Why a MBA / Leadership Development Program (vs. direct hire)?
Both MBA program and direct hire (assuming it happens in a company different from the one you left before the MBA) are tied to similar objectives: to learn about the company, its business, the industry it evolves in, to add skill sets, and obviously to prove yourself. This brings credibility to your case, and prepares you for the next position, and so on.
A significant difference offered by an MBA program resides in the pace with which this learning curve happens. Within a couple of years, your assignments expose you to different facets of the business. You can experience with different job functions and therefore increase your set of skills.
Another point to highlight, the level and variety of the exposure to upper management –and to people in general – is likely to be greater with an MBA program, such as the Siemens CEO* Program. This network sees you progress, can vouch for you, and help you grow further into other assignments and exit job position. This works both ways: you get to know more people, and more people get to know you.
Additionally, you become part of a community of talented participants and alumni. Within the CEO* Program, we meet several times every year: sometimes for training and development, sometimes to meet with senior leaders in the company and help address challenges they face. We typically have interactions with our CEO and sponsor Mr. Joe Kaeser, with other board members, business unit leaders, etc. And throughout the duration of the program, we exchange knowledge about functions and business activities, and about our experience in the program. This strong group is truly valuable, and the bonds we create are here to last.
Ultimately, with the people you know, the knowledge you gather, the content you deliver, and the personality to bring, you essentially become a perfect candidate for job placement after the program has ended. This job is expected to be of a higher level than something you could get directly after the MBA or even the one after that.
What are the key advantages / disadvantages of being on a MBA / Leadership Development Program?
In addition to the points above, an MBA program offers immense value in one’s career development.
One point to not underestimate is the potential to refine your areas of interest. It can be quite difficult to know what really drives you in business, until you have experienced responsibilities, business, or functions. A Development Program helps investigate what triggers the most satisfaction and inner motivation. This allows bringing your own definition of success.
MBA programs usually come with mentoring from high level leaders in the company. The CEO* Program is no exception here, and mentors usually are seasoned leaders whose experiences can match a participant’s aspiration.
Obviously, not everything is easy in such demanding programs. Assignments are short, making the learning curve steep in order to deliver credibility and content before rotating to another assignment. There is no safety net, and finding an exit position will be difficult (hence the importance of the selection).
But those disadvantages are completely offset by the advantages in my opinion.
How does the MBA / Leadership Development Program fit in your career goals?
The MBA is often described as an excellent platform to change one’s career with respect to three dimensions: industry, geography, and function. I believe a post-MBA program like the CEO* Program is a perfect continuation, in the sense it allows to quickly multiply experiences across various businesses, various locations, and various roles within an organization.
I wanted to change industry through the MBA. The CEO* Program gave me exactly this opportunity. By moving to a business fundamentally different from my pre-MBA experience, I could challenge myself, and observe how I behave. I found people I really enjoy working with, solutions that help our customers extract value, and a truly interesting business environment overall.
Eventually, I believe it prepared me very well for a job I reckon I could not have reached at this point in time through direct hire.
How strongly did you weight the location of the program?
Location did not weight in so much for me, in the sense the CEO* Program is a truly international program. Siemens itself is an impressively international company, and there are business opportunities all across the globe. Some locations are better fitting to the needs of associates in the program. Germany is a country of obvious importance for Siemens, and while it makes sense to have touch points there, it is not an obligation by any mean. The US account for a large portion of the company’s business. Middle-East and Asia are growing, and Europe still represents a large market for the company. In fact, the company is making a point at expanding global management (one of the goals of the company’s “Vision 2020” strategy). Truly enough, many of my fellow associates in the CEO* Program have worked around the world during their assignments.
Being flexible to relocate of course opens more opportunities, but the Program is very attentive to an associate’s. In my case for instance, I specified some geographical preferences that were important for family reasons. The program has been extremely accommodating and supportive and we found assignments with excellent content, and for which the location suited my needs.
What to look for in a MBA / Leadership Development Program?
Depending on your accumulated work experience, I would look for a tailor-made program. Most development programs out there in the industry rotate you from pre-defined role to pre-defined role (e.g. you start as a product manager for x months, then move to business development, then to project management, etc.). And that may be OK for MBA with only a few years of work experience. The CEO* Program however differs significantly in the sense it is truly a tailored for the participants. Assignments are defined for you – and mostly by you. You obviously learn as well about the company and the business, but you also act as a change agent in the organization. Assignments for the CEO* Program associates are not pre-defined: they correspond to the needs of the company, at the same time as they correspond to your needs.
Another element to look into refers to the content of the rotation. The level of responsibility to which you are elevated will directly impact the level of your exit position.
It is therefore quite worth looking at the profiles of previous alumni and other participants: this can give a good indication to whereas the program can fit your background, needs, and aspirations. It also allows looking at the exit opportunities: Where are the program alumni now? What position?
Finally, I would look for the level of exposure offered by the program. Who are the sponsors? What activities do the program participants do? Gaining visibility and access to a large and influent network of leaders is a massive advantage of MBA programs. Here again, the CEO* Program shines in my opinion (and you may say I am biased now, but I assure you I was not biased when I made the decision to join Siemens!).
Can you summarize the recruiting process you went through and how look it took?
IMD is one of the business schools to which Siemens goes, for on-campus recruitment into the CEO* Program. As such, we had a first interaction when the CEO* Program management team visited the school for a company presentation session. The management team was accompanied with associates and alumni from the program.
Following this, MBA participants could submit their application online through the IMD career webpage, by uploading a CV and a cover letter. It is pretty straightforward, and I should highlight that the cover letter matters!
The interview process itself consists of 3 rounds, and there are typically 2 interviewers for each round:
- 1st round interview was on campus. Participants were short-listed from the applicants through a CV screening. This first round is conducted by the CEO* Program Manager, typically jointly with a CEO* Program associate.
- 2nd round interview is typically conducted by a country CEO or a business unit CEO, together with a CEO* Program alumnus.
- 3rd and final round is conducted by a Division CEO (i.e. the CEO of one of the main eight industrial businesses of Siemens, so we are talking about leaders at the very top of Siemens), together with the Head of Siemens Excellence Programs.
Considering timing, and taking into account that the IMD MBA is a 1 year program, starting in January and ending in December: the online application deadline was end of July, with the 1st round taking place on campus early September, the 3rd round early October, and an offer to join the company by mid-October.
Decision between rounds and for the offer typically took under a week.
Of course this was my case, and it would vary by a few weeks in the case of IMD, but it gives a pretty good idea of the process nonetheless.
So as you can see, it is quite a well-rounded process, and it was a pleasant experience for me!
What were the required skillsets and prior experience and how were they evaluated (behavioral interviews, case studies, assessment center, panel interview, etc)?
The interviews are all behavioral- and achievement-based. The program looks for applicants that have a strong academic background, that have had a successful professional experience prior to their MBA, and that display outstanding skills and dedication. Regarding experience, having worked in a Siemens-related industry obviously helps, and having had international exposure is now the norm.
This is evaluated during the three rounds of interview, by discussing with the applicant his/her experience, her achievements, the logic in the career progression, reasons for choices, etc. Through that discussion, the interviewers can understand the potential in the applicant, what drives her, how she drives change and drives for results, her leadership skills and how she can take responsibility, delegate, influence, etc.
There is no case, or assessment center to go through. The team believes this sort of selection is made to get into top MBA schools. There is no “stress-test”, or any of those weird recruitment exercises you read about here or there. It is only a conversation among professionals, to understand who is the person applying, so as to decide if that person indeed has the potential to deliver, learn, shine, and use the opportunities offered by the CEO* Program to their fullest.
What advice and tips can you share with those interested in MBA Development Programs?
Look at the alumni and participants’ profiles. It can be good to reach out to some of those participants (but don’t abuse it and be mindful of their limited availability!). It’s always a good benchmark to understand if the program suits you, and reciprocally if you fit the program.
It is always worth trying to project into the future, and see what are your goals and ambition. The program should be a way to reach that goal. Since all programs are significantly different, do chose one that is a match for your career aspirations.
And talk to your MBA school career services. They normally have good experience in dealing with MBA development programs, and can be a good source of tips (hats off to the IMD career services team)!
What does your average workday consist of?
Well, I believe this is a feature of such a program: no two days are the same! And all associates have very different roles in their assignments. And to be honest, it is one of the characteristics I do enjoy in such programs!
In one assignment, I had to lead a team. Therefore, parts of the workdays were about innovating together, addressing and overcoming problems, meeting internal and external customers, etc.
In my other assignment, I acted more as an individual contributor, reporting to regional leaders. That meant more flexibility around my schedule, more traveling, and more frequent touch points with my assignment managers.
What are the major challenges or obstacles you have encountered during the program?
I would say the main difficulty is to balance all the ingredients of the program: learning (about products, business, culture, etc.); delivering results; creating a network; preparing your next assignment; preparing your exit position. It is quite easy to go head first and focus solely on the outcome of one assignment. It is however more difficult to take a step back, and allow time for meeting people, reflecting on the long term, etc.
There may be another challenge; though I did not experience it personally; related to the legitimacy of your presence and capabilities. What I mean here is that the participants in an MBA program are known as talented and intelligent people, but they are in a rotation only for a short period of time; coworkers and colleagues that are seasoned in the company, that also have their ambition, will see you come and go. And some individuals may have issues seeing a “young talent” move around quickly. This is why it is quite important to ramp up quickly and bring credibility around you. It also boils down to your personality and how you come across. Humility is key, and being nice to others does more good than bad!
An MBA program is quite a ride, but the opportunities it gives are worth every effort!