(From an earlier interview in 2019)
From the finance world to saving the planet with cutting-edge tech company Green City Solutions. Kellogg-WHU alumnus Felix Mann on how the program inspired him to make bolder career choices and find a greater sense of purpose in his everyday working life.
My previous industry was finance – the first ten years of my career were with Deutsche Bank, which led to my first leadership position. I was going through the motions of moving up the ladder, from one job role to another, always with two or three projects on the go. Eventually, I decided that this lifestyle didn’t suit my goals. I wanted to challenge myself in a new environment where I didn’t have an existing network or support system. I subsequently joined a global custody bank where I oversaw marketing and communications for continental Europe. Still, after some years, I could see that it would not challenge me in the way I hoped. I wanted to discover a career that I could really develop, which led to me joining the Kellogg-WHU EMBA Program.
I ultimately chose to join the program because leadership has a strong focus within the curriculum, and I was very eager to learn more. Being a good leader is something I am passionate about: I love to lead people and teams, and I saw for myself that having a great boss is a motivating factor in helping you be more productive. You spend so much time at work, it is crucial to have a boss who interacts well with you and challenges and supports you as an individual. I was thrilled with the international elements and the opportunity to experience other industries and businesses. After 12 years in finance, I felt stagnant and wanted to see what other possibilities were available.
“The Kellogg-WHU EMBA was a catalyst for me to switch industries and take my career into a new direction.”
I thought there was no way to go into another industry without the expertise. I had experience in marketing and communications, but I always thought I could only stay in finance. The EMBA was a transformative and empowering experience - it indeed widened my horizons. I met many professionals from different industries with differing opinions and ideas. I spent time in Tel Aviv, Chicago, and Hong Kong through the global electives. It took me out of my finance ‘bubble ‘and challenged me to develop as a person and a leader.
Shortly after the program, I joined a software company called TeamViewer, a finance unicorn and one of the few German IT success stories. At first, I was unsure since it was not a bank or a big corporate. Still, the confidence I had gained from the EMBA gave me the clarity to see that this was precisely what I needed at this stage in my life. I was ready to put into practice all the strategies, knowledge, and skills I had learned from the EMBA.
“I would say I am a great example of how transformative the Kellogg-WHU EMBA can be.”
I felt so equipped and energized by the program, through software case studies and collaborating with IT professionals from different industries, that I took the position as Head of Corporate Communications. I set up a team of five people. I transformed the business from a company with a regional mindset to a globally oriented corporation.
Eventually, I took the leap to become self-employed. I contacted some software start-ups since I was already working in that field. Before I knew it, I was part of the green and cleantech industry! It really is about defining your values and finding a product that you are passionate about. This all came together for me when I turned 40 last year: deciding to embark on a new journey, completely rediscovering myself, and a total turnaround of my career.
“Sometimes, it really is about discovering where your values lie and finding your purpose.”
Green City Solutions is a company that builds biotech filters for polluted cities using natural mosses that filter the air. I realized my experience working with start-ups, leadership skills, understanding of marketing, branding, and storytelling could help me positively impact the world. This product combines technology with software and offers an innovative solution to poor air quality problems. Seeing that you are making a positive difference in the world – there is no better feeling than that.
Update for 2022:
As some years have passed since our previous conversation with Felix, we caught up with him to discover how his career had changed since his role with Green City Solutions.
Now living in Montreal, Canada, Felix met his now-wife through a fortuitous meeting with a friend from the Executive MBA network while visiting the city. He then took the leap to move to Canada in 2020, just one month before the pandemic shut everything down. While this meant leaving his role at Green City Solutions, Felix adds that the change was not daunting. The confidence he gained, in part, from his time in the Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA. “I think that during the EMBA, you look into different industries, different challenges, different ideas, and you realize that there are so many opportunities out there.”
“I consider myself a global citizen rather than German. That’s how business is, too; it’s international.”
Now, he was ready to look for a new role in a new location. With his previous knowledge of TeamViewer, he leveraged this expertise in the industry. In July 2020, he began as Director Brand and Communications with fellow German competitor AnyDesk, a company based in Stuttgart. “I contacted them through my personal network and explained how I could help them grow and compete against their biggest competitor, TeamViewer. I know the industry, and I have my background in brand and communications, so they offered me a position. My directive is to position the brand to an international audience and create a company brand rather than just a product brand.
This is where the Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA experience also helped me. Knowing how to take a German brand and make it global, approach new markets, and appeal to a worldwide audience. In the past year or so, we’ve opened offices in Asia and the USA, grew the number of employees from 85 to over 200, and concluded Series C financing last November of 60 million. We went from flying under the radar to becoming an ambitious contender on the market.”