TC055-15 - IMD Business School
Alumni Stories · Leadership

IMD EMBA: “The people make all the difference”

Telecom executive Kristian Ćurković tells why the program was an outstanding learning experience
December 2016

 - IMD Business SchoolKristian Ćurković is COO at H1 Telecom based in Zagreb Croatia. Kristian has quite the international background; he was born in Germany, schooled in Singapore, and has moved in and out of Croatia all along the way. So he was at home when he participated in IMD’s Executive MBA which boasts unparalleled exposure to global diversity.

IMD recently interviewed Kristian to discuss his experience in the EMBA program.

IMD: What are some of your career highlights?

Kristian: Several months before receiving my BSc degree in 2002, I signed a contract with Lidl in Germany. Prior to that I had served six months in the Croatian Navy, which was a fantastic experience.

Two years later I was back in Croatia, responsible for controlling at the largest Croatian mobile phone wholesale & retail company, and about to start working for the company where I am still employed. At H1 Telekom – which was a telecom startup when I joined – I was part of the first 10% of employees and was a product manager. Working closely with the management team, I experienced numerous ups and downs, including regulatory affairs & equity market roadshows. In 2006 I was appointed operations director, and also became responsible for corporate finance. I became CEO in late 2007 after a successful capital increase and a shift to a being publicly traded company. Today, the business is about to go through with a merger and I feel lucky to have been part of the full journey: building up, customer and revenue growth, experiencing difficult and complex situations as well as witnessing the merger process.

In addition, I am fortunate to have been involved in many other projects during my time at H1 Telekom, either as a formal or informal advisor to entrepreneurs.

IMD: What made you choose to do an EMBA at IMD?

Kristian: My career was progressing very fast and at times I felt I had skipped certain development stages, mainly because I was exposed to many complex business situations very early in my career. Luckily enough I had the support of some experienced mentors who helped me master these challenges. Some three years after I had become CEO of the telecom company I started thinking of doing an executive education program for the purpose of further enhancing my knowledge and being exposed to new ideas and concepts. From the very beginning I knew that I was not interested in getting an EMBA degree as the next “to do item on the list”, but as a certificate for successfully mastering a process that would help me grow as a person, a professional and a leader.

IMD: How was the EMBA experience for you?

Kristian: I agree with Terry, our program coordinator, who told us at the very beginning of the program that the EMBA was like a marathon with a lot of uphill and almost no downhill parts to get some rest. You start with a bunch of unknowns, with different backgrounds, nationalities and fields of expertise. Everybody has the same goal and possesses a great level of professionalism. Very soon you become a group with common interests and evolve into a great performing team. Eventually you make friendships for a lifetime. The overall experience was great! You have to juggle between family, the EMBA program and work, but it is worth it. For me the most difficult thing was when my son was born only one day before I had to leave for a discovery expedition to Silicon Valley.

IMD: What impact did the program have on you after?

Kristian: As Benjamin Franklin said “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”.  Yes, an EMBA is costly, and you have to invest your limited time and give up many other things in order to be able to complete the program.

But today, six months after my graduation, I can confirm that I truly feel the impact of what I learned. I can definitely confirm that I am more mindful – mindful of what I do, how I do it and of the impact my actions have on other people. During the EMBA I often received the feedback that I was quick, and then I realized that speed is great, but adjusting my speed to the team can bring us much further. Moreover, before doing the program I thought I had reached my maximum, but now I recognize that I have become more secure, can focus better and am even more efficient. Having graduated from a prestigious school like IMD you receive instant acknowledgment and extend your network very fast. After the program I was invited to join several companies on either the board or supervisory board level. I also enjoy being a member of the Adriatic IMD Alumni Club.

IMD: What would you say about the other participants in the program?

Kristian: Everybody would likely say that the school where they were educated was great or the best. But for me the people make all the difference. This is another area where IMD’s Swiss excellence really shined; their selection process was very impressive. The group of people in my cohort were from a number of cultures and different sectors but all had a very high level of professionalism.

IMD: What did you think about the discovery expeditions and the final crisis module organized with the Swiss Armed Forces?

Kristian: In Silicon Valley, the networking was truly amazing. China was very different but very useful because I do a lot of business with Chinese suppliers. Brazil was also very dynamic. But the overall learning you get from these trips is to see such stark contrasts. You see the volatility in some parts of the world compared to the relative calm of where my company is based and you get a much better view of what it’s like to do business in different countries.

On the crisis module, I would say that you need time to digest what you experience but it is something none of us will ever forget!

Find out more about the IMD EMBA experience.