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A Digital Disruptor in the Biopharma Arena

Stefan Kistler on changing careers following the Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA.

What could a career with TÜV NORD possibly have in common with a role with biopharma? We speak to Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA alumnus Stefan Kistler, about how digitalization drives his daily work and what motivated him to make an industry leap.

“Digitalization is fundamentally changing the way we work and the way we do business,” says Stefan. “With my current role as Global Head of Digitalization Biopharma, there’s always something new happening every day and I’m sure the topics that are important within digitalization now, will be entirely different from those in three years. Digitalization in itself solves many problems we have currently, whether it is pollution, mobilization, or communication. It’s just about how we can generate value in these changes and drive forward in a positive direction.”

With a master’s degree in business informatics, Stefan founded two companies (one before studying, the other while studying) - one of which brought existing companies onto the internet at a time when “they didn’t know what a domain was or why they needed a .de or .com.” However, Stefan was always eager to step outside of Germany and gain international experience, with his first job at Deutsche Telekom allowing him to spend two years flying around the world working on global projects. After exploring other roles, he finally embarked on a career with TÜV NORD that allowed him to expand his interest in digitalization by building up their Digital Academy, an internal digital enablement company. It was during his time with TÜV that he finally decided to pursue an Executive MBA.

New connections, new perspectives.

“I felt at the time that I wanted new insights, to grow as a leader, and meet others in a similar position to me who are gaining more responsibility within a company. Additionally, I wanted to explore international markets and understand how they are different and how they function. This was the knowledge I gained during the Executive MBA and is helping me in my role now, as I am responsible for worldwide markets.”

It was during the Executive MBA that Stefan connected with peers from other industries, including those in biopharma. “In terms of a career change, it was a natural progression. I had been with TÜV NORD for some time and I was ready for the next step. The program gave me a positive mindset and confidence to pursue a new role while bringing this fresh international perspective with me. After talking to one of my peers, I discovered that the industries were not so different after all. I could leverage my knowledge from TÜV and bring it to the biopharma arena. It helped me immensely in my first interview as I laid out the similarities between the industries we discussed and how I could generate value for them.”

The power of the network.

Aside from industry insights, Stefan lists the global network he experienced during the program that really helped to broaden his business perspective. “It’s one aspect of what makes Kellogg-WHU so unique. You have the opportunity to connect with experts and learn from some of the best professors from around the world.” Like many alumni, Stefan found that the Kellogg-WHU network continued to have a profound impact on his daily life, even after graduation. “I honestly thought it was just PR-talk,” he laughs. “When really the network is more powerful than you could ever imagine. We are exchanging messages all the time whether it is information about jobs, general life, or interesting tech topics. I can put out a question to the network and almost immediately, I will receive a response. I have met people from the network in other countries. Even in my own company – when they find out I am part of the Kellogg-WHU network, they ask to connect and meet for coffee. It truly brings people together.”

For an executive considering their next move, and whether to pursue an EMBA, Stefan offers one piece of advice. “It is important to understand the motivation behind why you want to do it. You should consider how you want to grow as a leader and not about the immediate ROI. With the right focus and mindset comes a natural progression, and then those job opportunities will come to you. Studying the Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA is a life-changing event in itself – enjoy the process.”

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