Last year 41-year-old Reinhard Pasch was awarded his Executive MBA by Frankfurt School of Finance & Management – after a positively superhuman feat of commuting. During the course Reinhard Pasch was transferred from Zurich to Singapore by his employer, Landesbank Baden-Württemberg (LBBW), and regularly commuted between Asia and Germany so he could attend his classes. He now works as Head of German Desk (South East Asia) and Transaction Banking Asia Branches at LBBW Singapore Branch.
How did you do it – spend an entire semester commuting between Frankfurt and Singapore at weekends? Wasn’t it unbelievably stressful?
The time-zone difference and Frankfurt School’s location both helped: I would board the plane on Thursday evening and be in Frankfurt by early Friday morning. Then I would spend the day in the library, preparing for the afternoon’s lectures and classes. After my classes, on Saturday morning, I’d get straight back on the plane for Singapore. The time difference also turned out to be useful for group work – we did our group projects in shifts, so when my fellow students in Frankfurt downed tools for the evening I would take over, and vice versa.
What was your greatest challenge during your semester as a commuter?
Well, simply doing a full-time degree course in parallel with a full-time job is challenging enough in itself. You’ve got to keep communicating with everybody – employer, colleagues, clients, employees, business partners – so you can keep doing your job properly. And for people who’ve also got a family and children, the juggling act becomes a true magic triangle! In my case, the hours of travel added yet another dimension. I would get home on Sunday evening, and by that time the weekend was already over. In the long run, all that gets you is Air Miles.
How did you manage to organise yourself – without neglecting your family, job or studies? What lessons did you learn?
Without good forward planning and the support of everyone involved, it simply doesn’t work. I’m enormously thankful to my wife and employer for relieving me of so much day-to-day anxiety. You’ve got to put yourself into the right frame of mind and tell yourself “this is my life now, and I need to make the most of it.” The crucial thing is not to think too hard about any of it, but simply accept the new situation. In my case that meant climbing into the plane, falling asleep, and waking up twelve hours later. The plane wouldn’t have flown any faster if I’d been sitting there sweating it.
That sounds like an amazingly relaxed attitude?
Well, perhaps that’s a bit of Asiatic influence creeping in. In many situations, people here are a lot more patient than they are in Germany. Especially if you consider that getting excited doesn’t help things go faster, or even get them done. The key thing is to use your time as efficiently as possible.
But you must have made significant sacrifices, too?
Of course! Affecting my family most of all. The commute had a massive impact on our family life: my young son, who was already three years old at the time, would look at me with such sad eyes whenever I was due to fly to Frankfurt. But I’m not some kind of benchmark – each individual has his or her own breaking point, and should explore his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Over a six-month period I commuted between Singapore and Frankfurt 15 times – I wouldn’t have wanted to do it more often.
How did you feel once the course – and associated stress – was done and dusted?
Absolutely amazing! As you start your thesis, the end of the course takes on a very unique quality. I’m sure everybody felt like that. Night shifts become a fact of life. And then there’s something very final about submitting your thesis – it’s incredibly liberating! I spent most of the resulting free time with my family. My son asked me: “Dad, are you going to be staying for a while now?” And at last I could answer “yes!”
And how did your son react?
“Yippee”, to be precise – he was so happy it was over!
What’s your favourite memory of your degree course at Frankfurt School? Did you ever regret your decision to keep going with the course?
My favourite memory is the degree course as a whole. Despite the strenuous travel, I never regretted it. From conversations and discussions inside and outside the classroom to the semester abroad in Argentina – at the end of the day, meeting like-minded people from various industries and being able to learn from their experiences was so enriching. But I didn’t just learn a lot of new things to do with my course and career – I also found out a lot about myself.
You were in full-time employment for the entire period. What do you actually do in your current position as Head of German Desk South East Asia?
We advise German businesses, SMEs and enterprise clients in South-East Asia. Our advantage over local banks is that we focus on the specific, individual needs of each of our German clients.
To what extent did your degree course prepare you for your current work? What did you find especially helpful?
There’s no doubt that the combination of academic insights with actual practical experience is an extremely effective one. Because I was studying for my MBA in parallel with a full-time job, I was constantly putting the theoretical knowledge I was acquiring into practice. Everything I was learning about – world economy, strategy and operations, personnel management, all the other subjects – was reflected in my professional life. What’s more, commuting also turned out to be useful practice for business life, because transnational time management and the associated project management play a major role in my day-to-day work.
How important are alumni to a university? What – in your view – can alumni do for their alma mater?
Alumni are potentially ambassadors for universities; by giving this interview I’m effectively acting as a spokesperson for Frankfurt School and the Executive MBA programme.
What’s the motto you live your life by?
Stay thirsty for knowledge and always keep on learning – be open to the unknown.