2018 Best EMBA: Oliver Gerstlauer, IESE Business School

Oliver Gerstlauer

IESE Business School

“Oli, an honest, result-driven leader, pillar of happiness and motivation, empowering people around him.”

Age: 47

Hometown: Stein am Rhein, Switzerland

Family Members: Proud of Benjamin (19) and Robin (15), their mum Nicole and my parents Inge and Lothar.

Fun fact about yourself: Wherever I travel for business or leisure I enjoy runs at sunrise to explore the city and the nature. Being a 6’5” runner I cannot be overlooked, and especially in Asia, where people occasionally turn around to look at me.

Undergraduate School and Degree: BS in Business Informatics, University of Furtwangen (Black Forest), Germany

Where are you currently working? Chief Operating Officer at Innoveo AG, Zurich, Switzerland and responsible for the subsidiaries in Hungary and Hong Kong.  Lead of the Innoveo product strategy.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Together with my classmate Ralf Halbedel (…2015), I was awarded with a diploma for the best thesis in Business Informatics at University of Furtwangen in 1994. During my studies, I played the center position in a basketball team, where we celebrated wins but as a team also learned how to grow from losses. With the birth of our elder son Benjamin my life changed a lot, and I focused on work and family. At my sons’ school, I took active part in the presidency of the primary and secondary school parent council. Upon moving to Switzerland 14 years ago, I joined the local voluntary firefighter team, and we practice regularly. I have been lucky to have had only a few real incidents so far. This is not only an honor and a duty to the society, but also a good opportunity to keep both feet on the ground and to be integrated locally. After many years of hardly doing any sports, at the age of 37 I joined the UBS Triathlon Club. In the last 10 years, I am proud to have finished several long and medium distance races all around Europe.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? After over 20 years away from the classroom, I had to discipline myself and coordinate my available time between learning, family, and additional challenges at work. I am proud that together with my management partner Nick Stefania, we could use many of the Global EMBA program learnings (e.g. Entrepreneurship, Corporate Finance and Negotiation) directly in the Management Buy-Out of our Innoveo business unit. It took us eight months to find investors, negotiate terms, and set up the new corporate structure. Leveraging expertise and advice from my classmates and professors, we were able to provide our 50 employees a seamless transition into a new ownership situation for Innoveo. I am delighted that the IESE Global Executive MBA class of 2018 became an extended family that also helps each other outside of the classroom, that this amazing class included me in their circle, and that I could benefit from this in recent challenges I faced.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My most prized achievement in my professional career are the relationships I built with all my colleagues, customers, and partners I have worked with. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with very senior and influential industry experts, who helped me structure my ideas and concepts to build a very successful insurance software solution, Innoveo Skye®.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? It was Edi Soler teaching us Managerial Accounting. With his charm and humor, he made dry financial topics a fascinating experience within the classroom.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Getting Things Done: Power & Networks, taught by Marta Elvira, Professor in Strategic Management. We learned about informal networks, career networks, and the responsibility of general managers.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? The global, cross-cultural sharing and learning through a course structure with two-week long modules all across the world, along with the confidence transmitted in the personal interaction with staff and the professors, were my key reasons to choose the IESE GEMBA program.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The networking and the opportunity to learn from and with people from different industries.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The structured preparation and awareness of different roles during the negotiation process of our Management Buy-Out not only helped us in the dialogue with our new and old investors, but also to improve relationships and value creation with our customers.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? One Sunday afternoon, I was stressed trying to finish two more assignments before 8pm after already spending 16 hours during the weekend dedicated to the GEMBA program. My 14-year-old son came, sat next to me and hugged me, saying he knew how this felt, to finish the homework under pressure, sweating and running out of time but trying to make it perfect.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Aspire to belong to a cohort that values the opportunity to learn from a diverse and multicultural class; make sure leadership development is covered extensively; be ready to learn more about yourself and make time to develop friendships.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I was told that the biggest challenges would be time dedicated to case preparation, traveling, and combining school, work and personal life.  But I realized that these challenges became the biggest assets of the program. After an initial acclimatization, I was always looking forward to meeting my classmates and friends for a new international learning experience.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My only regret is that I waited too long to embark on this exciting learning journey.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Due to her somewhat atypical background as a very successful doctor in Paris, Elise Cabanes was always an interesting contributor to the case discussions, by bringing up different perspectives compared to those with a background in business. I also have huge respect for Cecilia Gonzales who did not give up the program and stayed loyal to classmates despite the serious personal setbacks she faced.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that just learning on the job no longer would be sufficient to fulfil my current and future role to the level of perfection that would make me satisfied.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…missing out on something very important: making friends around the globe.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Making my company Innoveo a trusted partner for our customers and shareholders while keeping the organization’s DNA of “first who – then what” alive.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Happy, Positive and Successful

Favorite book: Authentic Happiness from Martin E. P. Seligman

Favorite movie or television show: Die Brücke (The Bridge) a 1959 movie.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Hiking the “Spaghetti-Tour” – Monte Rosa and finishing the Inferno Triathlon before turning 50.

What made Oliver such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“When I first met Oli, he had more than 20 years of professional experience, mostly in design, development, and implementation of IT solutions for the insurance industry. The company he had helped start up more than a decade earlier had been acquired by an international software giant, and this new scenario would both open up new international opportunities for their Swiss based firm, but would also imply new challenges and uncertainties. Hence his motivation for complementing his excellent technical training and experience with a wider management skills set, which he sought in an Executive MBA.

I became impressed with the positive “can-do attitude” Oli demonstrated in the face of change, since he saw his new corporate setting as a chance to grow professionally, and develop a more strategic mindset for his role within the company, where he so far had a more technological and product focused responsibility. During the 15 months we interacted before Oli joined the Global Executive MBA program, his operational scope became ever more international, and this reconfirmed his desire to develop new skills sets for being an efficient professional in this global corporate context.

Throughout the Global Executive MBA program, Oli proved to be a solid and generous contributor to the class, offering his reflective input to class discussion, and sharing valuable international experience from a dynamic technology sector, in the midst of rapid evolution.  He has also been able apply the skills acquired on the program directly in his business activities, since he and his partners successfully negotiated the Management Buy-Out of their business unit, Innoveo, at the end of 2017. Oli has managed to combine a steady academic performance on a demanding MBA program with a challenging professional project – and this required both hard work, sacrifice, and complex time management. We have been privileged to count with his contribution, and to share his journey.”

Arve Utseth
Associate Director
Global Executive MBA program

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