Skills that fast track your career – an outlook from M. Roeser, a Partner and Practice Leader in BearingPoint Switzerland
By Maxim Polikarpov
poly-E-fair Senior Advisor
March 1, 2022
By Maxim Polikarpov
poly-E-fair Senior Advisor
March 1, 2022
Matthias Roeser is currently a Partner and Practice Leader in BearingPoint Switzerland. He graduated with a Master’s in physics (astrophysics specialization) and worked for a few years as a research scientist for the German and US Solar Physics communities, but at some point he decided to join the IT industry, where he began to develop himself as a skilled consultant. In the frame of poly-E-fair, the virtual job fair of ETH Zurich, we interviewed Matthias and got his insights about how to use your personal traits, skills and life experiences to succeed in consulting in general and in BearingPoint in particular.
Matthias, what was your story before joining BearingPoint?
After my Master’s in 1994, I did research in Solar Physics working in Germany, Spain (Tenerife) and later the US (Silicon Valley & New Mexico) for a few years. Being exposed to startups and emerging internet technologies in the Silicon Valley, I saw a very big opportunity in the IT sector. I decided that I want to help businesses connect to the internet. I could hardly imagine how big it would become but I could feel that it was something special and “game-changing” that I want to be engaged in.
I went back to Europe and found a job at Sun Microsystems in Switzerland, which was the dominant internet technology provider at that time. The company and my career grew together. During the fantastic six years I worked at the company, I developed my understanding of technologies, businesses and customers and ended up being a team member of the global visionaries team that consulted with engineers at headquarters and built the link to Sun’s markets worldwide. I did technology consulting and we were pioneers in helping European companies connect to the internet, jumpstart internet banking, create online stores, and build up mobile businesses. Unfortunately, Sun Microsystems collapsed shortly after 9/11. I then decided to start a small consulting company with colleagues. After some years of learning to work without the backing of a big brand I joined BearingPoint.
What helped you to develop your career so successfully?
First of all, being a physicist and solving all these complicated tasks in research, I was able to dig deep into content-specific topics in close cooperation with peers from different backgrounds. This continued during my work at Sun Microsystems.
Second, the ability to build a connection to people and markets and being able to communicate with people across different disciplines. I was used to that during my time in research, when I was involved in Satellite projects where we had to bridge hundreds of people coming from different directions: mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, managers, IT specialists, divisions that operated equipment. This was the same task I needed to accomplish in Sun Microsystems.
Finally, another aspect one shouldn’t forget is having access to smart, interested and motivated people and learning from them. My advice to young students is: Don’t forget that by studying at ETH, you can always meet a lot of exciting and bright people. This is not a given, you need to appreciate and seize this opportunity.
Why did you decide to join BearingPoint?
I joined BearingPoint because of their very interesting portfolio between business and technology. Also, they offered me a platform, an ecosystem with opportunities to instantly access many experienced talents and human resources worldwide. At BearingPoint, you can get a top expert, for example, for the automotive supply chain, who previously did projects for one of the prime companies in the world. This makes you a very strong consultant if you know how to orchestrate on that.
BearingPoint opened a lot of opportunities for me; I entered as a Manager, but very quickly moved up. Another strong accelerator for me at BearingPoint was my network, which was my core asset at that time. There was rarely a company in Switzerland that I didn’t have a contact in. After working with many companies, I could call any of them, find friends and ask for advice and support.
And this is one of the important pieces of my advice for today’s students: When you are a student, you should start building your network at a very early stage, because any kind of colleague you meet at university will someday have a position in a company. Later in life you will figure out how helpful it is to stay connected to those on social media platforms, for example. And you need to feed your relationships, engage sometimes with these people, have a chat online or better a lunch offline. Even if it’s after four years. Some people think after four years (of silence) they can’t reconnect anymore. Make no mistake, because you still can reach out to them and call and they will be very happy hearing from you.
If you had a chance to go back to university, knowing everything that you know now, which skills/traits do you think you could train more to facilitate your development?
- My network. I underestimated its value. I did network in a natural way but could have done even more
- I would have done more connecting to key resources and smart people as part of my surroundings, for example at TED or at the University talk. In a natural way I used these opportunities but would follow a more structural approach now.
- Engage and invest earlier in developing advanced communication skills, like talking at any level and public speaking. I didn’t have classes on that at the university, but today’s students have many more opportunities.
“Engage and invest earlier in developing advanced communication skills...”
Which skills did you think were highly important but helped you the least during your career?
Differential equations [*laughs*]. I mastered Navier–Stokes and Maxwell equations because I needed to build solar models while studying as a physicist, but I haven’t used them since. Seriously speaking, however, I believe that by working on those things I started to understand what deep-dive knowledge means, which is the key skill that helps me to this day.
What made you stay at BearingPoint for 14 years?
BearingPoint is an ideal platform with no borders – you have a very open communication and knowledge strategy, meaning that everybody has access to everything and can talk to everyone. Even when I just entered 14 years ago as a Manager, I was able to call everybody from the hierarchy.
“BearingPoint is an ideal platform with no borders – you have a very open communication and knowledge strategy…”
At BearingPoint, we are all coming from similar cultural backgrounds (team approach, entrepreneurship, innovative spirit), we share the same ways in which we interact with people and team up. It’s quite exciting and I am sure you miss it when you leave BearingPoint, it’s not that easy to find somewhere else. BearingPoint is a never-ending adventure, you always need to reinvent yourself, because our environment is adaptive and never static. If you look three years back, we were a different company. And in three years from now we will be a different company again.
BearingPoint claims: “Our people-centered management and technology consultancy brings innovative solutions.” What is exactly meant by that?:
One needs to understand that the consulting business-model is not organized as a typical hierarchical company where you have a line manager and various departments. Consulting is based on agile teams and everybody from that team can potentially become a partner, touching a new market and new opportunities.
Therefore, whenever we grow, we grow with people first and in second row with solutions. Solutions will come and go, they constantly change. Adding a solution triggers organic growth, adding a key resource or a team can trigger a step change. We grow as we add a person that is different from others, adding to our diversity. And you feel it already during the hiring process. When you apply to a specific job with us, we run an interview very openly, because we build our systems around our people and their profiles, we recognize that the growth and development of our employees is the key to our shared success. People grow, gain expertise, relevance, capabilities, connections. BearingPoint grows together with them.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your daily business?
On the one hand, as part of the pandemic, we became masters of using digital technologies, like video-conferences, chat rooms, social media and other communication channels. In the past, clients were expecting everybody to come to a physical meeting on their site, which sometimes made it very difficult to bring a specific skilled expert from another part of the world. Nowadays, whenever I meet a client, I can easily connect with an expert from a different country virtually for just 30 or 60 minutes of his time.
On the other hand, during the pandemic there were less opportunities to connect physically. It was a problem because offline interaction is important to get to know people and build the connections that one cannot foresee. When online, everything is scheduled and planned, but when you meet with someone for a beer at the local bar after a day at work, you start to talk about random things. And often other people around you may also be listening and join in the discussion. That is how you generate ideas and something new starts to grow. In this sense, the speed of innovation is slower online, while offline you can develop ideas at a much faster pace.
Interestingly, we at BearingPoint were also a solution for other industries during the pandemic, because we already had this skill of facilitating online communications. We were helping clients master these new ways of interaction and thus, consulting as an industry has been growing during the pandemic years. There are more customers and more projects, because we don’t need to be onsite and can reach out to everybody now.
Based on the company’s position in the market, what do you see ahead for the company in the next few years?
The core topic that will keep us and our society busy for the next years and decades is sustainability. It will require the brightest minds cooperating and engaging on common objectives, generating the expected impact that we all depend on. I am not talking about a specific solution, but it is more about sustainability that needs to be built into any value chain. For example, now [when you implement a project] you build up a business case, calculate all the financials, put it on the table, assess the risks and then you come to a decision [on how to proceed]. This view needs to be expanded by an assessment of sustainability and the priority may even shift into sustainability. What if your business solution is using too many natural resources compared to the others? In this regard, there will also be new careers evolving – sustainability management, sustainability departments, sustainability consultancy. This will be very dominant, by far the most dominant that you can mention touching so many sectors – finance, supply chain, HR, working conditions, etc.
“The core topic that will keep us and our society busy for the next years and decades is sustainability.”
Another thing which is more technology-specific is XR (extended reality), combining both VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality). Especially from the perspective of Swiss practice. We have a very strong team here that is driving this direction forward. Currently, the biggest impact of XR is in the automotive industry, but it will also touch all the manufacturing companies and later all other industries (for example, construction).
Some industries are very regulated and conservative. Do you see it as a challenge for XR implementation?
From my perspective, XR will accelerate lifecycles in those industries. It will help especially when you need to certify your people or obey some legal aspects or procedures.
Consider this, not everyone in the global workforce has access to specific equipment, but you can train those people in the virtual world, where you have access to everything and can push any buttons of any complex installation. In its turn, it will also affect the regulations. One can do testing and certification activities more often, because the certifiers can now have continuous access to the equipment. Using virtual settings, they don’t always need to visit onsite to perform the activity, which was a limiting factor in the past.
The virtual environments that we design are closely connected to real data and processes. For example, we are co-developing the SAP XR cloud. This virtual environment is not only used for virtual process design and training, but it is there to stay and support operations. The level of immersion is impressive, i.e., when you operate real SAP Fiori terminals in VR and interact with real enterprise processes.
All this will lead to the acceleration of lifecycles. For instance, one of our customers has a demand to shorten his product development lifecycle from 3 to 1.5 years and we as a consultancy need to help him rethink his entire organizational setup and business processes holistically.
What advice would you give to young professionals today? What skills and traits should they build to be competitive in five and ten years?
My main advice is: Do not be confused by all the things that are happening around you – keep your focus. You have probably heard about T-shaped skills. The vertical bar on the letter T represents the depth of related skills and expertise in a single field, whereas the horizontal bar is the ability to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas and to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one’s own.
First of all, you need to develop a deep-dive domain – the vertical bar of T, your focus domain. This is an advantage when you come from ETH, because they teach you how to go deep. And to develop the horizontal bar (of T), just get internships in businesses to understand how organizational components affect a technology or solution in real life. You may have some theoretical knowledge, but after you get in touch with corporate organizations you figure out that things are rarely working as you expected.
For example, when I entered the Swiss market after academia in the early days of the internet, companies used to have just one email inbox. And they were having discussions about who should own it. But I came from a student environment where every student already had an email inbox. This was my view, which was completely different from the company’s view. And you need to understand that it takes months and years for an organization to transform.
On top of that, build your network, get access and learn from key people: professors, assistants, PhDs and other students. Stay connected with those people, they will have exciting career paths in the future and you can both learn from each other.
Why are you happy to work for BearingPoint?
Best teaming, a highly innovative environment and exciting career paths. These are the drivers that are making us successful.