Zoltan Barcza is a true all-round European: the 32-year-old graduate of the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE) at Steinbeis University Berlin (SHB) grew up in Hungary, completed his MBA in Germany and is now the Regional Director for Hungary, Romania, Turkey and Israel at the firm Roediger Vacuum. We met up with Zoltan to talk about life as a young manager.
Mr Barcza: your degree was centered around a real-world project, as are all project competence degrees offered by Steinbeis University Berlin. What did your project involve?
I completed my MBA project at a subsidiary of Bilfinger Berger which aimed to expand in eastern Europe. Our team was assigned a major task: to complete a thorough market analysis of several countries in eastern Europe and determine whether the company could successfully expand into them. After finishing the analysis, we then had to rank the countries in order of suitability for expansion.
As an MBA student, what was your role in this project?
Although the company only has a relatively small number of employees, it is active in over 40 countries. So the core team is very international. Generally speaking, employees tend to come from the countries in which the firm is active – meaning every employee is an expert in their own area of business. As I’m from Hungary, I became responsible for the firm’s expansion into a number of eastern European markets. And I’m pleased to say the firm trusted my expertise and agreed with almost all my ideas and suggested solutions.
That’s certainly quite an ambitious project. The choice of country for expansion and the company's success there depended heavily on your decisions. So, if you'll allow us to jump ahead slightly, what conclusions did your project arrive at?
After analyzing the different countries, it became clear that there was one in particular that we should focus on which was most suitable for expansion: Romania. At this time, our company wasn’t active in Romania at all. So my task was to enter the Romanian market, where we had no presence, and publicize our latest technological developments. It was a bit like being a missionary! I moved to Romania for a year and only returned to Germany to attend MBA seminars. This made it easy to build contacts to new partner firms and retailers, and I was able to raise the profile of our company’s technology very quickly.
All that may sound simple in hindsight, but of course, it requires a highly strategic approach. So how was the project structured – what were the individual steps?
When you’ve just arrived in a new country, where you don’t know anyone and where your company’s technology is unheard of, the first step has to be getting to know people – building relationships with local contacts who like the technology and can sway the opinions of key decision makers. This means investing a lot of time and money, especially at the beginning: traveling, meeting contacts, broadening your network. And of course, it’s imperative to have a marketing strategy, so you can take part in trade fairs and make sure you’re where the action is – it’s as simple as that. On a cultural level, I found the most interesting part of the experience was discovering how business is conducted in a foreign country I had no previous experience of.
How did your MBA studies help you to complete the project and achieve your career goals?
After studying with Steinbeis for two years, I recognize the benefits of the “project competence degree” concept more than ever. The MBA program really helped me develop: both personally and professionally. I enjoyed managing my own project for two years and also being able to follow the projects of my fellow MBA students – around 20 of them. I would have appreciated more one-on-one supervision from lecturers – that’s one area of the MBA program that I’d pinpoint for improvement. But Steinbeis University Berlin is the only institution that offers MBA programs which combine working and studying, or “learning and doing“. Not only that, the company which commissions the project pays for the degree. If I’m talking to people not familiar with Steinbeis University, I simply explain the concept to them and they quickly recognize the benefits. The course certainly lived up to my expectations, and I think it’ll really help my career, too.
One final question, Mr Barcza: what was your most valuable experience during your MBA studies?
If you’ll allow me to use an analogy for a moment: imagine you’re a lumberjack out in the forest, felling trees with a blunt saw. You work hard and you fell a lot of trees, but of course, your boss wants you to fell even more – so you work even harder and even longer. It’s an all too familiar situation. But the most sensible thing to do would be to stop for a moment, take stock of the situation, and sharpen the saw. Simple as that. Studying with Steinbeis for two years gave me a good opportunity to sharpen my saw. Now I hope we can maintain a strong alumni network, so my fellow graduates and I can remain in contact with each other now that we’ve all completed our degrees.