Entrepreneurial Insights: A ‘Little’ Idea that Led to a Big Success

Jelena Wahler, Duke MBA alumna and co-founder of Little Giants childcare facilities in Germany Jelena Wahler, CEO and owner of Giant Leap, had a unique source of inspiration when she started her own company together with her husband Peter: her child.

Working as a consultant with an engineering background in Germany, she realized that there should be a better day care option for children.

As a result, the Wahlers opened their first Little Giants childcare facility in Stuttgart in 2006—a private, bilingual alternative to the public day cares used by the vast majority of Germans. After experiencing great success with the first location, Jelena and Peter soon expanded their business to Munich and Frankfurt. Within two years Giant Leap had established a national network of child care centers that now includes 15 facilities in 10 cities with plans to grow to 20 units in 11 cities by the end of this year.

Both Wahlers attended Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, graduating from the Daytime MBA program in 2002. Jelena also serves on the school’s regional advisory board for Europe. She provided perspective on her entrepreneurial and leadership experiences in a Fuqua Q&A.

Q) How did you first identify the demand for this service?

Back in 1998 when our daughter was born, day care in Germany was just emerging. The quality was unacceptable and the operating hours were insufficient for people working in upper management levels. On the other hand I was, and still am, convinced that children belong in a group with other children rather than simply with a nanny, for example. Humans are herd-animals—therefore for me the only viable option is a good day care center.


Employment Laws Can Hurt Smaller Firms

Professor Sharon Belenzon studied more than 68,000 firms in western Europe and learned that large companies grew faster than smaller firms in countries with stronger employee protection laws. He found that tougher worker protections tend to give bigger companies—or those that form groups—a competitive advantage over smaller firms, who don’t have as much flexibility to move employees around within their organizations.

Read the full story here.

Graphic depicting Duke Fuqua Professor Sharon Belezon's research on employment laws in Europe


In Tech, First Isn’t Always Best

John Joseph cell phonesFor his latest research, Fuqua Professor John Joseph studied the release of hundreds of new cell phone features into the German market between 2004 and 2008. This pre-iPhone era is when companies were experimenting with different kinds of hardware: flip phones, sliders and clam shells. Joseph found companies that are the first to launch new technology don’t perform any better financially than the companies who follow later.

Read the full story here.

Former Banking Executive Shares Her Experience Taking the Entrepreneurial Plunge

Hilka headshotAfter nearly two decades of building a career in the global banking industry, Hilka Schmitz made a career change and is using her financial expertise to help launch a tech start-up.

She joined Deutsche Bank in 1997 and enjoyed roles in Frankfurt, New York and London across multiple divisions of the bank while working her way to director. In 2014, she became chief operating officer of Source – Lifestyle, a start-up that has developed a digital concierge app that allows users to request elite services and products from hand-selected vendors.

A graduate of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business Cross Continent MBA program in 2003, Hilka currently serves on the school’s regional advisory board for Europe. She shared insights from her unique career path in a Fuqua Q&A.

Q) When beginning your career, you had a background in computer science, and you worked on technology projects while at Deutsche Bank. Has your plan always been to stay close to that field?

Initially yes, however I decided very soon after my start at Deutsche, to pursue a global career in banking and strategy rather than go down the technology route. I moved to New York in 1999 to join the integration of Deutsche’s acquisition of Bankers Trust and started the MBA program with The Fuqua School of Business two years later. However technology has always accompanied my career as the key enabler of change and strategy.

Nowadays, I joke that my tech knowledge is from the 1990s where we booted PCs from a floppy disc and I was able to manipulate the start-up batch file. Understandably, our genius chief technology officer—who built our lifestyle app—has been reluctant to ask for my help with any of the coding.


A Day in the Life of our Regional Director for Europe

Michael Bulzan - reduced size headshotMy name is Michael Bulzan, and I am the regional director for Europe at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Our team is based in London and the “mission” includes enhancing Fuqua’s visibility in the region, working with prospective students for our MBA and Master of Management Studies programs, and building relationships with companies throughout Europe who want to engage with the school. I graduated from the Daytime MBA program in 2003, then worked in New York City for almost four years and now live in Romania. I travel about a third of the time and in the past year have visited 14 countries on behalf of Fuqua.

My “typical day” is a travel day:

7:00 AM – Conclude a short but restful night’s sleep at The Royal Horseguards Hotel in London. We have been holding the Executive MBA residencies at this hotel for the past five years and enjoy an outstanding working relationship with them. The residencies have given, and continue to give our Executive MBA students an opportunity to learn first-hand how business works throughout Europe, via direct contact with regional leaders and top local companies.

7:45 AM – Share breakfast with one of Fuqua’s European Regional Advisory Board members at One Twenty One Two, the hotel’s legendary restaurant. The name traces back to “Whitehall 1212”—the telephone number of the hotel’s former neighbor, Scotland Yard. We discuss the contents of the board member’s upcoming talk to our Global Executive MBA class that will study in Istanbul in January.