How the EMBA Can Bring Fresh Career Perspective: An Interview with Entrepreneur Nils Kohle

Completing his Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA in 2016 with previous experience in the investment banking and consulting sectors, Nils Kohle finally founded his unique real-estate business OWNR in 2017. We talk to Nils about how the EMBA helped bring his start-up idea to reality.

Before I began the EMBA, I was working in investment banking and founded my own internet agency which I sold at the end of 2012. Three days later, I started working as a consultant for a real estate agency with the founder. I started initially for three months working on strategy projects and ended up staying there for nearly two years. It was when I finished there that I started to develop the idea for OWNR, which is when I also decided to start the EMBA at Kellogg-WHU.

“I wanted to refresh my knowledge base and gain new insights.”

When you work in consulting you are offering a lot of your knowledge as part of your job, so it’s really quite difficult to gain fresh information when you are already the expert. So at that point in my career I was eager to learn again, reposition myself, and gain a new perspective to take me to the next step. A good friend of mine had started his EMBA three years before and he was absolutely thrilled with the whole experience. I had seen it was a lot of work as he was running his own business at the time, whilst studying on the side with the EMBA and also travelling. But I thought that it was the challenge I needed.

“Kellogg-WHU was appealing to me as it seemed much more entrepreneurial than other business schools.”

At the beginning of the program I found it quite difficult to manage the study and work-life balance as there was a lot to study initially, which is a shock to the system when you have been out of formal education for some time! But you become accustomed to it quickly and it really was more of a pleasure than a chore. It also helped that all the WHU-Kellogg professors have an amazing teaching style. For example Professor Dr. Karl Schmedders: he has a very difficult topic (‘Decision Making under Uncertainty’), but he does an excellent job at making the content engaging and capturing your attention. For me, one of the most fascinating elements of the program was one week spent in Toronto, with the course on ‘Digital Strategy’ taught by Professor Dr. Michael Wade. This was a fantastic experience for me as the course offered some important concepts and ideas that I found extremely useful and eye-opening.

“I think if someone is considering changing career or wishes to be more entrepreneurial, it really makes sense to go to Kellogg-WHU.”

I started to construct the idea of OWNR shortly before I came to Kellogg-WHU. OWNR in essence, is an innovative alternative to the rental market that buys and leases properties to customers, builds or furnishes them to their individual needs, and finally offers the customer the chance to extend the lease, buy the property, or move out. I received so much valuable input while I was at Kellogg-WHU. I had the opportunity to present my idea in one of the classes, where I had ten minutes to present and receive some vital feedback. I finally wrote my Master Thesis about the idea with Professor Tim Calkins. When I finally founded the company in 2017, I sent an email to Tim and an hour later the reply came from him to say “well, can I buy a share in it?” Tim was our first investor and he immediately saw the potential.

“Four of our classmates are now entrepreneurs, which I believe is due to the Kellogg-WHU ‘out of the box’ way of thinking.”

The EMBA more than met my expectations as I had so much more content that I could use when talking to clients from a business perspective. That was definitely helpful, as when I was working as a consultant it was very hard to get that real career upgrade. About 80% of my classmates have now changed their jobs and also achieved that upgrade. From the money perspective for most of those in our class, that also increased quite dramatically.

“I think one of the most important factors when considering the Kellogg-WHU EMBA, is that it does a lot to strengthen people’s belief in themselves to make a change and to succeed.”

When people are contemplating doing something on their own such as starting a business, perhaps initially they do not feel like they have the capability to do it. What I found is that Kellogg-WHU is a great enabler: so many alumni have founded their own businesses and you can do it too, but you just have to believe in your abilities! That is something that was relevant for a lot people in our class. Very few of those in my cohort were thinking about founding their own company before the program, but there was definitely a visible change in attitude throughout. I think this is what makes Kellogg-WHU special: the EMBA not only provides the knowledge, network, and skills, but also the confidence and belief in yourself to think “I can do it too”.