Change is one of the few constants and while the projects have been handed over to the next generation, th elives of the founders have changed radically. Before change can be fostered and a project can take one step further, one must be clear about the project’s beginning and past. Therefore, we used the network and reached out to the founders of connectUS and asked them our most burning questions.
Sandra Eckert (S.E.), Urs Brudermann (U.B.) and Michael Schranz (M.S.) founded connectUS, formerly known as Networking New York (NWNY), in 2007. Today, Michael is currently heading Marketing, Sales and Business Development for “Apps with love AG”, a full-service digital agency from Bern. Sandra is Head of Corporate Services for “Energie Netzwerk”, a leading company in the solar industry. Urs, who calls Singapore home, is Group Head Southeast Asia for an international bank.
In the following interview, Urs, Michael and Sandra take us on their journey of the launch of connectUS and what challenges they faced. You also get an insight about how they experience younger generations demanding more than just a place to work from their employer.
1. During your business administration studies at FHNW, you founded NWNY: How and why did you found the project? What was your motivation?
U.B.: Michael and I didn’t start NYNW with the intention to launch an additional International Student Project (ISP). One evening, we talked about the two existing projects, Focus India and Insight China. The programme was solely for International Management students. We proposed that students from all student programmes should have the possibility to join an ISP.
M.S.: Additionally, we believed that a more content-based approach could nicely complement the two existing programmes. In 2007, the topic of networking and its importance was on everyone’s lips. As the topic was not covered in the curriculum of our degrees yet, we simply had to add them. That is why Urs and I decided to launch NWNY with the goal to learn, how to efficiently network to succeed in your job and your career. We wanted to find out more about networking (private, business, online, offline, lobbying, etc.) and the way of networking in the leading economy back then, the US.
S.E.: The next day, Urs and Michael approached me and wanted to explore this topic further. I joined and complemented the founding team. However, without the support of our programme directors and our supervisor, Anita Graf, this wouldn’t have been possible.
2. What where the most burning questions that were covered then? And what were the major challenges you were facing?
S.E.: Networking requires a slightly different approach around the globe – but on the other hand, it’s “same same” as well. Culture is one factor to consider, another one is age, or the channel used. The more we researched the topic the more questions we had to cover.
U.B.: Next to the topic, another challenge was the budget. As we were responsible for the youngest ISP, we weren’t allowed to approach sponsors of the other projects. Luckily, many entrepreneurs and executives supported us as they were impressed by our passion. Besides the support of FHNW, it was our networking that made NWNY possible.
3. When looking back on your time at NWNY, what would be the top three tips you would give today’s team and this year’s delegation?
U.B.: Most importantly, enjoy the experience. Being part of connectUS is a great learning journey. Get to know your fellow students from different parts of the university – this is your opportunity to create friends for the long run. Never underestimate the potential of your classmates!
M.S.: During the trip, connect with everyone you get to know via LinkedIn. Invest some time to follow-up with thank you messages to establish a long-term connection.
S.E.: To Michael’s point: Networking needs time. Make sure your seminar abroad offers time for socializing. To absorb all the content, you need some time to relax as well.
M.S: The key to successful networking is empathy, listening, kindness and a real interest in people. Try to give and offer help to everyone. Never expect anything back. The universe will give you back when the time comes.
4. What is your experience with younger people in your business environment? Do you see differences between them and how they do things compared to managers and coworkers from Generation X or older?
M.S.: I have experienced very different types of young and elderly people. I like working with younger people as much as I like my more experiences co-workers. Everyone and every generation have its advantages and maybe disadvantages.
S.E.: Until recently I never noticed a difference. Just last year, I got aware of the newest analysts in the firm looking at things a bit differently. I think it’s refreshing!
M.S.: I agree with Sandra. The younger generation at “Apps with love AG” is very smart and cares about others and nature too. I like their attitude.
U.B.: I hear a lot that the younger generation isn’t patient anymore. However, they said the same about our generation and past generations. It’s the task of the more experienced generation to manage the expectations of the younger co-workers and help them to find the right balance between ambition and reality.
5. What opportunities do you think did arise from the pandemic?
M.S.: This highly depends on each individual person and the business world they jump into. I think many young professionals have a good or maybe a better understanding of the challenges in today’s businesses world and question common practices. They are not blindly following a career but consider nature, culture, and society.
S.E.: I agree with Michael that if you choose to do so, you can forge your path into a corporate career quite early on. What make you stand out is being authentic, creative, and passionate about what you want to do, regardless of whether follow a corporate career or start your own business.
U.B.: While each generation has its own challenges, it’s always challenging to start out. Hiring graduates adds value to every company. Last year, many firms in Singapore offered more opportunities to young graduates than usual. A diversified workforce requires both, young and older team members.
6. What did the first project team gain most from the experience?
M.S.: Connections, project management skills, intercultural skills, networking skills and leadership skills. We learned to work in a small team and had to invent the project from scratch. Besides this, we still had to pass the rest of the university classes.
U.B.: We had many late calls to solve unforeseen issues, but in the end it all worked out. The participants showed great flexibility. We really enjoyed the journey, and it was a lot of fun.
S.E.: We are very happy how the programme developed further. It’s great to see how the project teams work across programmes nowadays.