Christian Hassel is 35 years old. In October 2020, he became one of the youngest managers in the history of Commerzbank AG to be appointed to the Group’s top management team as a divisional board member. Just a few weeks ago, Capital magazine featured him as one of Germany’s Top 40 Under 40s in 2021. In 2012, he was awarded an Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) degree by Frankfurt School of Finance & Management – he was the youngest person to graduate from the programme. And prior to that, he completed Frankfurt School’s Bankfachwirt, Bankbetriebswirt and Management Studies programme in Koblenz and Frankfurt. In this interview, he tells us about his early desire to become a bank manager and outlines his career to date.
“One day I’ll be a bank manager” – that’s the promise you made to your grandfather, and you’ve kept it. Did you always know that banking would be the right career for you?
When I first started studying to become a Bankfachwirt, I really did – jokingly! – say that to my grandfather. Then, as I continued to study, I gradually came to realise that banking and the finance industry as a whole is exactly right for me. In the course of my career to date, I’ve had the good fortune to experience many different aspects of the financial world, and I’ve developed an especially strong affinity with complex solutions for high-net-worth individuals. Now, in my current position, I’m able to tackle new challenges in banking and finance.
How did you manage to complete a degree while you were working?
It was hard work, I must admit. But ever since my days as a trainee, I’ve been used to working during the week and studying at weekends. If you enjoy what you’re studying and also enjoy your work, it’s quite possible to combine the two. And I very much enjoyed studying at Frankfurt School – the course content was really exciting, and often I was able to put the theory straight into practice at work the next day.
To what extent did your MBA prepare you for the challenges of working as a divisional board member at Commerzbank?
The EMBA programme was the best possible way to prepare for my current post. That’s undoubtedly due to the course’s learning methods, which focused on case studies based on real-world events. My fellow students and I would then discuss the various scenarios in great depth. That’s how we first learned to apply management theories and strategies; eventually we were able to find constructive, high-level ways to relate the insights and methodologies we were acquiring to complex, real-world issues. In the process, we had many fascinating, critical and lively discussions – which in my view is exactly what an EMBA programme should be about. The programme gave me tough but invaluable training in dealing with the everyday challenges of a leadership position. The EMBA programme as a whole is an excellent way to prepare young managers like me, and undoubtedly also a useful top-up course for experienced senior managers. The diversity of the study group adds value for all the students involved; it also forms the basis of a personal network that remains important long after the degree course is over.
How important was your time as a Frankfurt School student in the greater scheme of things?
Oh, definitely very important. For five years, I spent most of my free time here, in the process making many friends who I am still in touch with and are very dear to me. My time here had a huge influence on the person I am today, and I almost feel homesick when I think back over my years of study here in Frankfurt! I owe Frankfurt School an enormous debt of gratitude. Without the education I was given here, my career would never have progressed at the speed it did.
What’s your favourite memory of your time at Frankfurt School?
I especially enjoyed working in small groups. The close contact and relaxed interaction between academic staff and students is another of Frankfurt School’s special features. But the ultimate high point was undoubtedly the module spent abroad at CEIBS (China Europe International Business School) in Shanghai. Studying in such a vast and vibrant city alongside fellow students from a wide variety of industries and countries was an incredible experience I really wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
How important are alumni for a business school? What do you think alumni can do for their alma mater?
Alumni are extremely important for a business school, because they’re both the institution’s product and its poster child. But it’s also important for alumni to always bear in mind how much they owe their alma mater, and to try and give something back. Compared to universities in the Unites States, UK or China, Germany has a lot of catching-up to do in this area. But I do believe that in this and many other respects, Frankfurt School is one of the top-ranking institutions in this country.
What motto do you live by?
Off the cuff, a quote by Christian Morgenstern comes to mind: “Thus Time flies by, clutching the Moment as its prey.” We live in a turbulent, rapidly changing world – which is why I try and do my best every day, why I work hard, but also why I deliberately make time to enjoy myself and live new experiences.