Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
It was quite sobering to listen to the CEO of BuildOnline give the keynote address at the opening reception of EuroTrek, held January 5-8, in London. Marc Suster has been through it all: the heady days of the dot com boom as well as the grueling reality of start-up survival. His speech, witty and somewhat self-deprecating yet very compelling, explained the difference between starting up and running a company during the glory days (1997 to 2000) and keeping a company alive after it all came crashing down.
In the dot com days, an idea was funded based on the size of the market potential. On the contrary, Suster suggested, an idea should really be funded based on its ability to provide a unique solution to a problem. He described the self-perpetuating (and self-inflating) cycle that was prevalent during the dot com madness: a renowned research firm estimates the size of a particular market, consultants take the research and use the “data” as industry benchmarks, investment banks use the consultants’ findings to sell a company to the market, and the media broadcasts these estimates as reality.
Suster’s right: who wants to read a business plan unless it’s about a revolutionary, world-changing new idea or presents eye-popping, mind-boggling financial figures? Talk about sensationalism.
In addition to the keynote speaker, EuroTrek hosted other distinguished guests. Edgar Miller (MBA 1969), founder and Managing Director of Palladian Limited, spoke at the alumni dinner held at Bank Restaurant Westminster about the differences between HBS in his day and HBS today. Only 30 years ago, the number of minorities and women in a class were in the single digits. We looked around the tables and imagined what that would be like…
EuroTrek also provided some valuable insights for those of us in the hunt for summer internships and full-time positions.
Take-away #1 Europe is a challenging job market even for HBS students and alumni but nonetheless is slightly better than the U.S. Generally, alumni were very candid in sharing how difficult it has been coping with the dot com downturn and finding new opportunities. Throughout EuroTrek, some company representatives were even spotted at other company presentations, presumably in search of these new opportunities.
However, the difficulty of the current job market was highlighted most vividly when, the morning of the Vizavvi presentation, the front page of the Wall Street Journal Europe announced that Vizavvi was letting go a massive number of people, including the CEO. Needless to say, the company cancelled its EuroTrek presentation.
Take-away #2 We need to consider other, non-traditional opportunities. Orange (a wireless company) started off the recruiting day with an impressive presentation about its global marketing approach. On top of their strong showing at the alumni dinner, the presentation made it clear that Orange is one of the most desirable tech companies to work for in Europe. EuroTrek also exposed smaller players such as Flytxt and Brainstorm. These companies are working on mobile phone applications for third-generation mobile users–an area Europe is pioneering.
Take-away #3: Most of all, EuroTrek gave participants a better feel about European firms. UBS hosted an impressive presentation and reception where the ratio of EuroTrek participants to senior bankers was almost one-to-one. Goldman Sachs hosted us at their very Goldman-like offices and presented a panel where senior bankers discussed their experiences within each of the firm’s divisions in Europe, ranging across research, investment banking, trading, and investment management. The reception afterwards was especially helpful: we interacted with a wide range of individuals and had ample opportunity to learn about the subtle differences between U.S. and European life as a banker.
Last-minute company cancellations notwithstanding, EuroTrek went rather smoothly. It couldn’t have happened without the tireless efforts of co-chairs Jan Petzel (NG) and Sasha Grinshpun (OH), as well as the rest of the organizing team. Special thanks go to London Business School for hosting the majority of the event.