A German MBA graduate’s journey from the Middle East to the military to an MBA

German MBA graduate Michael Quaden spent his early years criss-crossing the Middle East before a new job unexpectedly opened a new door for him. He told MBAGRADSCHOOLS about his journey so far.

In short

A grounding in the Middle East

“It was one of the most significant developments in my childhood and one that brought me this way [in life],” says Michael Quaden, as he recalls moving to Turkey from his native Germany as a young boy. 

“My father was posted there as a diplomat in the mid-90s,” he explains. (00:36)

Michael continues, “It was like a huge adventure for me as a young child. I was seven years old when we moved there, and for me it was just like a massive playground. I [used to] wander along all these ancient paths. My parents – both academics – were always pushing us to indulge in history and learn by being open and passionate.” (02:10)

Those early years in Turkey turned out to be a formative experience for Michael. They instilled in him an openness to try new things and a determination to take on new challenges. They also instilled a love and appreciation for the Middle East, which would become an enduring theme of Michael’s life.

After spending more time in the Middle East, Michael returned to Germany to complete his education. But he would soon be back in the region that was such a key part of his childhood.

How Michael moved into consulting

Back in Germany, Michael graduated from high school and set his sights on university. Before he could start his degree, however, his life took another unexpected turn.

“At that time in Germany, military service was still mandatory, so before attending university I spent a good two years in the German military and got my training as an officer in the military intelligence branch,” he reveals. (02:54)

After university, Michael would go on to serve for another six months in Kosovo, before returning to the Middle East to work for a number of different NGOs. Several years of working between Syria, Turkey, and Iraq led Michael to the next stage of his career.

“After having spent quite some time there (in the Middle East) I figured, let’s do something totally different. It’s not like I was stuck in kind of a wheel, more like, let’s do something new,” he explains. “So I wrote an email to EY and said ‘I’m super interested in what you’re doing in Forensics & Integrity. It would be great if we could have a chat and you tell me what you’re doing.’ Within two weeks the path was set for me to join EY.” (05:30)

Why an MBA at ESMT Berlin?

Moving from NGO roles in the Middle East to a job with a Big Four consultancy firm may not seem like the obvious career move. But, it’s hardly the first left-field move that Michael has made. Soon after joining EY, a partnership between the company and ESMT Berlin gave him the chance to start another chapter.

He tells us, “I joined in February 2019 and in April or May 2019 the company said, ‘Michael, we have one slot open [to do an MBA at ESMT Berlin]. Would you be interested in taking it?’ In that instance, I knew it would be very dumb if I didn’t take it. Truth be told, it’s an honor to have received that kind of support at a very early stage in my career.” (11:12)

Despite the opportunity he had been offered, Michael had some initial concerns about taking on such a heavy workload.

“Doing the MBA parallel to being fully employed meant there was an increased bit of reluctance,” he admits. “[But] once I started the MBA, I figured I couldn’t have done anything better than seizing that opportunity.” (09:47)

How an MBA equips you to take on life’s challenges

Michael says the demands of balancing an MBA and a full-time job with his personal life had an unexpected benefit. He started to understand the value of his existing support networks. Sometimes, it seems, you need to take a step back to appreciate what you have in life.

“Yes, you need to leave your comfort zone. Yes, you need to tell your friends and family that for the next two years there will not be much time for [your] personal life. It’s work, and it’s the MBA. But that really makes you value what you have – family support, friend support, but also the support you get from your classmates,” he says. (24:38)

After overcoming his initial reservations about doing an MBA, Michael couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the experience today. Earning the qualification itself is important, of course, but according to Michael, the true value of an MBA lies in the things that run parallel to the course.

“It’s not only the pure academic [achievement]. It’s everything that complements the endeavor. It’s the personal support, it’s the close proximity of mentorship you receive from ESMT, it’s all the things that happen alongside [the MBA]. It’s the friendships that develop, it’s the possibility of increasing your network,” he says. “If you’re not doing something like an MBA, you’ll never have this chance to get to know so many amazing people in such a short time.” (23:22)

From the Middle East, to the military, to an MBA… Michael’s journey has already taken a number of unexpected twists, but now he feels better equipped than ever to take on life’s challenges. 

Michael concludes, “With everything I learned and the way I developed as a person and as a professional, I really can now contribute to my family, to the company, to ESMT. I’m grateful to be in a position where I can return everything that I’ve received.” (32:00)

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