The "perfect combination" that led Mikaela to the SIM program
Born in Germany, raised in Finland and with friends from all over the world, Mikaela Ollila’s upbringing was always likely to instill a sense of internationalism in her. So, it’s perhaps of little surprise that when it came to her undergraduate degree, she was drawn to the international side of things.
“I studied international business for my undergrad in business, and I was always very enthusiastic about anything international,” she tells MASTERGRADSCHOOLS. “I think that comes from my upbringing because I had a very international family and friends.” (00:26)
This international mindset soon led Mikaela away from Finland and to her birthplace of Germany; firstly to do her bachelor’s in Nuremberg before moving on to Berlin and a job at a fintech startup. It was here where she first started to get an inkling of what she might want to do in her career.
“I was creating websites and systems that people use on a day-to-day basis, but I didn’t get to make any strategic decisions or get an insight into, for example, why we were expanding into a certain region. But that was actually what I was more interested in. I realized that strategy and international business would be the perfect combination for me,” she explains. (01:20)
The value of social SIMpact
It’s not easy to find a master’s that fits your requirements. You’ve got to find a program that interests you, a country where you’d like to live, and – perhaps most importantly – a school that matches your values. The Master’s in Strategy and International Management (SIM) at the University of St.Gallen (HSG) seems to tick all of those boxes for Mikaela. Specifically, the school’s focus on social impact was a key deciding factor for her.
“[The SIM] is very open about looking for people who are interested not only in a business education, but also the social aspect of business,” she says. “We talk a lot about our purpose, what we really want to do with our education, and what our end goal is. Do we want to do this for ourselves or do we want to make an impact on the world with the work we do?” (03:26)
“Because they spoke so much about this, it seemed exactly what I was looking for.”
One of the benefits of finding a school that matches your beliefs is that it’s likely to attract people of a similar mindset to you. They may come from different countries and cultures, but that shared belief brings them all together.
Mikaela adds, “I also thought that the other people who were attracted to the program might be similar to me. I think it’s important to look for a program that really speaks to you and your values so you also find that little bubble of people who you can learn from and learn with.” (03:58)
Strategy wins: The one special thing about the University of St.Gallen SIM
Collaboration is king in the University of St.Gallen SIM. Its curriculum is centered around group projects, where you’ll have the opportunity to work together with your international classmates. But, the one thread running throughout the program is something that Mikaela previously took a liking to: strategy.
“In the first semester almost all of your courses are with other SIMmies and you have a lot of group work, so the whole program is really centered around group projects,” Mikaela explains. “They are part of pretty much every single course, and there you have courses like strategic management and strategic leadership. That is really where the strategic aspect comes through the most.” (04:27)
The University of St.Gallen SIM has been the top-ranked Master in Management (MIM) in the world for 11 years in a row. While it’s difficult to pinpoint one single reason for the program’s ongoing success, one of its unique features is the opportunity to study electives outside of the business school. These courses don’t have to be management-related, and can simply be an opportunity to meet students from the wider HSG ecosystem. It’s this kind of university-wide collaboration that truly allows you to broaden your horizons.
Mikaela elaborates, “What’s also interesting is that in the first and second semester, you can study electives from programs outside the SIM. They’re on completely different topics and aren’t management related at all, and that’s a special thing about the whole University of St.Gallen. They help you to broaden your horizons and explore new areas of interest.” (05:12)
The secret to the SIM’s success
Master in management programs tend to be targeted at people at the early stages of their career; those with little to no work experience. For that reason, it’s not uncommon for MIM students to enter the program without a clear idea in mind of what to do afterward. According to Mikaela, the university fully supports, and even encourages, this way of thinking.
“The SIM team doesn’t expect you to come into the program knowing what you want to do afterward. That’s because there’s so much time for exploring your career options during the program, whether that be through speaking to alumni or attending events with employers,” she says. (09:14)
The SIM comes out on top of the overall Financial Times ranking, and it also comes out on top of the FT’s career services ranking. Mikaela says the program has its own career advisor, providing its students with the support they need to find their next steps. And there’s certainly no pressure on students to choose any industry over another.
“We have a careers advisor for the 50ish people studying the SIM. She really doesn’t try to push us into a specific industry. She encourages us to explore, reflect and really think about what we want to do with our careers,” Mikaela reveals. “The career advice I got was amazing and she really helped me understand what I wanted to do after the program.” (09:56)
If there’s one thing that underpins the SIM it is perhaps that one word: reflection. The University of St.Gallen is aware that their SIM students don’t come into the program as fully-formed professionals with a clear career path in mind. Instead, they encourage their students to reflect, explore, and grow while in the program. Maybe that willingness to let them grow is the true secret to the program’s ongoing success.