Category Archives: Career Insights

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.


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.


Health Care Executive Discusses Industry Trends across the Globe

Faisal Darwazeh - headshotFaisal Darwazeh knows the health care industry well, and not just its landscape in Europe. Over the last 13 years he has worked in the United States, Jordan, and Switzerland. Throughout that time he progressively gained industry knowledge through roles in supply chain, marketing, consulting and general management. He is currently general manager of Labatec Pharma in Switzerland and is also responsible for the company’s growth in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region.

Darwazeh graduated from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business Cross Continent MBA program in 2010 and currently serves on the school’s regional advisory board for Europe. He shared his insight into the health care and pharmaceutical industries in a Fuqua Q&A.

Q) What are some of the differences you’ve seen in how the business of health care is conducted across the different regions where you’ve worked?

The differences range from the medical professional acceptance of new innovative drugs and devices, to government involvement in the health sector, to regulatory environment.

For example, in the United States doctors are more open to new innovations and technological developments in the health and pharma sector, allowing the industry to constantly introduce new drugs and medical devices. In Switzerland, doctors are more conservative when it comes to new innovations. They are more cautious and prefer to take their time in understanding the safety aspects of the drug or device, before taking on new products.


Microsoft Executive Discusses Global Leadership

Biljana - PhotoBiljana Weber has more than 20 years of experience working in Europe for two of the world’s largest information technology companies. She is general manager of Microsoft in the Czech Republic and prior to that was general manager of the company’s Slovenian subsidiary. Before joining Microsoft, she worked for IBM.

Weber recently spoke to Fuqua’s Cross Continent MBA and Global Executive MBA students studying in in Prague. She shared additional insight about utilizing technology in the workplace, being a woman in the IT industry and what it takes to lead across the world in a Fuqua Q&A.

Q) Advances in technology are constantly changing the way people live and work. As a business leader, how do you create a productive employee culture that embraces and makes the most out of these advancements?

Increasingly more changes in our lives are driven by new technologies. One that has increased dramatically over the past years is the need for flexibility and mobility–both at work and in life. Productivity and innovation are no longer achieved through fixed hours in a fixed place. In more and more professions work is something you do, not a place you go. And increasingly, it becomes clear that people need to be (and want to be) held accountable for their outcomes, not for time they spend in a certain place. Our whole lifestyle is changing. The old days when we managed people top-down by telling them what to do and controlling when and where they do it are history. And the sooner we accept that “unseen“ does not mean “unproductive“ the better.


The Inside View: What a Finance Professional Learned from the Racetrack

Murray Orr photo May 142

Murray Orr

With more than 25 years of experience in international investment banking, Murray Orr didn’t need to jump-start his career.

But Orr thought something was missing.

“I really felt I needed a software upgrade,” Orr said.

Even though he wasn’t looking to change jobs, Orr started researching ways to gain a fresh perspective. He was particularly interested in learning from the experience of people in other industries. He was also strongly attracted to going to a U.S. business school given his predominantly British education.

Orr enrolled in Duke University’s Advanced Management Program (AMP). The course is designed for executives with 15 years or more of experience. Participants spend two sessions of two weeks each in Durham, North Carolina. In between, the learning happens virtually as classmates interact online and take what they’ve gained back to their companies.

“Given the varied backgrounds of the other participants, there was no discomfort with sharing experiences, and in fact, there are real learning benefits of having a free and open dialogue amongst a small group of similarly motivated senior executives,” Orr said.