Career Center

How Entrepreneurship Plays Out in a Corporate Context

Exploring the role of entrepreneurship with WHU alumna Johanna Wagner.

You joined the very first Master in Entrepreneurship class at WHU when the program was started back in 2017. What attracted you to the program?

I always knew that I eventually wanted to start a Master’s degree, and after two years of working full-time for Lufthansa following my Bachelor’s degree at WHU, I had a good idea of what exactly I was expecting from this next degree: the possibility to go beyond the typical business administration classes and especially to develop some more “hands-on” skills like coding, data analytics, or financial modelling. I strongly believe that in this time of massive technological changes business students need to have the ambition to understand these rapid transformation processes in order to be successful employees, leaders, and founders. 

Additionally, I gained interest in the field of Corporate Entrepreneurship – working for a DAX listed company, I wanted to gain a better understanding of how large corporations can maintain their position in the market and still be able to flexibly adapt to changing customer needs. After reading the curriculum, I was convinced that the Master in Entrepreneurship at WHU would be the perfect fit.

What surprised you about the program? Was it all about start-ups?

It was definitely not all about start-ups! Entrepreneurship does not and should not only take place in start-ups. The program allows you to take classes from all disciplines, which I believe is crucial for every business graduate. Having read a fair number of job descriptions in the past years – I can tell you that the words “entrepreneurial mindset” are incorporated in a lot of them, no matter what industry you look at. And that is exactly what the Master in Entrepreneurship is all about: developing and strengthening your entrepreneurial mindset. What surprised me the most was how diverse our cohort was – we all had very different backgrounds, both experience-wise as well as culturally. Some students had already founded one or more companies, others had a corporate background or were working in their family business. 

When you joined initially, what did you think your path would be after graduation?

I honestly had no idea what my path would be like, or, to put it in better words – I was open for a new challenge. I had a pretty good understanding of what I did not want to do, but I could have envisioned a career in an incubator or a venture capital firm as well as a corporate career in business development. But I would have never thought that I would end up in Controlling!

Tell us a little about your decision process for joining Henkel … 

It all started with an email from the Henkel Center for Consumer Goods. At the yearly Master Your Career event at WHU, Henkel offered interviews for full-time positions – what a great opportunity! I was still in San Diego and had yet to complete my double degree and my master thesis, so I had not really thought about applying for jobs. But Henkel had always been on my mind as a potential employer, for a number of reasons. 

First, it is a globally active, publicly listed, family-owned conglomerate. This is a rare combination, but every single aspect was important for me. I knew that I was looking for a company in which I could potentially work my whole career. As I definitely wanted to have the opportunity to work abroad it had to be a globally active company – and preferably a conglomerate as I think it never gets boring if you are working for one! Henkel operates in completely different industries, perfect for someone like me, who couldn’t decide for just one interesting industry to work in.

From the combination of family-owned and publicly listed I expected to witness first-hand how companies manage to stay true to their values, develop long-term strategic growth and still meet the more short-term expectations of the stock market. 

Secondly, Henkel encourages you to change your position within the company on a regular basis. I can see myself working in different teams, countries and industries and working for a company that not only tolerates job changes but encourages them is incredible. 

… and about your current role.

I am a Manager Global Controlling for Laundry & Home Care. In this position, we are the business partners for our board member and his executive leadership team for all finance-related topics. On the one hand, our job is very strategic, and on the other hand, we are providing state-of-the-art detailed analyses for almost every aspect of the business. I believe that controlling is a great starting point for a career in a larger company. Especially at Henkel, working in Global Controlling gives you insights into every aspect of the business, from Supply Chain to Marketing, Production to Innovation, Investor Relations to Digital Business. 

Henkel is almost 150 years old. How does entrepreneurship play into your day-to-day work at the company?

One of our four leadership commitments at Henkel is “We act as Entrepreneurs”. This is a commitment for every employee, not only those who work in Business Development or Innovation, but also for those like myself, where entrepreneurship in the daily business might not be as obvious. For us, entrepreneurship means taking risks to create and shape business opportunities as well as to drive innovation and encourage timely and clear decision making. Part of my job in Global Controlling is also to drive the use of BI tools and predictive analytics within our team. This is a highly entrepreneurial topic and I very much enjoy working on it!

How do you draw on the skills you learned during your master program in your current role?

There are many skills which I developed during the Master in Entrepreneurship that I use regularly, both soft skills as well as hard skills. For many of my more conceptual tasks, I use techniques I learned in Professor Hienerth’s class “Prototyping”, and there were several classes on data analytics that help me in my day-to-day financial analyses. Obviously, I also draw a lot on the communication and time management skills I improved during my time at WHU. 

Henkel has a deep and long-standing cooperation with WHU. From the perspective of a recent graduate and relatively new employee, what’s one thing you’d do to deepen that partnership further?

 As a student I never got a good understanding of what a controller does day-to-day and hence never even considered looking for a position in this area. Today, I couldn’t imagine a more interesting or challenging job! Henkel, in my opinion, has a very well-integrated, management-oriented, and strategic controlling department. It would be great, if we could build on the relationship between Henkel and WHU and use the controlling lectures in the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees to showcase how diverse, challenging, and most importantly how underrated controlling is!