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Maria Shkvarunets

© Lorraine Hoffmann

How do fighting and a degree in international management fit together? And what do both have in common?

You grab your opponent's sleeve with your left hand. Your right hand remains on your lapel for a short moment until you start a powerful uchi-mata and throw your opponent on the mat. Day-to-day life for Maria Shkvarunets for twenty years now. Not only is she a CEMS graduate from the WiSo Faculty, but she is also a former Sambo World and European Champion. Sambo is a Russian-Soviet martial art with roots in Judo and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu.

Maria Shkvarunets, born in Moscow, started martial arts at the age of 8. Back then, her mother took her to a Japanese Jiu-Jitsu class in Moscow alongside her twin brother. The first thing Maria saw there were two men, one of whom threw the other to the ground at that very moment. Only two months later, she was already on the mat herself in a competition and won against two boys. After this speedy start, Maria's sporting career continued steeply uphill. For about six years she was a member of the Russian Sambo Junior National Team. At 17, she won her first world championship title.

© Lorraine Hoffmann

What sounds like a sweeping race was not a relaxed Sunday stroll. Competitive sport is an enormous time commitment that leaves hardly any room for anything else. Maria's life as a teenager consisted of school and training, because she had identified her goals early on, both athletically and off the mat. After all, competitive sport can only be pursued for a certain amount of time, Maria says, and in only a few sports can it provide a comfortable living. So Maria also followed an academic ambition early on.

Maria remained part of the Sambo team, and later also Grappling and Jiu-Jitsu teams, until she completed her Bachelor's degree in International Management in Moscow. For her international Master's degree, she chose the Master International Management (CEMS MIM) at the WiSo Faculty. Maria not only wanted a degree programme that was internationally oriented, but also to build a set of skills and expertise for herself that would enable her to work anywhere in the world.

© Maria Shkvarunets

In 2016, things became real, and Maria came to Cologne in Germany, to a country of which she barely knew the language and far from her friends and family. Today, thanks to her studies, she has friends all over the world. And, last but not least, thanks to her sport - even without world-champion ambitions - also here in the cathedral city that she has learned to love.

Her martial arts club offers her an almost familiar social environment. The many opportunities opened up by the CEMS MIMs programme not only gave Maria the space to make international friends, but also to gain great work experience alongside her studies. For three months, she worked in the capital Kigali in Rwanda at a start-up company as an operations manager. Today, she still volunteers at New Generation Consulting, where she is currently a human resource manager and board member.

© Maria Shkvarunets

With a CV full of work experience, starting a career was easy. Today, she works at FinTech start-up IDnow as a Customer Success Manager. There she is the "first point of contact for customers on non-commercial issues and providing technical support as an interface to the internal IT and operations teams". For mere mortals: Maria translates between customers and developers in terms of the best technical solution.

Outsiders might now think that after the successes of her sporting career, Maria is now also satisfied with the successes in her professional life. But Maria would not be "the smart cookie" that she is if she had not already set herself the next goals. Because "some people do sport to keep fit, and some people go to work to earn money.  But others train to become world champions, and others go to work to learn and one day run their own company."

And we wish her all the best!


Text: Lorraine Hoffmann