to now take care of just the living expenses.
Building network and finding opportunities
One of the key components while pursuing any business degree is networking. All the alumni I reached out to had unison advice for me: build a strong network! I, hence, started connecting with people even before school started.
It is a tad bit more difficult to find internships for international students. I started scouting for opportunities as soon as my school started. I focused all my energy on finding an internship and leveraged LinkedIn diligently.
However, my primary advice to any international student is to be well versed in the local language of the region you are planning to study in. Whatever platform you use, being able to converse in the local language will be a game-changer!
In my case, I regularly attended the corporate days that St. Gallen hosted every Sunday. I met a lot of professionals working with different companies and was able to land an internship. In fact, I was one of the first ones to get an internship in my batch.
Yet, after a few months, I realized how difficult it can be to land a job even with an internship in hand. Hence, I did not limit myself to just Switzerland and started looking for opportunities across Europe. That’s my second piece of advice to anyone studying in Europe. Don’t limit yourself to just your home country. Build connections across!
Networking is a tree that just keeps on giving fruits.
Right after my MBA, I joined a multi-national consumer product cooperative in Denmark. Unfortunately, due to external circumstances, nearly 400 of us were laid off within the first few months.
It was an extremely difficult phase. I reached out to all my MBA connections and during this period, I came across the job profile at H&M wherein I eventually joined as a business controller.
The skills and mindsets that I developed during my MBA helped me tremendously in this period. Sometimes, all one has to do is pause, zoom out and think holistically.
My future plans are still evolving. H&M has a great value system and I am learning a lot in my current position. For now, I just want to experiment and understand the fast-changing fashion sector and stay on the business development side. However, I can say that I am a lot closer to my dream!
To summarize, building a strong network from the get-go and having a clear vision can help you not just during the application process but also during your post-MBA life!