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Interview with Christian M. Kukwa

"Studying & living in a foreign culture provides you life changing experience"

 Our Alumnus Christian Kukwa has had a varied and diverse career since leaving the WiSo Faculty of the University of Cologne. We asked him about his time at the WiSo Faculty and the time after his graduation in Business Administration (CEMS MIM Programme) in March 2007.

Furthermore, Christian shared a precious alumni advice with our students.

Your time at the University of Cologne

Christian, why did you decide to study Business Administration in Cologne?
There were two different decision factors: on the one side, the University of Cologne  has an outstanding reputation among the best universities for Economics and BA in Germany, and on the other side, of course, Cologne is a great city for students, offering so much: my favorite soccer club 1.FC Köln, Cologne Karneval, father Rhine, Flöns, and many more…

What influenced you to join the CEMS MIM Programme at the WiSo Faculty? Why did you choose to apply for this programme?
I was always a very international minded person. During childhood I lived with my family in Connecticut, USA, for a year and also spent my three High School years abroad in Valencia, Spain.

Early on into my studies, I knew I wanted to spend some time studying in countries I never had visited before. Thus, my first semester abroad via PIM led me to Prague, Czech Republic. At the University of Economics I met Roberto, my future flatmate and one of my best mates today. He was so extremely passionate about CEMS.

The thought about applying for it already crossed my mind before, but he gave me the ultimate push. So I applied from Prague for the programme, knowing that I wanted to experience life in Norway and got accepted for the following year.

What advice do you have for people thinking about moving abroad to study?
Just do it!

I think that the University of Cologne is an amazing institution, but to broaden your horizon it is indispensable to spend time abroad.

Travelling provides you with a number of impressions, however, studying and living in a foreign culture provides you with life changing experience, long-lasting friendships and might be a game changer for life.  

How was your studying abroad experience? What was your favorite memory or experience while abroad?
As explained above, the first semester abroad was the tipping point for my CEMS application and the friendships from my time in Prague and Bergen are still lasting. The memories are so diverse, that it is hard to pick a single one.

Let me instead describe the Norwegian culture that impressed me a lot and is the reason why I am still in love with the North. The Scandinavian, in particular the Norwegian culture, was quite the opposite from my previous life abroad in the US and Spain.

The Northern people are rather reserved in many ways. Here are some examples: Often they might not say hello, because they do not appreciate small talk, or when somebody wants to pass by you they would rarely ask you politely for permission, but either wait until you clear the way or push you aside. For many reasons Norwegians are therefore considered impolite.

On the other hand, Norwegians are extremely kind, warm-hearted and hospitable people. Norway is certainly the most trustworthy and honest nation in the world, with a very high degree of equality, independence and informality.  Furthermore, they display extremely strong national pride, cherish traditions as well as being mad about sports and outdoor life. The latter one proved to have influenced me significantly and transformed me into a true outdoor addict for life.

In which way did your education at the WiSo Faculty influence your further career choices? Did anything or anyone during your time at the WiSo Faculty (UoC) influence you in any way to get you to where you are today?
Even though the education in Cologne was terrific, I would say it was not the education that influenced me the most, but the people I met in our faculty.

My time at the Organisationsforum Wirtschaftskongress (OFW), working at the chair of Prof. Kopplemann and my tenure on the executive board of the PIM & CEMS Club provided me with friendships as well as amazing contacts that had a significant influence on my career choices.

By far, my greatest gratitude is due to the International Office / CEMS Office (ZIB WiSo), because they provided me access to real life changing experiences in Prague, Bergen as well as in Cologne, i.e.  they introduced me to A.T. Kearney, my previous employer, which had the largest influence on my future career path.

Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University

You are now working as a Senior Investment Manager. Could you describe a typical day at work?
In Private Equity, no day is like the other, and a daily routine does not exist.

Being an opportunistic investor, we look into all industries and therefore on one single day you might be speaking with someone from a media agency, a fashion retailer, and an old-fashioned manufacturing business.

An investment professional at H.I.G. covers the entire value chain of the PE business, from deal souring to deal making and subsequent portfolio management, i.e. being responsible for the company’s growth, as well as managing the exit process after 5-8 years. My days are so diverse, interesting and challenging, that I can rightly so say, that this is my dream job.

How do you achieve your work life balance?
I would rather call it Life Balance, as work is part of one’s life and I have to enjoy work to achieve a balanced life. Friends and sports are what matters most to keeping this balance.

Despite triathlon being an individual sport, a good team and constant exchange with friends increases one’s performance tremendously. Thus, I combine friendship with sports most of the time, as running or working out together is always more fun.

Hamburg is also a perfect spot, if one is into water sports: stand-up paddling on the Alster, wakeboarding on the Elbe, kite- and windsurfing in the nearby North or Baltic Sea, just to name a few. In addition, Hamburg, being ranked as one of the cities in the world with the highest quality of life, offers excellent culinary and cultural diversity to stimulate the palate and the mind.

Alumni Wisdom

As an Alumnus, what advice would you share with current WiSo students?
There are two maxims I live by and which helped me a lot during my personal life and professional career:

  • Anything is Possible
    No mountain is too high, no distance too long and no task too difficult – one can achieve anything in life if you believe in it.
    For example, five years ago someone told me that due to me job as a consultant and my physics I could not be a triathlete. Today, I have finished more than 20 triathlons, amongst others, Ironman races in Germany and Spain. I had similar situations in my professional career, when someone told me that I was too young or too inexperienced…in the end, anything turned out to be possible.
  • Love it, leave it or change it
    If you are not happy with the status-quo, you either change it or you leave it until you have reached a state of constant happiness and you love it.
    I never accepted a state of unhappiness for long and made sure that an unbearable status-quo changed until it felt right again. That meant, for instance, that during my time at the university I would drop a course eventually that I did not enjoy, or during a work engagement I would speak with my manager to improve the work environment.
    That does not mean that you should always leave too quickly, because power of endurance is an important quality and sometimes you need to wade through a vale of tears to see the sun again. As long as it is brighter than before.

About Christian Kukwa

Christian is a Senior Investment Manager at H.I.G. Capital, a leading global private equity investment firm with over $20 billion of equity capital under management. Before joining H.I.G., Christian was responsible for strategy, corporate development and acquisitions of a Private Equity owned leading fiber player. He accompanied carve-outs, acquisitions, PMI processes and the sale of the company to a strategic investor.

Previously, he was at A.T. Kearney, where he advised corporates in the areas of growth strategy, transformation and operational excellence. He started his career as an M&A analyst at Lehman Brothers in London, where he mainly worked on buy-side transactions for financial investors.

Christian holds a diploma in Business Administration from the University of Cologne and received the CEMS Master in international Management from NHH in Bergen, Norway

Christian is passionate about sports in general and triathlon in particular. He enjoys the international environment of his home port Hamburg.

Interview: Ayla Wisselinck