Florian P. Meyer completed his bachelor degree in Business Administration at Frankfurt School with a final grade of 1.3. Therefore he is one of best 3 percent of his year. After this, he was awarded a Haniel scholarship by the German National Academic Foundation to study for Masters in Finance at the London Business School. In July 2013 he will start a new exciting challenge as an investment banking analyst at Rothschild.
To what extend did your course prepare you for the challenges of your current job?
Historically, Frankfurt School’s strength is in the field of quantitative finance, where I learned an unbelievable amount, because all the specialist options I studied during my degree course were in this area. With respect to corporate finance, which is the field I’m currently working in, Frankfurt School still has a bit of catching up to do.
But yes, my education at Frankfurt School was very important, because ultimately – measured in terms of expertise – you only transfer a small fraction of what you learned on a degree course to your real-life job. On the other hand, the excellent analytical training I was given, plus a broad knowledge of many different areas of expertise – that’s all been invaluable. It all really helped me to reach the position I’m in today, because now I can quickly assimilate additional expert knowledge as and when I need it, and can rapidly put things I know little or nothing about into their proper contexts.
The vocational aspect of my degree course in particular gave me a major advantage, by giving me a theoretical and practical perspective on many banking and financial issues. When I left Commerzbank immediately after graduating and started my investment banking internship, the methodological training I received at Frankfurt School was really useful: I was quickly able to familiarise myself with and make myself comfortable in a hitherto unknown area of expertise, and impress my colleagues with my performance.
That’s why I can now say that specialist knowledge is ultimately only part of the equation, and that the most important resource is the structured thinking Frankfurt School teaches you for dealing with complex and demanding topics. That’s what I took with me from my time as a student, and in my work, it’s one of the most important skills of all. Because in investment banking, you only know one thing in advance: that you’re always going to be confronting new problems and challenges which don’t have convenient, standard solutions.
What did you find particularly useful?
When I think back on the skills I acquired during my time at Frankfurt School, of course I came away with more than just the ability to deal confidently with unfamiliar topics. Some of the important hard skills that are still very useful to me today – and will continue to be so in the future – include, for example, my extensive knowledge of financial products, and the ways they’re structured and valued. As a Frankfurt School graduate, you’re definitely very well equipped in this respect, and even though, in practice, I don’t normally have to value particular products myself, it’s still essential for me to know all about the characteristics of various financial products and derivatives.
My solid grounding in quantitative techniques also meant I acquired an excellent knowledge of Excel and VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) while studying for my degree. Even though, as a banker, you don’t necessarily have to be able to program, good Excel skills are absolutely essential if you want to run complex calculations at high speed. If there’s one thing I really benefit from in my everyday work, it’s this particular ability, plus the fact that Frankfurt School gave me so many opportunities to apply and develop these skills and knowledge.
Looking back, how important was your time as a student at Frankfurt School in the greater scheme of things?
The time I spent at Frankfurt School between 2008 and 2012 was really important to me both personally and professionally. My Bachelor’s degree essentially acted as a platform for my future career. First, because I was able to build up a solid foundation of specialist knowledge in many relevant areas of finance, and second, because the vocational components and semester abroad gave me such valuable practical experience, based on working with many different teams in many different areas of business. This didn’t just help me decide on my future career; it also gave me a multitude of valuable insights into potential opportunities in the financial sector.
Over and above that, however, my degree course was also a valuable launchpad for achieving my goals. A combination of excellent academic performance with in-depth financial expertise and extensive professional experience, plus a good knowledge of the financial markets, was the key reason I was accepted by the London Business School as soon as I left Frankfurt School, and has given my career a major boost. The work experience I gathered while I was studying was a vital factor in my acceptance onto the post-experience Master of Finance programme at LBS immediately after my graduation; normally they ask for three years of professional experience after you’ve earned your Bachelor’s degree.
And finally, the degree course was highly rewarding for me personally. My degree course in Frankfurt didn’t just become the basis for building up my own professional network in Frankfurt – more importantly, I made many new friends there. We all have shared values, and I enormously appreciate their personal integrity and specialist skills. In fact, I very much hope that many of the contacts I made at Frankfurt School will continue to work with me throughout my future career. Quite apart from this, my time with my friends and fellow-students on the FS campus was really good fun. Yes, there were stressful periods – like exam periods, for example – but there were also the parties and events afterwards, and I shall certainly take great pleasure in my memories of certain episodes well into the future.
What’s your favourite memory of your time at Frankfurt School?
Well, given the many events and experiences that characterised my degree course, that’s not an easy question to answer! One of my funniest and also loveliest memories is undoubtedly an experience we had just after we’d set up FS Fellows. We had a meeting in the evening, and I happened to have three bottles of champagne and a basket of pretzels in my case, left over from my leaving party at Commerzbank. We had all these provisions, so the four of us decided to go over to the library after the meeting so we could all work on the “Champagne and Pretzels Problem”. We spent the whole evening – until just before midnight – sitting in one of the study rooms, working our way through the champagne and swapping stories. The whole thing was funny simply because it was so spontaneous. Anyway, it was certainly one of many cheerful happenings I like to think back on.
In your opinion, how important are alumni for a business school? What do you think alumni can do for their alma mater?
Your studies have to end sometime, your expertise becomes outdated, even the grades you got in your exams eventually become irrelevant. The only thing that has any lasting value is your personal relationships with the people whose experiences and values you share. Students – indeed, universities – should always assess the significance of a business school’s alumni base from this long-term perspective.
In terms of teaching, or even on-the-job training, it’s difficult for universities to differentiate themselves. Offering a good education isn’t really a key strategic advantage for a university, because other universities are also perfectly capable of recruiting competent professors and lecturers. In fact, one could even say that if you want to learn financial models like CAPM or Black-Scholes, you don’t necessarily have to study at Frankfurt School, or indeed any other well-known university. It’s the kind of thing you could learn at a small, unknown college.
But the thing that really does differentiate a business school is its alumni base. The latter isn’t just useful because it represents a convenient way of finding jobs for succeeding generations of students, or an easily accessible source of funding (on the contrary – top business schools invest in their alumni base rather than always asking them for money!). Much more important, an alumni base that’s tightly bound up with the university and its students acts as a platform for gaining valuable insights into the world of work, for passing on valuable experience, and for making contacts. As I mentioned earlier, technical expertise on its own isn’t a significant advantage – anybody can learn it out of books in a relatively short time. But the experience alumni can offer – their views of particular employers, industry sectors (like private equity or venture capital) and their practical professional expertise – is very much more valuable, and often unique. This means that for each university, their alumni base is an irreproducible resource, hence a key differentiator. In actual fact, this is the key competitive advantage that Frankfurt School can offer newly enrolled students, compared to students starting out at other universities.
In an interview, a Dean of Wharton Business School once said that what consistently gives Harvard Business School (HBS) its small but significant advantage over Wharton is HBS’s perfectly extraordinary ability to forge networks and create close ties between their alumni and the university. However, in practice an alumni base only remains important to a university to the extent that the university makes real efforts to cultivate this resource and integrate it into everyday university life – in such a way that on the one hand, students benefit from the experience of their predecessors, and on the other hand, alumni continue to identify strongly with their alma mater and even build deeper bonds.
Do you have a personal motto?
I’ve got two main mottoes, and they’re both kind of related. My most important motto, that I’ve been following diligently for more than ten years, dates back to the philosopher Seneca and goes “Per aspera ad astra”, which roughly translated means something like “Make your way through the tough times if you want to reach the stars”.
My second motto is simple: “No retreat, no surrender”. Okay, so it sounds a bit aggressive, but it’s been incredibly helpful to me just before many a Frankfurt School exam period!