They're young, competent, and committed. Both studied business administration, one in his native Bavaria, the other abroad in St. Gallen and London: Jochen Rank (36), native of Nuremberg, works at Commerzbank in Munich in risk management in the automotive sector. He analyzes and appraises companies with regard to their financial and economic situations. Dr. Fabian Heuschele (32), born in Stuttgart, makes investments for ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE in Unterföhring near Munich; prior to that he worked in corporate strategy. Both were referred to the educational initiative by enthusiastic colleagues and have been a part of it for three years and one year respectively. And they have something else in common: Both have become dedicated business@school coaches who impart business basics to "their" teams with heart and soul. The next mutual goal: qualifying for the finals with the best business idea.
business@school: What is your biggest challenge?
Dr. Fabian Heuschele: I don't know if "challenge" is the right word in conjunction with business@school. To be sure, it's not always easy to keep the students motivated for the project over the course of a year. I really respect the students for doing the project in addition to their normal schoolwork and finding a business idea. I think it's great.
Jochen Rank: I completely agree. For me personally, the biggest challenge is scheduling "student-friendly" meetings during the day. Even though we have flextime, I still need to make time, plan the meeting appropriately, and really reserve that time. And it's a challenge to make the students understand that I'm doing this as a volunteer, meaning that I'm not paid to do this like the project-leader teacher and our meetings are on my own time. And that's why I expect in return that the students send me the updated version of their work the evening before our next meeting, so that I can have time to prepare. That's the only way to make the meeting really effective. At first, that doesn't always work out, but further on into the year it does more often.
Dr. Fabian Heuschele: There are two of us—a BCG colleague and I coach the group. That does make things easier for me, being new to the program. We always meet on Fridays in the late afternoon, and it is a challenge to leave the office right at five. And for the students it's just as much a challenge to have to refocus.
Jochen Rank: But don't you have things sent to you?
Dr. Fabian Heuschele: Sure, we do that, too—with varying degrees of success. But if you give students an assignment, you can't expect, as you would in the business world, that a) it will be done per se and b) that it'll be at the expected level. There are often surprises in that regard. I think that's normal because the students just don't know how to gauge certain things. But of course that's why we're here! Sometimes after seeing certain results, you know, "Okay, I was too quick; we need to take a step back."
What role does digitization play formally and in terms of content?
Jochen Rank: We do pretty much everything over e-mail: scheduling meetings, sending presentations. I don't actually get phone calls. But due to our relatively close proximity, we can meet up three times per phase. Those meetings in person are more effective than when we tackle questions by e-mail. The students have good information and get started on their own. The point is to see how well they answer the key questions provided by business@school and how coherent their presentation is. That is best discussed in person.
Digitization plays a much larger role for the group itself: They save all their data in a cloud, allowing them to work on their presentation simultaneously. When I was a student, we didn't have that option. It's a great platform for group work. And if you already think about phase III: for their own business ideas, teams like to consider ones related to digitization, such as apps.
Dr. Fabian Heuschele: I really like WhatsApp groups because they're a bit faster than e-mails. It allows quick questions or questions about processes to be answered easily. That works really well. Working online is also crucial to doing the research homework.
And then digitization plays a central role for the project, especially in phase III—regardless of whether a team wants to found a digital business or develops a physical product. To mention just two points: First, there's the opportunity to approach advertising and communication digitally, thus opening up new horizons. And second, the product can be sold directly to the end consumer online, which is also fascinating.
Jochen Rank: My group last year developed an app that allowed users to take a number for government offices, museums, doctor's offices, etc., to reduce their waiting time. That would not be possible without digital technology.
Thinking of your teams, what's the most fun for you?
Jochen Rank: For me, it's fun to work with young people, to get them excited about the assignment, to see how they dig in, how their eyes light up, how they get fathers, uncles involved—if they work in finance—and draw on their know-how. Sometimes they go overboard, like when they bring Bloomberg analyses. But the fact that they are so excited about it, and that they want to think outside the box, is brilliant. Seeing the students' progress throughout the year is really rewarding; not just with the content, but also the way they work together. And of course there's the quick chat before and after the meeting, when you can also talk a bit about personal things.
Dr. Fabian Heuschele: Yes, I agree. I also think the ups and downs in the different phases are fascinating, especially in the start-up phase. It's great to see the brilliant ideas the students come up with—that really gets things going. They think, "Okay, now we have our project." After some initial research, the team realizes that the idea isn't feasible, either because it already exists or there won't be enough people willing to buy it. So then there's a down. I think it's fascinating to experience and steer those ups and downs up to the final product.
What do you personally get out of business@school?
Dr. Fabian Heuschele: We collaborate really well. It's not a question of the coach dictating what should be done, but rather learning from each other. In regard to digital topics, the students are sometimes much farther than we are, with Snapchat, etc. I always try to incorporate that know-how into the project. On the other hand, I teach them the basics of business and help them with the structures. That way we can have the best of both worlds. For me, business@school means a lot of learning. There are always new topics—and also that I need to explain things both in more detail and more simply.
Jochen Rank: That's exactly right. Patience is something you can never practice enough. In addition to imparting know-how, you first need to explain the concept of group work and then observe how the group implements that. I had similarly strong teams in terms of knowledge and commitment. But I once had a group with one outstanding, incredibly committed student who did a lot and pulled the group. However, that led to others taking a back seat, and that's why the team unfortunately didn't win with their final presentation. The one student dominated the presentation so much that the group as a whole got marked down. That's something you have to teach the team. When working with the group, you need to find out who is the spokesperson. And you have to tell the team that the project requires group work and that the group will only be successful if, in addition to a good presentation, each team member contributes equal parts in preparing and presenting it. It won't work if only one team member answers all the judges' questions—it'll be instantly clear who did all the work. The group dynamic is different every year, but that's what I learn the most it.
Why exactly do you volunteer at business@school? What's the appeal?
Jochen Rank: Personally, it's a lot of fun for me to work with young people, to see them making progress, to support them in their project work, to share a part of my life. How they develop during their year of participation in business@school, what their plans are, to be able to give them advice now and again, for example, if they have questions about what they'll do after school, like university studies. For me, talking with these young people is really refreshing because I hardly ever do otherwise.
Dr. Fabian Heuschele: I think it's great to bring business to schools. In my opinion, you can't start early enough to get excited about business topics. Particularly for students, companies are like a black box. It's great that we can offer them a chance to get a taste of it—not in the standard "academic" way, with a teacher standing in front explaining how it works and with test at the end. But in a young, hands-on way. I think it's pretty awesome; that's why I volunteer for it.
Jochen Rank: That's really important to me, too—thinking back to my university days, I always talked with people in the industry. It was highly interesting to me. Even if a professor was great, talking with people from the industry, as part of special lectures or workshops, was always the best. When I was in high school, programs like business@school didn't exist yet. All the more, I think it's great that it's offered at individual schools. As a high-school student, I would have done it and signed up right away. That's precisely why it's so fun for me now to be a part of it.
Do you have a tip for your new colleague?
Jochen Rank: He's already doing things right. Just keep going. Ultimately it depends on the group, which is different every year. You have to engage with the group, recognize the group structure, and then steer accordingly. Sometimes it takes more effort, sometimes less. And it's something of an art to teach the content to the students in a comprehensive but not too complex way. My recommendation to the students would be: Keep it simple, but also keep it coherent, and you'll get good results.
You both have winning the regional final as your goal. Where's the best place in Munich to celebrate with your group?
Dr. Fabian Heuschele (with a wink): That's Mr. Rank's goal, too, but my team will actually win! In Munich, there are lots of nice beer gardens, for example Seehaus. But I also have a couple of other alternatives in mind. At ProSiebenSat.1, we are known as an entertainment powerhouse; we have numerous exciting events, like "Circus Halligalli" in Berlin. Or we can watch a soccer game at the Allianz arena. We'll see. My team has to first win the regional final, and there's a lot of competition—right, Mr. Rank?
Jochen Rank: Absolutely! I would just go with my students to one of the nice beer gardens, such as Seehaus or the one at the Chinese tower. And if anyone in the group isn't 16 yet, then they can drink a soda instead of beer. Both locations would be perfectly suitable for celebrating our win and successful teamwork during the year.