Sweden, Switzerland & sabbaticals
What made Jens Peters leave his secure job in London to go on an around-the-world yacht race?
To find out, let’s rewind a little bit. Born in Sweden but having grown up in Switzerland, Jens was exposed to different cultures and nationalities from a young age. It instilled in him a sense of wanderlust that would first take him to London – and Cass Business School – in 2011.
“It was a three-year business degree, and looking back they feel like three short years!” he tells MBAGRADSCHOOLS. “I was relatively young and there was a lot of learning from my end, but what I was missing was the practical experience: applying the things I was learning to my career.” (02:14)
Still just 21 at this point, Jens went straight into a career in the insurance industry after graduating. He won a place on the WTW graduate scheme and slowly worked his way up the company, progressing from a support role to taking the lead on account management with global clients. He had learned and progressed a lot, but at this point, his desire to travel seemed to kick in again. His next step was an unexpected one.
“I was seeking adventure, new experiences, and something that I could grow and learn from. So I did a sabbatical for half a year, during which I went on an amateur yacht race around the world,” Jens says. (03:52)
Sailing all over the world: Lessons on leadership
Deciding to race halfway across the world on a yacht isn’t the standard career move from an insurance broker in their mid-twenties. But, Jens’ thirst for travel wasn’t quenched yet. He saw the sailing experience not just as an adventure, but one that could benefit his future career as well.
“It was a huge personal challenge,” he admits. “But it was something I look back on with great pride. It was a very different learning experience and a chance for me to grow into the leadership roles that I wanted to seek out in my career.” (04:24)
Jens continues, “On the boat, I was second in command to the skipper. I had to give instructions to people that had spent careers as pilots, flying aircrafts with 300 people on board. I had to figure out the right way to communicate with those different team members. I thought, as a younger leader, ‘Why are they going to listen to me?’ But I was someone that the skipper believed had the right experience and insights to do the right thing. That gave me a lot of confidence.” (05:25)
However, alongside his desire to travel, there was a new desire emerging within Jens. His time on the yacht had given him an insight into the skills required of a good leader. Now, it was about finding an environment that would allow him to develop those skills.
Why an MBA was the next step for Jens
Jens may have developed his leadership skills during his time on the yacht, but he still lacked formal training. Having moved cities once again after his sabbatical, this time to the suitably cosmopolitan New York, he started to ponder his next steps. After some conversations with friends, he decided that a return to the classroom could help him make the next jump in his career.
“I had some friends in New York and London that did MBAs at different business schools. So for me, it was about identifying where I wanted to go. I had taken my sabbatical, but now I thought a one-year MBA would be a really nice thing to do.” (07:06)
Jens began to apply for different MBA programs while working in New York, making it a pretty intense period of his life. After all, the MBA application process is one of the most challenging parts of the entire MBA journey. However, he persevered and eventually landed himself a dream spot at one of the world’s most famous universities.
“In parallel to work I started the application process, which I think is a big part of your MBA experience. It’s where your dedication and interest really get tested, I would say. But I pushed through and persevered. And after that process, I was very happy to get an offer from Cambridge and so moved back to the UK in 2018.” (07:28)
Similarities between sailing and doing an MBA
The University of Cambridge is one of the top universities in the world, and Cambridge Judge Business School is just as well-regarded as its parent institution. Winning a place at Cambridge was a big victory for Jens, who found the program to be different to anything else he had ever experienced. Well, almost anything.
“Sailing and doing an MBA are similar in terms of intensity,” he says. “If I look back today, they are two distinguished events in my memory. So, I think that’s kind of key. I reflect and think, ‘Okay how much of what I learned while sailing helped me to face those challenges in my MBA?’ Sailing is about racing but it’s also about people and leadership, so it definitely prepared me for an MBA.” (08:05)
Besides leadership, Jens also believes teamwork is a vital part of both an MBA program and sailing. He felt as if his time on the yacht prepared him well for his MBA experience.
“The other aspect is just working in groups to get from point A to B safely,” Jens adds. “On some of the projects we did during the Cambridge MBA, how do we move from A to B, because we’ve never met or worked together before. There are a lot of aspects of teamwork and team management that were definitely similar.” (09:33)
What the Cambridge MBA taught Jens about leadership
Leadership has been a thread running throughout Jens’ life. From taking on leadership roles in his first job to being a leader on board a yacht, leadership has always been something he has been keen to develop. The Cambridge MBA turned out to be the perfect environment to develop those skills.
“If I think about how it’s changed me as a leader, the first thing I think about is maturity. The reality is I’ve taken larger leadership roles post-MBA than I had before. But, there’s something extra there now. Had I not done the MBA, I would be less comfortable and confident as a leader,” he says. (17:27)
But beyond simply improving his leadership skills, Jens’ time at Cambridge actually changed his perspective on leadership. He has been able to take what he already knew about leadership and incorporate his learnings from the Cambridge MBA. It has made him not only a better leader, but a better person.
“Your performance as a leader is a reflection of your team’s performance,” Jens tells us. “Having the confidence and being comfortable with the fact that you’re there to direct – that is leadership. You’re there to help people perform at their best. That was a very important lesson during the MBA, and it’s something that I have made my leadership style now.” (18:58)
By putting himself in an unfamiliar situation earlier in his life, Jens was better placed to take on the demands of an MBA when the opportunity came around. It shows that in life we should always be trying to leave our comfort zone, take on new challenges, and look for new adventures – because you never know how they could help you in the future.
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