Six Months Post-MBA: Making the most of what I learned and understanding its value

This interview features Sara Muennich, a graduate of GBS' Digital Transformation Management MBA program (2019), discussing her journey post-graduation. Sara shares her transition from a Digital Transformation Officer to finding a new career at Fujitsu, emphasizing the importance of confidence, cultural understanding, and a supportive network. The interview concludes with insights into the role of technology in addressing global challenges amid COVID-19.

What do our graduates do after graduation? How does someone manage the transition from working full-time and studying part-time, to deciding what to do with all this new knowledge once the program is finished? We all know an MBA opens doors – to new projects, maybe a promotion or even a completely new career – one might feel overwhelmed once the goal of finishing the program has been achieved. What is the next step?

The truth is, the ‚next step‘ is different for everyone. Our graduates have gone on to many different things after graduation, whether that’s within the company they were at, to finding a new career path and maybe even changing industries entirely, to their own start-ups. The most difficult decision of all might simply be understanding what you want out of your MBA for yourself.

We spoke to Sara Muennich, who graduated in December 2019 from GBS‘ Digital Transformation Management MBA – part of the first ever cohort in this program. She shared her story of what the MBA meant for her career and where she is now, six months after graduation.

Tell us about your background. Where were you before starting your MBA?

My first degree was in Linguistics (Chinese and Korean) in 2007 and the first job opportunity I took was a position in China, where I had been living and working for 12 years. Mostly occupied in the global trading business, I worked in various positions for different local entities of the company I worked for at the time. Including my last position in China as Managing Director, for all business activities for South and West China. Experiencing the digital development happening during the time in China, especially in the trading business and seeing the company’s capabilities in this field lacking behind the local market, I had already made the decision to return to Germany and support the Management in the German headquarters on their Digital Transformation journey.

Why did you decide to join the Digital Transformation MBA program?

After the decision was made to go back to Germany, I had actively been looking for an MBA program – allowing myself to develop competencies and capabilities to take over the new role in Germany as Digital Transformation officer. Ready for a change and to transform the company, it was obvious that I needed new tools.

Therefore, I was lucky to find the brand-new program offering of GBS Digital Transformation on the internet back in summer 2017. In fact, this program as a part-time format absolutely met my needs and the decision was made – I wanted to invest into my future! Being still in China at that time, I was fortuned to have xcellent support from the Admissions team throughout the process. Leaving Beijing with the Trans-Sibirian Train at the end of September, I was able to start my MBA program on 4th of October 2017, the day after my arrival in Germany.

When you started the program, did you have a clear path you wanted to follow after graduation?

When I started the program, I had a perfectly created path pictured in my head.  I wanted to gain all this knowledge and expertise to get ready to support the management of the company I already worked for. However, this idea was my purpose of coming back to Germany and my ambition was to CHANGE and get ready for the new digital world.  After a couple of months working in this new position and being in the MBA program I realized that this was mostly MY intention. By the end of 2018 it had become clear to me that my learnings, ideas and targets were not aligned with those of the company and I felt that I, and the role of a Digital Transformation Officer, had become obsolete. It was time for me to leave the company after such a long time.

It was not an easy decision to make but it was clear I had to find a new direction in my professional future. I certainly was questioning my move back to Germany, my change towards career into the digital world and what comes next – stay in Germany or move back to China? So in 2019 I really took ‚time off‘ and focused on giving myself the time I needed to analyze what I wanted. I did in total 33 interviews so I could honestly decide where I wanted to go. You can imagine that going from hero to zero was like an emotional roller coaster, and I felt the first few months in this new situation were really frustrating – I had many job interviews and talks, however,  90% of my work experience was related to the China markets and my track record in the digital field was limited. The fact of being a generalist and not a specialist  did not really help to change this situation as it seemed I  didn’t fit into a clear category. Lacking technical background but making this move into an entirely new branch of work was challenging, as I wasn’t complimenting a technical background with management skills. I was trying to enter what was an entirely new field for me and the gaps to close seemed to be too big for me.

 At one point I saw that I had to relax, and not let myself take the easy way which would be returning to China. I wanted to stay in Germany and continue on my purpose why I came back to Germany – support German industry and co-pilot on their digital journey on various levels and find a way to develop their co-creation with China – kind of a matchmaker between China and the German Manfuacturing Industry. So I started to narrow my search to this field specifically. This wasn’t easy, to find a company with a culture and mindset open for change within the company itself but also changing the business model, market approach and with a clear future vision how to shape tomorrow with their customers and partners.

How do you think the program helped you to achieve where you are now?

First – confidence! Getting more aware of what I want in my life and being fueled by the spirit and enthusiasm of the program and my fellow students - I got a lot of self-confidence.

In fact, this program covers a lot of essential fields, it’s really rich, which was perfect for me. Being a generalist, I am always hungry for new input, but I didn’t want to go too deep – I wanted to get inspired and bridge the obvious gaps. Taking part in this program, I was able to frame what I have done in the past into a certain context and put it into a wider picture. It helped to understand where I went wrong in my past position and at the same time showed me what I have done well based on my intuition.  I felt much more confident about making decisions and it allowed me to actually understand the consequences that might follow.

Moreover, I was able to see and understand the differences between China and Europe. When I was in China I saw all the newest technology and a society which was completely digitally native – all this was quite natural to me and I was shocked after my return seeing the status of technology in Europe both in consumer business and industries. However, the program helped me to see what Europe needed by understanding the challenges and opportunities. Progressing through the program, it got more and more exciting as electives offered a deeper dive into the topics most relevant to me. It was fantastic to experience that it is not important to do data science or data security but it is important to understand the importance in the context of the business continuity for each company.

The master Thesis at the end was such an exciting opportunity to really apply what I learned and create something relevant for the digital transformation of the industry – my purpose of coming back to Germany. It was so helpful to be able to create my own piece of scientific writing; to be independent in what I was doing, be able to communicate my vision, select and prioritize how to move forward – it was hard but worth every single second, and I miss this very intense time with my group of study friends.

And of course, friendship! We have been together for 1,5 years and we keep communicating with each other and even  do business together. When I came back from China, this MBA group was like my family. Overcoming my culture shock, reintegration into German society, understanding my own culture and making new friends who took great care of me – I was facing a lot of challenges and it really helped me understand Germany again and having such a supportive network around me really helped me on a personal level at that time, and of course still does today.

What are your top tips for students who will be graduating soon, or people wanting to know how to make the most of their studies?

Be proud of yourselves! These two years are challenging – no matter if you have a challenging job, if you have family or are single, young or old – it is a challenge for EVERYONE in the program. However, in the end it all will pay off as you grow SO MUCH and the moment when you receive the certificate together with all your fellow students you know that if you have done this, you can really do anything else. There are no limits – just follow your ambitions! Second: After all the interviews, networking events, and exchanges with new people in 2019, I understood that my knowledge in the field of digital transformation in a holistic perspective is often wider compared to those mangers on C-level or in leading positions. I am confident that these 2 years have given me the tools and enabled me to pro-actively talk and discuss with those in leading positions and share what I have learned. I am certain that everybody is aware that we need change and there are ideas about what can be done but still traditionally companies are profit driven and risk avert – this mindset is predominant and makes it difficult to see beyond to create the new now. Mindset and culture is something that can only be changed by time and the right attitude – the attitude you have when you join this program and being able to spread when you finish it.

For those thinking about joining: don’t hesitate, just do it! We need leaders like you to create change. With this program, you will be able to develop your leadership skills and realize that change is not rocket science but an attitude – it’s not technology that changes the world, it is us!

Can you tell us where your journey has taken you? What are you doing now?

The positive news is that there are great companies out there who are looking for us  –  even if it took me one whole year to find the right company. Living in a system like Germany, I was in the privileged situation to search for my new job – not just a salary job but a job I had expectations on. The most critical bottleneck for me to make the choice out of 4 offers on the table was the company CULTURE. After my rather fresh experiences when coming back to Germany, it was clear to me that I cannot survive in an environment that doesn’t share the same values or vision as I have – transparent, persistent and authentic. Moreover, as life goes, I was lucky to be found by the Japanese IT Company Fujitsu.  What was different? From the first meeting, a moment of trust was created – transparency, engagement and willingness to change. For the first time after an interview my interview partner followed up on my request to talk to more and different people in the company to see if I fit in. Before finally making my decision I had several brilliant talks reflecting the openness and the commitment to change. Not only fueled by the mindset of those I have talked to but also the fact that all of them showed the engagement in the internal change process within Fujitsu called SPIRIT, which is to enable a change in the company from a purely technology product driven approach to a business solution provider in the digital transformation. 

Being part of the SPIRIT program our small but growing Business Consulting Excellence Team for the Automotive and Manufacturing industry is playing an important role to support and create this change. The vision of our team is to see beyond and shape the future with our customers. We want to inspire the world and create value with our customers. We as digital business consultants use the expertise and reputation of Fujitsu as a digital enabler, and generate value for our customers by providing a holistic business consultancy approach and digital enabling technologies out of our partner ecosystem.

I feel that I am part of a culture and mindset of innovation and creativity that unifies capabilities to change with entrepreneurial spirit and actions that aspire to unleash infinite possibilities for your digital now and beyond.

That sounds exciting! Do you have any last thoughts to share?

What we see with COVID-19 now – even China seems to be high technology and more advanced in some areas from an industrial technology perspective, I see Germany on a much higher and mature level compared to China. Compared to China where industry reinvestment is managed by the state and the entrepreneurial understand in small and medium size companies is rather in its infants shoe, Germany needs to invest in mindset change. After  a couple of weeks of shutdown I would say that that is clear – we are ready to move to the next level – and in times of  pandemic bureaucracy seems to be less stiff and decision can be make more flexible and solution oriented.

I am sure that COVID-19 is a challenge to countries worldwide, not only for health systems but to the economy. Let’s see this time as a chance for change. As we are forced to rethink and reinvent what we have been doing, technology might not be the solution for all the challenges are facing now and in the future but we should see it as the enabler to create solutions.

The New Now means looking for new ideas, concepts and solutions and I am looking forward to involving myself in the creation of the New Now – feel free to join in!