Florian Brechtel bought his first shares in 1990, at the tender age of 16: he already knew he wanted a career in banking. In 2001, he successfully completed a part-time degree course in Business Administration at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management. While studying, he worked at Limburger Volksbank and Deutsche Bank. Subsequently, he spent time at Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt and London, and went on to work for Société Générale and DekaBank. In 2011, he set up his own business – Dragoman, an agency advising firms on finance, funding and trusts. Alongside his work, the FS graduate is also heavily involved in politics: his activities include voluntary work as general manager of CDU Hesse’s futurist “Finanzplatz Frankfurt” forum (discussing Frankfurt’s role as a financial centre) and as head of the party’s electioneering “TEAM Hesse” in the run-up to this year’s state parliament elections.
You’re an entrepreneur, and also very active in the political arena – so “two souls residing in one breast”. Which one has the upper hand?
I really couldn’t say. Politics and business exist in a state of permanent tension. Although representatives of both worlds have to work together, to a certain extent they each lack understanding of the respective working mechanisms. One major difference, for example, is how they each go about organizing projects. In the business world, once you’ve decided how a project should be implemented, that’s how it’s done. Politicians, on the other hand, usually propose a “sky is the ceiling” approach, because they’re expecting to encounter plenty of internal and external resistance that will whittle down the final result. So in view of this built-in tension, I do my best to act as a kind of mediator between the worlds of politics and business.
Looking back, how important was your time as a student in the greater scheme of things?
My part-time degree course paved the way for my career at Deutsche Bank. Because of my studies, I was already well integrated at the bank and very much part of the team. That was a major reason why I was offered a job immediately after graduating in 2001, despite the fact that the dotcom bubble had just burst and the economy was going through a difficult patch. In addition, Professor Heidorn’s seminars had sparked my interest in derivatives, so after graduating, I continued to work in this field for various banks.
Interestingly, my degree course had very little impact on my current activities, but my time at Frankfurt School certainly motivated me to carry on with my continuing education. And after training to become an adviser to foundations and trusts, I felt ready to set up my own business. My degree course also showed me that existing knowledge quickly becomes obsolete. You have to stay on your toes all the time to keep up with the latest developments.
What’s your favourite memory of your time as a student at Frankfurt School?
Apart from the semester spent abroad, I have very warm memories of our “Boys’ Camp”. It was inspired by the name of a German TV series – “Girls’ Camp”. Basically, while we were preparing for our final exams, I organized a weekend of intensive revision at a youth hostel for nine fellow students and me, which I christened the “Boys’ Camp” project. We divided up into pairs to make five teams, each responsible for reading up on one major subject area. Then we spent each day sitting together in a meeting room revising the course materials – by the time we finished, we’d put together 80 or 90 pages of notes on each subject. The same group still meets up now and then, and we all spend a weekend together.
You’ve called your agency Dragoman. In the Middle East, a dragoman is a translator, interpreter or multilingual travel guide. How important are communication skills in Business Administration?
Being able to explain what you’re doing is extremely important, so yes, communication skills have a significant role to play. At Frankfurt School, Corporate Culture & Human Resources Management classes were on the curriculum right from the start, making students aware of management issues. I realised just how farsighted this was during my semester abroad in the United States, while we were covering the concept of shareholder value in a seminar. When we European students argued that other stakeholders – such as employees, for example – shouldn’t be ignored, and that a works council was an important institution, our American fellow-students really didn't have a clue what we were talking about.
In terms of my career, I benefited from my good communication skills at Deutsche Bank in particular. Even as a banker, I was required to man trade fair stands, give talks and explain specific products. To start with, I kept to the sidelines, but over time I increasingly moved into the spotlight.
What do you most enjoy about your current job?
As a self-employed entrepreneur, I’m my own boss. I can decide for myself which projects I want to take on. In terms of what I do, my work is exciting and diverse: NGOs keep approaching me with issues I would probably never have concerned myself with otherwise. So when I was advising a foundation dedicated to the reforestation of coral reefs, for example, I had to read up on coral cultivation.
Over and over again, I find it fascinating to see just what you can achieve with minimal resources – especially in the social sphere. Now I’m finally able to concentrate on providing top-class consulting services. At the bank, the sales aspect unfortunately took an increasingly high priority.
What doesn’t appeal so much?
I have to be in permanent “acquisition” mode, so thinking and planning ahead the whole time. While I’m working on a particular project for a client, at the same time I have to make sure I’ve got another project in the pipeline, and because I’ve only been self-employed since 2011, this process still hasn’t become totally automatic. Plus I have to take a different approach to salary, of course – as far as my remuneration goes, there are no fixed rules, because NGOs all have different levels of funding at their disposal, which means I have to negotiate my fee on a case-to-case basis. It was all much more convenient at the bank, of course, because I was on a fixed salary. Without the support of my wife, who works in the banking industry, it would have been much more difficult to maintain our accustomed standard of living.
Are you where you wanted to be as a student?
Even at the age of 16, I knew I wanted to work in the banking industry, and made a conscious decision to train at a bank and study for a degree at Frankfurt School. Running my own business has opened up entirely new perspectives for me. Hence my advice to students: keep your eyes open for things that aren’t purely career-related. By taking that approach, I’ve embarked on career paths that would never have occurred to me while I was still a student.
What’s your favourite motto?
“We must say what we think. We must do what we say. We must also be what we do” (Alfred Herrhausen) – or in other words: talk the talk, walk the walk – and do it all with conviction!