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Around the World and Back Again
2011-12-31

Maxence Perret-Gentil (MBA ’10) was already a successful engineer with an advanced degree. Having worked for some of the leading manufacturers in his industry, including the Swiss Institute of Technology, he, like many engineers, wanted to accomplish more. He wanted to move his career forward with an MBA degree, so Perret-Gentil went one-step further, one giant step. Perret-Gentil’s MBA journey took him from his home in Switzerland to the other side of the globe to study at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB). The experience immersed him in the heart of China, the world’s largest emerging market, developed his business skills, and returned him home to Europe with an MBA and an offer to become project manager and the Chief of Diversification for VOH SA, a leading manufacturer of precision watchmaking tools.

Although you already had an engineering degree, why did you decide to get an MBA?

I wanted to stay in the same industry but I wanted to do more. When you are an engineer, you are told what to do; you are given a budget, a project and told to get it done. I would ask why this project needed to be done and was told that it was beyond my understanding or need for understanding. That was not enough for me; I wanted to understand the whole picture. I wanted to understand the steps that led to the project. I had engineering knowledge but needed to develop my business skills.

What motivated you to get your MBA in China?

I was coming to the end of my contract and I wanted to get an MBA. This was at the beginning of the financial crisis and I saw a lot of small- and medium-sized companies talk about looking outside Europe to China for new opportunities, but none of them had the skills to develop that market. A lot of those companies died because they had no idea of how to do business in China. Europe as a whole is sort of blank in this respect. Those companies have products that could do well in China if they only had the resources. There seemed to be a demand in the market that I could fill.

Was there something that you wish you had known before you arrived in China that you know now?

There are several things. One has to do with cost: Housing is the largest expense but food, going to restaurants, and everything else is easy because of the low cost. That is another thing I wish I had known: Housing is easy to find, and getting around on bike in Beijing is pretty easy. I bought an electric bike and used that most of the time. It is fine as long as you can handle the traffic.

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience at CKGSB?

I really liked my professors. I liked how they put emphasis on how what we were learning applied to the reality in China, the real world application. We did not just study cases about the U.S. but we used the original cases on China developed at CKGSB. We had students from different industries and different cultures and they brought that experience into the classroom. No one knew everything, so there was a lot of knowledge sharing. With our small class, you really learn who is from where and from what industry pretty fast; so you also get to know who knows what and from whom to learn about an industry pretty fast, too.

My classmates were open-minded and curious about what we were learning in class but they would also tie it into their careers. We formed small groups and clubs focused on an industry or career to share knowledge. The class was young and diverse, which was good since we had to communicate and depend on one another. There was a family atmosphere and many of the students became very involved with extracurricular activities.

After graduation, you found the job you wanted in Europe. What made a difference for you in your job search?

The MBA from CKGSB certainly made me stand out in a positive way. When I applied for jobs, companies saw that I got my MBA in China from CKGSB, and they were very curious about the different knowledge and skills that comes with a CKGSB MBA. The MBA from CKGSB put me in a more exclusive job applicant pool that helped me get noticed and helped me get in the front door. Of course, what you do once you are in there is up to you.

The Career Management Center helped me put together a great resume – they helped add clarity. The practice interviews were important. They helped me discover what I should focus on in the interview, what to talk about, and how to present myself. They also brought in a lot of companies to recruit us for both internships and post-graduation jobs. There were many Chinese and foreign companies coming to CKGSB with open positions we could apply for.

Can you tell us a bit about your new position?

I wanted a position that was focused half on technology and half on business. I now have a project management role, and, in addition, I am the Chief of Diversification. I am responsible for exploring new markets for the company and looking outside our traditional industry to identify new opportunities. I work with the CEO to expand the market for the products we make utilizing our current capabilities. It is exactly what I wanted: not only technology and not only business, but both sides are integrated in my new role.

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