Climbing the family business ladder: Q&A with EMBA alum Mike Smollan
Mike Smollan, a native South African, came to study his Global Executive MBA at Hult to help further his career in his family’s business, Smollan—retail experts specializing in helping international brand owners achieve growth.
Mike’s time at Hult pushed him to gain a deeper understanding of doing business on a global scale and allowed him to change trajectory and take a step up within his company. After finishing his degree, Mike returned to South Africa and now works as Smollan’s Chief Growth & Innovation Officer.
We asked him a few questions to learn a little more about his career path and why he chose to pursue an EMBA at Hult.
What did you do before and after Hult?
Before Hult, I worked in Shanghai in regional solutions for brands at my family’s company. After finishing my EMBA at Hult, I moved up to work in a global business development and innovation role.
Why did you choose Hult?
There were three main reasons I chose Hult. First, the diversity of the student body and the faculty. Second, I love the style and the feel of the environment. And finally, I wanted to learn progressive course material.
I went to a traditional university before, and I didn’t want to spend more time just absorbing information and not thinking critically or using that information.
How did earning an Executive MBA impact your career development?
I came to Hult knowing that I would stay in my family-owned business afterward.
But Hult did help me change my path within the company. I went from being a functional specialist in operations to a much more creative and solutions-oriented leadership position.
Hult taught me blue-sky thinking and I left with a much broader understanding of business.
“Hult taught me blue-sky thinking.”
How would you describe Hult as a school?
Hult is a new kind of business school that’s designed to teach the next generation how to prepare for the world. This is in contrast to traditional business schools, which teach about a business world that doesn’t exist anymore.
The lessons at Hult are very practical. They really push the boundaries of a curriculum from a traditional business school and embrace the newness of the world and how it works.
I learned a lot of new skills and was able to push myself and my thoughts. The courses themselves are not filled with brand new content, but the ability to discuss the content and think about the subject with people from all different backgrounds is a really valuable way to learn.
Did the experience exceed your expectations?
Yes! I really didn’t expect to learn so much from my classmates—about their backgrounds, history, work experience, and countries.
The examples are infinite, but the first time it happened, was when I was disagreeing with an older classmate. I was getting frustrated at how stubborn he was about his view. We split up the work, and when we came back, his piece of work was so intelligent. I thought to myself, “I have no idea how to do this. His analysis is brilliant!”
It turned out that I was the stubborn one who needed to listen to him. Ever since then, I’ve kept an open mind. It really makes you remember how much knowledge everyone around you is carrying.
“I really didn’t expect to learn so much from my classmates—about their backgrounds, history, work experience, and countries. The examples are infinite.”
Did you have a favorite professor?
Olaf Groth. I took a course on Scenario Planning with him, and I really liked the way he taught the subject matter.
It was a very hypothetical class, and it pushed our brains into new areas we never considered before. He also gave me a one-on-one coaching session afterward. It was helpful talking to someone from a very different industry and forced me to think about my industry in a disruptive way.
What advice would you give to future EMBA students on how best to prepare for the program?
Don’t assume you’ll have plenty of time to get things done. Family, work, and life are unpredictable and will keep you busy.
I personally aimed to do the pre- and post-work as soon as possible, so that life’s unexpected changes didn’t derail me. It allowed me to manage the course well. Also, invest time in doing the pre-work—the more you put in before you arrive on campus, the more you will get out of the courses.
“Hult is a new kind of business school that’s designed to teach the next generation how to prepare for the world.”
Interested in learning more about Hult’s innovative and flexible Global Executive MBA program? Download a brochure.