Bernie Stefan is a man of principle, passion, dedication and drive. The EU Business School alumnus and vice president of Nestlé Asia has thrived in challenges throughout his eclectic career. His work has taken him to six countries across three continents, including cities such as Beijing, Paris, Munich and Melbourne. Who says working 17 years for the same company has to be boring?
Learning to lead
The turn of the millennium marked a new beginning for Bernie. After his studies, EU’s networking opportunities, innovative education and connections helped to launch his career.
I studied an MBA at EU Montreux and graduated in the summer of 2000. It was a great experience and I have very fond memories of my time there. Studying at EU opens your mind. Not only do you get a chance to learn about other cultures, but you also make many connections. Some of the people I met at EU remain close friends to this day.
The style of teaching is very practical and prepares you for life. During a lot of my studies elsewhere, the style of education was rigid. Students just listened, didn’t challenge or debate. At EU we asked questions, collaborated and interacted. Critical thinking was a crucial part of the learning process.
17 years, 6 countries, 3 continents, 1 company
One of EU Business School’s corporate partners, Nestlé, saw Bernie’s potential. The decision to hire him paid off in a big way.
Due to EU’s connection with Nestlé, I managed to get an internship and then permanent employment. If you’d have asked me then if I’d be working for the same company 17 years later, I’d have laughed at you! Two or three years, maximum, I thought.
But in 17 years at Nestlé I have worked in 6 countries over 3 continents. I’ve implemented strategic initiatives, overseen distribution, been general manager and operations director, and directed major acquisitions projects. I’ve had the opportunity to do different things in different cultures, to experience the world. I’ve kept my job fresh and interesting.
At the end of the day you need to be passionate. You have to enjoy your job. Otherwise what’s the point? If, on my way to work in the morning, I’m thinking “Oh no! Not another day!” then there’s a problem. But if I’m not happy, then it’s my responsibility to change that.
The times they are a changin’
Bernie has a keen interest in the changing business landscape. With society being transformed by advances in technology and shifting methodologies, he is well aware of the challenges facing companies in the 21st century.
We live in interesting times. The challenges facing businesses nowadays are in stark contrast to just a couple of decades ago. When I started, the dotcom boom was in its infancy. There was a desperation to take advantage of the opportunities that were offered by this new way of doing things. And then the bust came. Now there is a much more level playing ground.
Previously, large businesses had a lot of leverage. They had capital, they had a monopoly on marketing and access to a huge customer base. Today, with the internet, it’s much more democratic. If you have an idea, you have the platform to succeed like never before. This creates a faster, more agile environment and a different set of challenges.
One challenge is how to attract exciting new talent. People’s demands are different nowadays. You need to offer them something other than financial rewards.
How to shine in modern times
So, with the business world constantly evolving, what qualities are needed to be successful in the 21st century?
Without a doubt, key attributes have changed so much over the years. I look for people who are curious. Those who can adapt to working in a changing environment.
Business today is less defined, less static. This is a reflection of the world at large. Things don’t just follow linear processes. I find it fascinating, the changes that have taken place.
But within these changes, company values are still key. The younger generation may have different expectations, but they must still be aligned with the values of companies. The way to have a successful career is to follow these values.
The tenacity of the multi-talented
It’s one thing to master a specific area of expertise. For Bernie, it’s the extraordinary few striving for new challenges who stand out.
The people that impress me the most are those who achieve success in many different areas. It’s one thing to work your way to the top in one discipline, but to excel across a variety is what makes someone special. These people have a constant drive to renew themselves. There may be many examples of these individuals, but the one who immediately comes to mind is Arnold Schwarzenegger. And not just because we’re both Austrian!
He’s been a professional bodybuilder, an author, an actor, a producer, a businessman, an investor, an activist and a politician. If it wasn’t for the clause in the American constitution he’d probably run for president! Like I said, there’ll are many examples. But he’s the one who comes to mind.
Bernie’s words of wisdom
During his studies at EU Business School and over his 17 years at Nestlé, Bernie has acquired the capabilities and the necessary mentality to make an impact. He has some tips for the young, ambitious leaders of tomorrow:
Be passionate. If you don’t have passion you can’t succeed. There will always be others who want to succeed and you will be surpassed.
Be flexible and have an open mind. Be agile. The world is less linear and is constantly changing. It’s never been as important is it is today to learn and to be able to adapt. The world changes, even in the time it takes to complete your studies. You need to be able to keep up.
You have to know how to engage with people. And you have to know that you can’t do it by yourself. You are always part of a team and you rely on others to have success.
Work to live
Life outside of work is precious. For Bernie, having a good work/life balance is paramount to enjoying life.
I have a wife and I have two sons, aged six and ten. Family time is very important to me. As a family, we spend a lot of time together. We all love sports, particularly skiing. I used to compete in triathlons, so now I try to maintain my fitness. I enjoy cooking. And I enjoy a glass or two of wine.
It’s very important to keep a balance and enjoy life outside of work. I work long hours and check emails at the weekends, things you’re told you’re not supposed to do. But it doesn’t make me feel stressed. I have a good work life balance. And as long as that continues, I’ll be saying “Yes! Another day!” every morning on my way to work.