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There’s no denying it – the modern workplace is changing. And changing fast. To deal with these changes, lots of companies send their high-potentials on management courses. Sound boring? Not this one. We were impressed to hear that at the WHU all of the participants in their General Management Plus Program get to spend several weeks designing and implementing on a real business plan for a fully functioning and independent social business in one of Asia’s emerging economies. That’s where (social) intrapreneurship really takes hold. 

In this interview, we spoke with Katrin Heigel, an alumni of the General Management Plus Program. She tells us about her experience of the program, what sets it apart from other executive development programs and shares her advice for those interested in applying themselves.

Click here to learn more about the General Management Plus Program

What is your background and why were you interested in entrepreneurship and change management?

I´ve always worked and studied in a classical business environment. First in a bank, afterwards I studied international business administration with emphasis on international finance and auditing and started afterwards my career with a business Trainee-Program at BSH Homeappliance. I have been working there for 10 years in different fields of responsibilities both as employee and manager. Therefore I am highly interested in entrepreneurial topics and dynamics within companies.

What do you believe sets this program apart from other leadership and executive management programs you have heard about or participated in? What prompted you to choose this program in particular?

What really made the difference to me are two aspects: First that you do not only work on pure theory combined with cases but on a real project, with real people and real money. Second aspect was definitely the social background and the impressive mission of BOOKBRIDGE. BOOKBRIDGE is a social enterprise which is scaling throughout Cambodia by implementing learning centres in rural areas across the country. I helped build one of those education centres. When else do you get the chance to do something like that? Education is so normal for us in developed countries that we often forget about parts of the world where people do not even have books in school. This program is designed to result in a win-win situation for all involved parties.

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What did you, as a participant, gain from the experience of planning and executing the creation of an independent social enterprise?

Besides applying theoretically learnt contents and tools right away, experiencing intercultural differences really was a valuable learning. Both sides could learn from each other and in the end the result was quite good – even though it was different from what we first had in our Business Plan.

What were other key take-aways from the program? What do you believe individuals like yourself, or corporate leaders keen to create a more socially conscious company structure from within – for example, by way of intrapreneurship – can take away from this program?

Flexibility was a main driver for our success. We as “very structured and focused Europeans” had to get used to this first. Moreover, the team worked without a set project leader. This mindset changed my style of working. I now focus my energy on topics I can influence. Moreover, at the moment we plan to do an additional implementation workshop in order to generate ideas how BSH also could generate social impact within the organization.

How did the off-site/remote aspect of the program contribute to the experience?

All modules were different and essential for the whole program. I would call it the on-site-module. This was definitely the most important part because all what we had researched, prepared and discussed during our weekly calls got tangible and understandable in the moment we first were physically there in Cambodia. Without being on-site it would probably still have stayed somehow theoretical. This showed me that also in ‘regular’ business-life many projects fail if project-staff are not operationally involved enough.

What recommendations can you make for future participants and how can they get the most out of their experience? Is there anything you wish you’d known going into the program?

BOOKBRIDGE and WHU both work on improving the program setup from year to year, therefore I think it gets better and better the more experience comes in. For future participants I would recommend: Be prepared to spend time on the program apart from the official modules and the weekly calls. I was not able to manage it during my working day but did it in the evenings or weekends and it was worth every minute. Be open to changes and people that come along and you will get one of the most inspiring experiences you ever had.

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