When the purest form of business is doing something on your own
An IMD MBA alumnus' path to entrepreneurship
Oliver Freiland always remembers a pivotal moment in his career when, dissatisfied with his consultancy work, he sat down and had a discussion with himself. "I decided there and then to start my own business," he recalls. Oliver asked himself what was stopping him from becoming an entrepreneur, and gradually developed solutions to each barrier that came up, taking down notes as he went on (he still has them).
It was shortly afterwards that he and his business partner set up Volartus Holding as a vehicle to finding and buying a company. After considering a handful of firms, they became interested in Heli Service International, an offshore helicopter transportation company that carries personnel to and from wind farms. After exploring the market, putting a team together and collecting the necessary funds, they bought the company in June 2016. With 80 employees, last year Heli Service turned over 25 million euros.
Just seven years before that, Oliver studied for an MBA at IMD and remembers enjoying many conversations with very driven professionals from sectors as varied as airlines, finance, or procurement firms. This diversity was new to him and he found it invaluable. "For me it widened my scope quite a bit and allowed me to explore my ideas during a year outside of the corporate machine," he says. Perhaps more importantly, Oliver says IMD taught him to reach out to people without hesitation. "I don't like the word 'networking' but I found that out of 90 participants I spoke to, I could learn something from at least 80 of them," he recalls.
After completing the MBA in 2009, Oliver worked for a private equity fund before working for the Danaher Corporation's water analysis operation. Although it was a company that provided him with a lot of freedom, Oliver felt he did not want to work for a corporation. It was then that he went into consulting before sitting down to plan the steps to becoming an entrepreneur.
"I wanted to build something sustainable that I put all of my energy into and that's worthwhile," says Oliver. "Doing something on your own is the purest form of business and the best way because there is no one to blame but yourself if something goes wrong," he says. Now, to ensure he grows as a leader, he tries to reflect on what he does every day, how he interacts with people and behaves as a professional.
Oliver believes the MBA helped him learn how better to interact with individuals and recalls one session during the program when a professional actor was invited to speak to the participants. He told them that a good manager must be able to take on different roles. One day he/she must be angry, on another caring, he told them. "I find this so true," says Oliver. "Sometimes I need to go into a meeting and be disappointed, while other times I will just observe," he explains. "Recently a colleague of mine told me I am a 'snake with three heads' and I think he meant it!" he adds.
So what qualities are required to make it as an entrepreneur? Certainly imagination when striving towards your goal, "because in the beginning there is nothing: just a white piece of paper," says Oliver. "And endurance is the ultimate quality you need, as it means you get up every morning, get things done while traveling through uncertainty," he adds.
As for overarching advice Oliver would give to others, he remains humble and believes he needs to first prove himself for at least another ten years in his business before imparting deep advice. However he says when he visits university graduates he concedes some tidbits he has learned on his journey. "Be brutally honest about what you really want, what drives you and gives you satisfaction," he says, "and don't listen to the naysayers around you who will give you all the reasons why you will fail."
Finally he suggests not thinking too big but accepting that to reach your goal requires taking small steps. "Companies like Google and Facebook were also tiny at some point, so if you have a passion for something, just start."
Learn more about the MBA program at IMD.