After 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.
My 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.
Faisal 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.
Biljana 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.
Sparkman, left, Watson, right, at a visit to Moscow in 2007
Lee Sparkman and Rick Watson have a connection that has spanned both time and distance. Long before either became successful executives, they met in business school at Duke University.
“In those days Fuqua did not pair ‘study groups’ but rather allowed students to seek out their own colleagues,” Sparkman said. “I am unsure why, but Rick and I ended up in many of the same study groups.”
By the time their second year of business school rolled around they were housemates, along with Sparkman’s basset hound Beaufort.
When their time at Duke came to a close, Sparkman went to Florida for a job. Watson says he had some good offers from major banks in Chicago and Pittsburgh, but he felt that was not ultimately the career path he wanted to follow.
“I really wanted to do something out of the box – and with some sun – after Duke,” he said. “Lee was instrumental in helping me find my first job.”