EuroMBA Alumni Story: From Australia , through France to USA!

"I’ve always wanted to live and work in Silicon Valley. It’s the global heart of innovation. The next few years could make or break my career at SAP. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. But I’m ready and my EuroMBA journey has played a large part in that."

Tell us us about your move to the USA
It’s a dream come true. I started my career in Australia and I’ve spent the last seven years living in France. That’s where I had the opportunity to study for my MBA. I’ve just graduated and now I’m moving to Palo Alto, California as a Director of Solution Management to launch some new products and services that SAP is developing. We see this as the most important market to try and get a foothold in with these new products so it is critical that I am there. Through my daily work and my master thesis topic I’ve become somewhat of an expert in the area so I got the opportunity to move and I jumped on it. Studying for my MBA definitely played a large part in preparing me for this move. I now feel I have the skills to succeed.

Tell us about SAP
SAP is the largest enterprise applications software company in the world. 80,000 employees, 300,000 customers and offices just about everywhere. But because it is in the high tech domain, innovation is always a key talking point. The company has had to reinvent itself every decade and that’s what we’re going through right now. This time it is perhaps the biggest since the company was founded in 1971. My thesis topic was and my new role is all part of us focusing on what type of solutions our customers are going to need in the next decade. Because of our size we will rarely be the first to market with something really disruptive, but I can speak firsthand about how trends are followed and work is done for some time until ideas finally gather enough momentum to get greenlit as a project.

How are MBAs viewed by people in hi-tech?
MBAs are sometimes considered a waste of time in tech circles. Most of the standout guys like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg don’t have one and in some cases speak out against them. But I couldn’t disagree more. I used to be an idealist with a “build it and they will come” attitude, but anyone with a real clue knows it doesn’t work like that. Having a good idea and some great programming chops isn’t the major factor of success. You need more than that. Particularly when it comes to the enterprise software world that I am in. It’s B2B, and you need certain skills to succeed. There are always exceptions and really talented people out there who are able to transcend formal education, but the first thing that most tech firms do when they gain a bit of traction is fill their ranks with guys that know how to grow and run a business, usually people with MBAs or a at least lot of experience. People always cite the outliers, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Tell us about your career path so far?
It’s funny reflecting on how I arrived at where I am. I was born in country Australia and then lived in a small coastal town until I was 18. It was a nice place but I was definitely ready to move when I finished high school. This was around the time of the first dotcom bubble but the market was still really hot when I had to apply for University. Luckily I got good enough grades to enter a reputed engineering school in Melbourne and that’s where I completed my Software Engineering degree.

I had a nice job in Australia and it is what helped me learn about some of SAP’s products. There were opportunities there to move into different areas and do bigger things but I only saw them as incremental steps. I wanted to try something disruptive and see how far I could really go with my career. I felt like I was missing out tucked away in that corner of the world. Kind of like how you feel when everyone else is at a party and you’re stuck at home. So I packed a suitcase and moved to Europe. With a bit of luck I got the job with SAP in France and it all went from there. I had to grow immensely as a person to make a lot of those things happen. Plus I had some great friends and a lot of luck. I look back and laugh at those times because it was a pretty crazy plan. I didn’t speak a work of French and took job interviews with cheat sheets hidden under the table. Ridiculous. But it is good to be out of your comfort zone from time to time. Obviously that mentality hasn’t changed for me, although for this next move it’s a little better thought out.

Has it been hard for someone with a technical background moving into more management-focused roles?
Yes, definitely. Every technical person would love nothing more than to poke around with something really big and complex in their own world during their work time. I’ll never forget those days when I had my music, my headphones and a lot of caffeine. I was good for hours, as long as no one bothered me outside our allocated meeting times. But I came to realize that management is a way to amplify yourself and your vision. If you can get a team of 10 marching to the same beat then you’ve scaled what you can achieve by 10, which is incredible. But what if you can get 100, 1000... hell... 100,000, now that is something AMAZING. It must feel like organizing a massive army and conquering the world. Anyway, you’ve got to crawl before you can walk. I’m just at the start of my management career so I’m learning new things every day.

Why the EuroMBA?
I had wanted to do an MBA for a few years. I somehow saw it as a necessary step. I just was never sure about how or when I was going to do it. So when I asked my boss about it after having been at SAP for a few years, he was happy to help out. Then with the help of HR we found the EuroMBA and somehow everything fell into place. The Euro*MBA suited me as I was travelling one or two weeks out of every month, so I couldn’t guarantee that I’d be somewhere every weekend, which is what some other part-time MBAs required. The blended format was perfect.

EuroMBA Residential Week in Audiencia, Nantes 
It is a huge sacrifice. Deciding to take on studies on top of work, family and other commitments is no easy task. But no matter what transpires during that time I don’t think anybody walks out the other side regretting it. A lot less people call me on the weekends now compared to when I started, but after a few years telling everyone ‘Sorry, I’m studying’ that tends to happen. It is possible to manage it all, but there will be sacrifices. Based on how many marriages and babies were produced during my time in the EuroMBA I’d say people still found time for extracurricular activities. 

Can you give us the perspective from someone who grew up in Australia and participated in the EuroMBA?
I loved having the chance to be taught by some of the best professors in Europe. It was really something special for me. To hear from the people that wrote books on subject x or y who you would never usually get access to was really eye-opening. To hear insights about critical global topics from people that were working for governments or companies that were actually making the decisions was really incredible and something I had never really been exposed to. Europe has many challenges and things that can be improved but the level of knowledge, education, culture and expertise is really unparalleled in my opinion.

Then there are the friends you make. I’ve made some friends that I am sure will be with me for the rest of my life. These are people from all over the world that work in completely different industries that I probably would never had the chance to usually meet. It takes a certain type of person to want to do this type of thing so that’s why people tend to really hit it off during the course. I had some very low points during the MBA, I won't sugar coat it. Often it seemed like only the other students could really relate. We laughed, cried and celebrated together. It was something special. Now I have the added bonus of having somewhere to crash in most major cities.

It will be hard to leave Europe, I will miss the diversity, the food and the people. I’m sure I’ll be back.

What are the keys to success in the EuroMBA?
You need to be really self-motivated. Yes, you have a great group of friends and colleagues in the course to help you, plus your close family and friends; no doubt. But ultimately it’s up to you to get up early or stay late at work and study, or give away your weekends to get the job done. Friends and family can’t take the exams for you. So, self-motivation is the number one thing. It’s also a matter of self-pride. Do you really want to work on this thing for a few years and just phone it in? What’s the point? Luckily for me that has never been a problem, I’m just not a 9-5 type of guy. I never will be. If I’m invested in what I’m doing I can work on it 24 hours a day. Obviously that type of focus can have it’s good and bad sides. Try to keep a life balance. Let loose once in every while.

Why were you so motivated to go to the United States?
I’ve always wanted to live and work in Silicon Valley. It’s the global heart of innovation. So much happens there. Every tech company worth its salt is based there. It’s almost of right of passage to work there. Although Europe and Asia have started to get more investment in terms of venture capital funding these past few years, nothing can really compare to the scale and scope of Silicon Valley. It can be a pretty topsy turvy place so I don’t expect it to always be rosy, but I’m almost certain it’ll never be dull.

What got you interested in technology?
I’ve always been interested in technology. In fact a friend once said that he noticed that I was into anything that was unusual or extreme. I tend to agree. This goes as far back as I remember. I guess I like how technology unleashes both creativity and it strives to push the limits of mankind. I was always tinkering.
I used to do primary school assignments on my dad’s old monochrome PC and then his laptop (which was more like a suitcase). Later on I taught myself some basic programming and then HTML. I built up and tore down our later family PCs on more than one occasion. I wouldn’t describe myself as a whizkid or anything like that but I made more money making websites than waiting tables at University, that’s for sure.
I used to design games on paper and then my attention turned to trying to program them, so the obvious choice for me was to become a software engineer to learn how. The game developer idea got somewhat diluted when I realized my strengths were in taking really complex problems and simplifying them into a form that people could understand. I now wear a lot of hats which is funny because even outside of work I’ve always had many diverse interests which sometimes makes it hard for people to get a read on me, and even sometimes totally make the wrong assumptions about me. I’m ok with that. But back to the work, I think it’s a real strength to be able to comfortably straddle the technical and non-technical space in today’s environment.

Tell us about your experience with start ups
Right now I’m in a big corporation but I have always felt attached to the world of startups. I like startups because there is a huge amount of creativity required to succeed. It’s not just about analyzing numbers and then running a playbook. Anything can happen. I’ve been involved in a few startups, going back to my University days. In the early 2000’s some friends and I built an e-commerce venture. Then I focused on bands - people may laugh but a band is really like a startup, with as just as much alcohol, late nights and personality conflicts. You also lose your fear of getting up in front of hundreds of strangers. I played lot of gigs, did some tours, released some CDs but saw that hi-tech was more rewarding. More recently I was involved in apps. If I learned one thing about startups it’s that you have to commit 100%. I’m sure my personal involvement with startups is not over net and I’ll be seeing plenty of them in my new role in Silicon Valley.

Final thoughts?

The move is a big step up in terms of responsibility and visibility. The next few years could make or break my career at SAP. I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. But I’m ready and my EuroMBA journey has played a large part in that.

Nick Milano, 
Euro MBA Alumni 2016