Matthew Nichols, Full-Time MBA (Class of 2020), is the Head of International Delivery at cBrain – a software company that works with governments around the world to build digital solutions to detect financial crime, mitigate climate change, and combat illegal wildlife trafficking.
Why did you choose Copenhagen Business School for your MBA?
Location was the single biggest factor for me in choosing CBS. I had done in an internship in Copenhagen previously and spent a lot of time in Scandinavia, so I knew it was a place I could be happy and successful. Denmark is also a world leader on sustainability and climate change. Finally, the one-year format was very appealing, as I was hesitant to commit to two years out of the workforce in a traditional MBA.
How do you feel that studying at CBS has helped your career path?
The MBA has definitely been an inflection point in terms of accelerating my career into positions of higher responsibility. Unlike some MBA students who aim to make a so-called ’triple jump’ of changing locations, industries, and roles, I have chosen to stay in much the same industry (software, specifically for public sector) and role (project management). However, I am now having a more strategic impact in terms of interacting with senior executives within cBrain and with our clients, as well as shaping our international growth initiatives, which I would not have been equipped to do prior to the MBA.
What skills did you earn in your MBA that you apply to your role as the Head of International Delivery at cBrain?
The biggest benefit has been gaining an overall awareness of how all the functions of a company fit and work together, from strategy and marketing to HR and finance. I had a passing understanding of those topics before but had no formal business education. In terms of specific skills, what I use most on a daily basis is the coaching, leadership, and soft skills from the MBA. Finally, the case studies covered in Managing Sustainable Corporations continue to be very relevant for me, as I play an active role in cBrain’s expansion into emerging markets with differences of culture and governance.
Did you find the Concentration in Digitalisation to be relevant/helpful to your role?
Yes, very much so, as cBrain is a software vendor and partner with public sector organisations around the world (governments and universities) that are going through digital transformations. Although it is easy to get consumed with the daily details of designing and coding software, it is valuable to take a step back and remember the big picture about the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of digitalisation. Having someone like Rony Medaglia, who is an internationally recognized expert on e-government, as a professor was a very unique and beneficial experience.
How did the networking events at CBS assist in your career?
I actually got my job at cBrain due to a networking event at CBS, albeit indirectly. I met someone at a CBS event who was active in the start-up space in Denmark and referred me to the founder of a start-up. I ended up working closely with that founder for about 6 months during the MBA as a student assistant, helping with her go-to-market strategy and pitch deck to investors. Not only was she a great mentor and person to learn from, but she was also very well-connected, having previously been in senior management in several top companies in Denmark. As I approached graduation, she was able to make some introductions, one of which led to an interview at cBrain. Thus, I recommend to current MBA students that they attend networking events and remember that it can be second-and third-degree connections that turn out to be the most valuable, especially in a small country like Denmark. Although networking events themselves are useful, they are really just a first step toward building a trusting professional relationship with someone to the point where they can vouch for you.
What are the three main things that you would like to accomplish in your career?
With how unpredictable and fast changing the world is, I don’t think any of us can accurately predict where we will be in two years, much less in 10 or 20. Thus, I will list three things I am focused on doing well in my current role.
First, listening to the people on the team I lead is my number one priority every day, so they have opportunities to grow and develop their skills. As a non-technical person working in the software industry, that’s something I’m particularly passionate about.
Second, I am very invested in cBrain’s push into new markets outside of Denmark. Doing software projects with government institutions around the world where there are differences of language and culture is uniquely challenging but also very rewarding, especially when working with emerging markets. It’s really important to be humble and listen.
Third and finally, a big focus for me and for everyone at cBrain is scaling, as the value of the company has more than doubled in the past year. For me personally, that means transitioning from managing individual projects to acting as a technical program manager for larger and more complex programs of work. It also means having that awareness of how all the pieces of the organization fit together, building strong relationships with teams and managers down the hall, and creating scalable processes so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time we face a similar challenge.
What do you enjoy about living in Copenhagen?
Copenhagen is consistently ranked one of the most liveable cities in the world, and it is easy to see why. In more than two years of living here, I count on one hand the number of times I have used a car or taxi. The ease of getting to the airport and direct flights to so many places in Europe is also a huge plus, now that we can travel again. There is also some beautiful nature not far outside the city, in places like Amager and north Zealand.
You are very active on LinkedIn and offer great advice to MBA undertakers/considerers. What particular advice can you highlight now that you would have liked to have received before embarking on your MBA journey?
One piece of advice I wish I had received is not to be discouraged if your first job after graduating from the MBA looks, on paper, very much like the job you were doing before the MBA. This doesn’t mean your MBA was a waste of time and money. It is very rare, especially in Denmark, to be hired directly into a line management position. You typically need to join an organisation as an individual contributor, show your value for a year or two, and then get promoted. Even if your job title is the same as before the MBA, you will have a much broader base of business knowledge and practical experiences, thanks to the MBA, that help you make a more strategic impact and accelerate your career trajectory.
Coming from an Ivy League school and having already completed a Masters in Public Policy – did you feel that you were well equipped for the MBA? How did your previous studies aid you and what did you find particularly challenging about the CBS MBA?
In short, yes I felt adequately prepared, and I would encourage prospective students not to be intimidated by doing an MBA. If you look through the previous class books, you will see CBS has always done a good job of recruiting people from very diverse professional and educational backgrounds to join the Full-Time MBA. There were courses where I had no difficulty at all, and others where I needed to invest quite a bit of time and effort to get the result I wanted. I think a big challenge for everyone is to manage your time well, because with a one-year MBA, many courses are only two to three weeks long. You can’t afford to fall behind. One benefit of having a very diverse group of classmates is that different people will be strong in different subjects, and you can support and help each other.
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