Oliver Bader completed his studies as "diplomierter Betriebswirt" at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management in 1997. Now he is working as Chief Financial Officer of North America at Commerzbank AG in New York.
How did your career develop after the graduation at Frankfurt School?
Immediately after graduating, I started working as an auditor for Dresdner Kleinwort’s global Trading & Sales units, based in Frankfurt. Later, in 2005, I moved to London with my family and took over as Chief Operating Officer (COO) in charge of Dresdner Kleinwort’s interest rate derivatives business. After that, I stayed with the London organization for a while, working as COO for a number of other business units. Following the merger with Commerzbank, I became COO of the Portfolio Restructuring Unit, which looked after the Bank’s non-strategic credit exposure. Then, once the portfolio had been successfully dismantled in 2012, we moved to New York so I could start my current job.
Your degree course at Frankfurt School was a combined-studies Business Administration course. Which options did you choose?
At the time, Frankfurt School hadn’t yet established its current reputation and it was difficult to find a job in Frankfurt. However, I was lucky, because the regional management team in Stuttgart created a tailored platform for me so I could also study retail banking, asset management and lending. I used to spend the first half of the week down in Swabia, then commute up to Frankfurt for the second half of the week so I could study the remainder of my programme. This combination meant I had to plan my time carefully right from the start, just so I could meet all my commitments.
The subjects I was studying actually awakened my interest in investment banking, but because I’d spent my time as a student focusing on traditional retail and business banking, I had to look hard for opportunities to move into investment banking in Frankfurt. Internal auditing offered me the opportunity I was looking for, by putting me in a position where I was able to visit all the different trading locations over a number of years and familiarise myself with the various product areas.
Were you planning to work abroad someday, in the USA, or was that a spontaneous decision?
I gradually became more interested in working abroad while I was still working as an auditor. I always enjoyed projects in other countries; they usually lasted 8-10 weeks, and gave me a chance to get a feel for the country, the people and the culture. But at the same time, I never felt like I was part of the whole. I finally achieved my aim of working abroad when I moved to London in 2005, and now I’m continuing in the same vein by working in New York. Once you’ve taken the first step, it’s easier to make the transition and settle in another country.
To what extent did your studies at Frankfurt School prepare you for the challenges of your current position in New York as CFO North America for Commerzbank AG? What did you find especially useful?
Because all knowledge has a half-life, my degree course has only had a limited influence on my current position. But my studies provided me with a solid foundation on which I’ve been able to rely every time I’ve taken a new step in my career. And overcoming the dual stress of studying and working at the same time does help to reassure you that in reality, you can achieve anything if you really want to.
Looking back, how important was your time as a student at Frankfurt School in the greater scheme of things?
The time I spent studying at Frankfurt School was an important part of my personal and professional development. The obligatory requirement to spend one semester studying and working as an intern abroad gave me the opportunity to look outside the box at an early stage and explore the big, wide world. The programme’s combination of theory and practice offers a unique opportunity to try things out for yourself and test them in your everyday working environment. What’s more, I got to know many wonderful people, with whom I still stay in regular contact.
How important are alumni for a business school? What do you think alumni can do for their alma mater?
In my view, alumni are a major ingredient in a business school’s success. While the curriculum, the faculty, the teaching, all undoubtedly form the cornerstone of a university’s success, alumni are the benchmark that tells the outside world just how successfully the institution is able to impart qualities such as knowledge, attitudes of mind, values and culture to students, and how successfully the students are then able to put these qualities into practice in their professional careers. I also think that alumni automatically imply shared connections – even if I don’t know a particular person, but I do know that they’re studying or previously studied at Frankfurt School, I can assume a degree of shared understanding and familiarity.
This year, I’m personally sponsoring a “Deutschlandstipendium” scholarship, because I’d like to give something back to the business school and above all, to the students. By financing a scholarship I’m hoping to take some of the financial pressure off a talented individual so they can concentrate 100% on their studies.
What’s your favourite motto?
Love it, leave it or change it.