David Vanni Interview | BSL Careers Office

Our BSL Careers Office interview series is a great opportunity where we reconnect with some of our former students and find out about their personal and professional lives after graduation from BSL. For the next installment of this series, we reached out to BSL alumni David Vanni, who is currently living halfway across the world in Shanghai and Hong Kong as the Digital Marketing Supervisor for the Chinese division of Novartis Pharmaceuticals. 

David achieved his Master in International Business at BSL in February 2019 after successfully completing a 6 months exchange at the Renmin University  School of Business of China. This proved to be a pivotal factor in carving out the next few years of David’s professional career. We chatted with David to find out more about his career path.

david vanniWhat product or service does Novartis Pharmaceuticals offer?

Novartis is a worldwide leader in innovative medicines, focusing on several disease areas like cancer, cardiovascular, immunology and dermatology, and ophthalmic diseases. Novartis is also a leader is gene and cell therapy that will revolutionize medicine. Gene therapy is the introduction, removal or change in the content of a person’s genetic code with the goal of treating or curing a disease. Cell therapy is the transfer of intact, live cells into a patient to help lessen or cure a disease. In my digital marketing role, part of the Business Model Transformation team in China, I work with the team on initiatives to build local partnerships with Chinese technology companies to enable better patient access to our medicine and better treatment adherence through digital platforms and tools in order to support better patient outcomes. Novartis is determined to change the practice of medicine and our team in China is supporting that by reimagining the Chinese healthcare industry with data and digital.

What got you interested in studying business and how has studied through BSL helped you in your career?

My Bachelor’s degree was focused on business, more specifically in marketing. During a diverse work experience of 4 years before BSL, I went from private banking to a sales role in commodity trading, and then to a cost analyst position. I believe it gave me a taste for acquiring diverse knowledge and skills, which is increasingly important in today’s fast-changing business world. It is this mindset that pushed me to enroll at BSL. It has a great diversity of people from different backgrounds and a focus on smart and sustainable business practices. I picked the Master in International Business course as I wanted to have a broader understanding of doing business internationally, and because I wanted to leave Switzerland for a few years after graduating to pursue my career. I jumped at the opportunity provided by BSL to enroll for a 6 months exchange at the Renmin University. It was really a pivotal moment in my life and today I am still living in China and working there thanks to that decision.

Which subjects and professors stood out to you most?

Arash Golnam from Systems Thinking

A highly knowledgeable and unconventional professor teaching a way to frame issues through models and how to solve them by understanding the relationships between different factors.

 Tim Connerton from Strategic Leadership

A very experienced mind in business that brought his real-life experiences with a very sharp aptitude on a topic that I felt enthusiastic about.

 Kelly Kretz from Marketing

She told me I have ‘an eye for marketing’ which inspired me further. She guided me to listen to people’s needs and wants, and to offer them value through innovative products and services. Her class was made for me. 

 And last but not least, André Delafontaine from Entrepreneurship

He supervised my Master thesis and we share the same passion for entrepreneurship and startups. I learned a lot in his class and it resonated with my views on proactive thinking and an entrepreneurial mindset, whether you are in a corporate setup or if you have your own company.

What is the most valuable lesson you learned during your studies?

How much you gain from a class is really up to you. If you are able to study for the educational value and not for the grades, your experience will be so much more enriching. When you understand that you are doing this to have a positive impact on your life and to society itself, it is very empowering. I also learned to care for everyone and that everyone had something to say. If certain pieces of information don’t necessarily match with your current interests now, they will often do so in the near future – so don’t dismiss anything. If you listen well and build relationships you will be able to let yourself be positively surprised by the synergies you will find along the way from the people you met.

In your current role, what are the biggest challenges you have faced?

Novartis pushes us to have proactive behavior, to seek solutions ourselves, and to take ownership of our decisions. It is a challenge in a way, but an amazing enabler as well as it empowers you to trust yourself and to be humble enough to acknowledge you cannot succeed alone and that you often need support from others. 

What have been your biggest wins in your career and what would you attribute them to?

I believe I can access people rather easily. I speak several languages, I traveled a lot, and I am curious by nature. This enables me to rapidly find common topics of conversation with people and build relationships. My biggest win so far is receiving the trust of others in business initiatives. In particular, when top management entrusts me with implementing a project. For example, I have organized a startup pitching competition in Beijing with 10 of the most innovative local healthcare startups, over 150 people attending and many honorable guest speakers. This was the very first Novartis startup event in China and only the first step in our commitment to increasing our footprint in local innovation and startup ecosystem while promoting entrepreneurship and creating a flow of exchange between startups and the corporate world. Building on that success, we will now lay down the strategy to open our very own startup incubator in China next year.

What is your vision for your career going into the future?

I plan to be based in China for the next 3 to 4 years, working in the business model transformation in applying digital technologies to business processes, changing the mindset to an active learner and promote a more agile corporate structure. In our industry, the importance of big data is rising and impacting all the units of the business. The same data that can be gathered from patients in order to tailor treatments to people’s very specific needs and improve the treatment outcomes with the support of technologies forming a digital therapeutic solution around the conventional medicine. China is a great country to test new technologies and iterate quickly from one solution to another.

Do you believe that studying through BSL has provided you with a competitive advantage among your peers?

Yes definitely. I really thank BSL for two things: first, the quality and diversity of the BSL professors’ backgrounds. Many (if not all) of them have practical business experience which made the courses so much more ‘real world’. Second, their partnership with the Renmin University of China, School of Business, which exposed me to an environment I previously knew nothing about and changed my view of life forever. I am now ready to embrace change and different ideas.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to other budding entrepreneurs and business-focused students?

I have been involved a lot with startups in Beijing as it was the focus of my Master thesis. I understood the importance of testing your ideas as quickly as possible. This is what is called the MVP (or minimum viable product). I truly believe in it for startups but I see also in larger corporations that it is becoming a priority. It is the acknowledgment of a customer-centric approach: you don’t build a product for the customer but rather with the customer. That means you will test your product or service as early as possible with your target market so that you can use their feedback to quickly make modifications. You do this many times until you reach a point where your product or service will fit to the market needs. My advice is to not be afraid to share your ideas and test them with other people, don’t be afraid to have it stolen as it will change so many times anyway. The worst is to work for years and launch a product that has no market traction, even though it can be a good product by itself.

How do you think business and business leadership will change going into the future and how do you believe businesses can prepare for the change?

New technologies, changing demographics and geopolitics have pushed the world in a speed of change like never before. Leadership is adapting to this by empowering employees and giving them ownership of initiatives. Ideally, businesses should not react to change nor get ready for it but be the change themselves. The best way to anticipate change is to be the change agent yourself. Speed of decision needs to be prevalent in all aspects of the business, and this can only be done by empowering employees and allowing them to take part in certain aspects of decision-making that was previously in the hands of the middle and top management. New technologies are supporting and accelerating these organizational changes. It will also give people a stronger sense of belonging and a hard-working mentality.

David is clearly passionate about what he does and what he has achieved in his early career. We hope that the next few years of his growth will see him furthering his achievements and advancing his ideas to the benefit of his team. Onward and upwards, David!

BSL alumni Richard Fyk brews entrepreneurial success

For the next installment of our BSL careers office interview series, where we get an insight into the lives of our business and entrepreneurial graduates, we caught up with BSL alumnus Richard Fyk, owner of SYC Brewing. Based in Alberta, Canada, SYC Brewing brews and distributes craft beer to various suppliers across the country, including bars, restaurants, and liquor stores. SYC Brewing officially opened its doors in January 2019 and has received a warm reception from the craft brewing savvy public in North America. BSL interview _ Richard Fyk (SYC Brewing)

Richard owes a lot of his initial business success to his formative grounding and the business knowledge he acquired during his MBA at BSL. “My thesis paper really helped me galvanize my plans to start my own business. I put all that I had learned at BSL into practice and it gave me first-hand experience in how to piece everything together and create something from scratch. It was very helpful – so much so that I immediately put my teaching into practice to start SYC Brewing”. 

Richard’s thesis also focuses on finance. Although far removed from the craft beer industry, Richard insists that BSL equipped him with the tools to pursue any career in any industry or sector. “Once you understand how each cog in a business mechanism operates, you soon realize that the possibilities for starting your own business are endless”. 

It was a conversation from an unlikely source that helped Richard make the decision to study his MBA at BSL. “I was working in a bank and had progressed very quickly through the ranks. I had an informal career coaching discussion with my manager where I informed him of my intent to progress even further within the organization. He told me to give it another year to have the conversation, which made me quickly realize that he didn’t have my best interests at heart. Directly after that conversation, I began researching online the best places to do my MBA and BSL was on the top of that list. The next thing I knew I was enrolled and on my way to attend my first class”. 

What really impressed Richard from the onset was BSL’s focus on entrepreneurship. He always knew he wanted to create a business for himself but he didn’t have the skills and know-how to progress his ideas into action. When the idea for opening his own craft beer brewery was solidified in his mind, the next step was to learn the necessary business skills to make it work. “After I graduated from BSL with my MBA I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but more importantly, how I was going to do it. Suddenly the thought of starting my own business wasn’t a daunting idea because I knew exactly what I had to and how I was going to do it”.

BSL interview _ Richard Fyk (SYC Brewing)2Richard enlisted the help of a friend to get the business off the ground. Together they began brewing a range of different variations of craft beer until they settled on what they wanted SYC Brewing to taste like. The next step was marketing the product. “I knew branding was crucial in the beer industry, but when you deal with it first-hand you realize it’s a lot bigger than you initially think. You have to make sure that your beer quality is great and that your branding is almost better. I learned a lot about marketing a product during my MBA and that really gave me the upper hand when starting out. I knew what to expect and how to execute my ideas into action, and it worked”.

Due to Richard’s product being alcohol, getting started is not an easy thing to do. The alcohol industry is highly regulated and so brewers have to go through every single level of government to acquire alcohol manufacturing, selling and distributing licenses. Richard had to go through the federal government for permission to make beer. Then he had to get allowances from the provincial government to allow him to brew while still having to deal with his local municipality for rules and regulations regarding the specific location of his brewery. “The entire process takes a long time because you’re dealing with all forms of government and each department’s processes and regulations, including their waiting periods. This is of course not great for entrepreneurs needing to get ahead of the competition”. However, Richard managed to get all the required licenses quickly through his dogged determination to get his business off the ground. 

BSL interview _ Richard Fyk (SYC Brewing)3

As Richard will tell you, no amount of studying and theoretical framework can sufficiently prepare you for the real thing – but it can certainly help. Having gone through the channels of his MBA at BSL to starting his own business, what advice can he give to current and future entrepreneurs hoping to create their own businesses in the future?

“Knowing what you want to achieve from the very beginning is crucial. Being willing to always learn from either your own or others’ mistakes can save you a lot of time, energy and money – so be aware of those who have come before you. You have to make sure you are agile and that you have the ability to make quick and important decisions. These can come along rarely, or twice in an hour – so be ready.  If something is not working, change it up. Make sure it’s working for you. Being a small startup we’ve done it multiple times. If something wasn’t working, we made a decision the same day and before we knew it the next day it was working. I’m a big believer in not saying ‘sorry’. If you are selling a product in a higher price range it’s because you believe in the quality, and so you’ve got to sell your vision. But perhaps the big one is to just work hard. It’s amazing what you can do with a 100 hour week. I work 100+ hours and I don’t get tired because I love what I do and what I am creating. It’s not about the number of hours – it’s about what you do with your hours that makes all the difference”. 

Well done on your amazing business achievement, Richard! We are very proud to see you and your brewing business flourish. Although it is still early days, we are sure you will create something truly remarkable that will send waves of inspiration through our classrooms as an example to all our future entrepreneurs that anything is possible with the right skills and mindset. We look forward to charting your success from across the pond and hopefully soon SYC Brewing will be a household name in both Switzerland and the world.

BSL Alumnae, Ola Kayal, keeps it cool with Nabati a plant-based ice cream startup

For the next installment of our BSL careers office interview series, where we take a look at the post-BSL lives of our business and entrepreneurial graduates, we chatted with Ola Amro Kayal, founder of Nabati, an ice cream business with a twist. Based in Florida, USA, Nabati (meaning ‘plant-based’ in Arabic) is not your typical ice cream shop. It offers plant-based, organic, unrefined ice cream while sending an environmental message. All of the 100% plant-based ice cream, toppings, sauces, and desserts are served in biodegradable packaging. It is also a concept store, and they often collaborate with like-minded brands for various green campaigns.

OlaKayal_AtNabati_1_ByMelanieOlivaWhat degree did you received from BSL?

I graduated with a Bachelor in Business Administration with a focus on sustainability. I think we were the first group at BSL to do the switch to Sustainable Business as a subject. 

Which subjects and professors stood out to you most?

BSL was a very unique experience for me. I remember most of the content from my classes and, of course, all of my amazing professors. It was such a personal and hands-on learning experience, something I had never experienced before. I loved that all the professors were actually working in the industry they were teaching. What sticks with me the most is a class I had with Arash, Systems Thinking MIS. I also remember solving big problems with the fishing game simulation which was fun and informative. 

What is the most valuable lesson you learned during your studies and how have they helped you in your career? 

The case study approach left a mark on me as it made me realize that every situation in life is different. Of course, it’s always good to have a plan but it is also important to be adaptable to change. But I think the most important takeaway from my degree was that my education embedded in me a strong sense of sustainability in my lifestyle, actions and business decisions. From all that I learned at BSL, the question I still ask myself to this day is “What is the most sustainable way to operate?”. This keeps propelling me forward in my personal and professional life.  Nabati_Storefront_ByMelanieOliva

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in beginning your business?

What I learned from the outset is that every day brings a new set of challenges. Due to Nabati being based in Miami, USA, I faced a lot of challenges with acquiring the various permits for construction. Everything in this city requires a specific permit and costs a lot of money. Finding good quality workers and making sure they are satisfied is another challenge in itself. This continues to become a challenge, managing everyone’s personal needs and problems. Setting up standards and controlling them is something that is difficult to balance at first, but gets easier with experience. Delegating tasks is always tough when you are a perfectionist, so letting go of certain things and allowing others to handle them has been a point of personal growth for me. Marketing and getting my brand out to the public has also been challenging. The market for organic foods in the USA is already rather saturated, but plant-based ice cream is a unique offering. So getting the public to be able to know and differentiate the product is difficult, but we’re making headway!  

What have been your biggest wins so far and what would you attribute them to?

We have been fortunate enough to have numerous articles and publications favorably reviewing what Nabati is all about. There has been a lot of interest in us being the first 100% plant-based ice cream shop in Miami that is also plastic-free. We have recently been officially recognized by PETA which is amazing.

Nabati_OwnContainer_ByMelanieOliva

What is your vision for the business and your professional career going into the future? 

My dream is to have Nabati franchised in the USA. From there, I would love to open stores across the globe. We are now working on our wholesale capabilities with the aim to supply restaurants and shops in the USA. 

Do you believe that studying at BSL has provided you with a competitive advantage among your peers?

I think studying at BSL gave me a full overview of business administration with a real-world perspective. Gaining experience from industry professionals really helps you understand all the various and complex elements of running a business. It is cool to get the chance to put your theory into action. Like anything rewarding, it is challenging but also so exciting. If you have drive and passion to start your own business, then I would highly recommend BSL to gain valuable real-world experience.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to other budding entrepreneurs and business-focused students? 

I don’t only have one piece of advice, I have many! Have a plan but remember to be creatively adaptable. It’s important to know everything that is going on in your business, even if you are delegating something you should know how it is done to know what to expect. Finally, don’t be scared to make mistakes, that’s how you improve your business! And perhaps my most sage piece of advice: work hard – nothing good in life comes easy. 

Thank you for your time, Ola! It was truly insightful getting to know more about how you started your business and how your studies at BSL helped equip you with the necessary skills and perspective to create something of your own. From all of us at the BSL Careers Office, we wish you and Nabati continued success. Next time we’re in Florida we’ll be sure to try some of your delicious plant-based ice creams!