Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Kenya, the Philippines, Cambodia, Brazil, Palestine, Uganda… it’s a list that sounds like the answer to a trick question in a geography quiz. In actual fact, it’s Christian Rühmer’s answer to our question about where his business trips have taken him so far this year. The 44-year-old graduated from Frankfurt School (then Hochschule für Bankwirtschaft) in 1995 and started by embarking on a “perfectly ordinary banking career”. Since 2013, however, he has been working full-time as an independent consultant advising financial institutions and private equity funds.
Christian Rühmer regards his “drive to do new things and keep improving them” as the common thread running throughout his life. This drive became apparent while he was studying at HfB (now Frankfurt School). “As students, we were given the opportunity to organise so many things ourselves, like the student council and the first social functions. We arranged seminars and sporting events between classes while we squabbled over who got to use the coin-operated copier or single Bloomberg terminal. The cosmopolitan attitude and personal commitment of our tutors – such as Professor Heidorn, Professor Cremers and Professor Leonardi (who died in January 1999) – made a positive impression on me right from the start. That’s why I became one of the seven founder members of the alumni association. In those days, there were still more students than alumni.”
Even after earning his Business Administration degree, Christian Rühmer has continued to maintain a close relationship with his alma mater. First, as chairman of the alumni association (of which he is still a member), and subsequently in a professional capacity – more specifically, in repeated collaboration with International Advisory Services. “In 2011, I moved to New York to further develop the management lending portfolio for Deutsche Bank. At the same time, I started advising microfinance institutions in my spare time. My first project involved setting up a cost-accounting system for a mutual savings bank in Bolivia and helping to launch Frankfurt School’s first Summer Academies on microfinance. Working with small financial institutions in developing countries has been a passion of mine ever since.”
Since 2013, Christian Rühmer’s spare-time activity has become his full-time occupation. On the whole, he found that “being a banker was actually quite exciting. You had to apply a precise, technical and mathematical mindset to your job. In the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008, my work became even more interesting. The problems we were tackling on the restructuring side became more complex and challenging – all of a sudden, my job entailed representing my employer in court, negotiating funding transactions, or taking on half-finished real-estate projects and seeing them through to completion.”
Christian Rühmer describes problem-solving as his main passion and strength. But he found he was able to use this skill more often when working as a risk manager in developing countries. “The work I was involved in at the bank was steadily becoming more cautious and less entrepreneurial. But as a consultant, you’re expected to have entrepreneurial flair – typically, you’re finding solutions for a hospital chain in India’s slums, or unearthing sponsorship for students in Mexico. When you work on projects like this in small teams with plenty of creative ideas, you can be highly effective.”
Christian Rühmer’s desire to change and improve things was what drove him to set up the project that is clearly closest to his heart. In 2004, he founded a kindergarten in Bolivia. “At the time, I was looking for a small project I could set up myself. Sure, I was fairly naïve at the time, but in a way this helped to transform the germ of an idea into something genuinely significant. I learned a lot about the effectiveness of development aid; it was much more difficult than I thought it would be to help people in one of the poorest regions of Latin America to understand the value of education, schooling and health. The breakthrough finally came after a couple of years of really hard work.”
Today, the project employs 75 people, including teachers, psychologists, doctors and social workers. The kindergarten has been joined by a school and a health centre. More than 800 children make use of the new facilities. “Some of our first high-school graduates are now helping to organise leisure activities for the younger children – and in parallel with celebrating our tenth anniversary this year, we’ve started to hand over some of the responsibility for the project to the local community. It’s a huge success.”
Christian Rühmer has never been tempted to move to Bolivia full-time, however. He lives in New York, which he regards as “one of the most exciting and cosmopolitan cities in the world, with an amazing quality of life. I enjoy travelling on business,” he continues, “and I’m lucky enough to visit some truly remote places. But it’s important to have somewhere you can call home. My son was born in New York, and that’s where my family and I feel most at home.”