Monday, May 20, 2013
Interview with Chris Chambs about Study Abroad and His Career in Munich
Year of Graduation: 2001
Current Job: Senior Consultant, Financial Director for Allianz in Munich Germany
How were you introduced to the idea of working abroad? What opportunities did your work allow you to travel to another country?
In my junior year at CSB/SJU, 1999, I studied abroad on the Greco/Roman program. It spent 6+ weeks in Athens, a week in Istanbul, and 6+ weeks in Rome. Following the program, I travelled a month throughout Europe. It was an amazing experience and one of the key pieces that brought me to CSB/SJU. It allowed me to learn art and history on site and allowed me to spend Christmas in Paris, and the millennium celebration in Munich, where I just happened to return to live now. After leaving college, I worked at Deloitte & Touche, LLP in public accounting. I even explored some abroad opportunities then. I left Deloitte for Allianz Life in Minneapolis. The company's parent is Allianz SE in Munich, Germany. I spent 4+ years and always thought about the opportunity to go to Munich. A very good opportunity arose and my wife and I took it. It is at least a 2-year assignment working in the Finance function concentrating on planning and financial analysis.
You started out working for Deloitte & Touche, but then moved on to Allianz. What made you change your mind about working for this company?
Deloitte was a wonderful place for me to get my start. They brought me in after my sophomore year for a summer program and made me an offer then, so I have much to be thankful for. Further, things went extremely well for me there and I learned more than I could ever learn in any graduate school. I was learning a lot and had much success.
I never really "changed my mind." I got from Deloitte what I wanted to get from Deloitte...a great experience. I left for two reasons: (i) I wanted to work for a single company and help them be successful rather than working for 10 clients per year with minimal influence on how they do business, and (ii) personal reasons including the fact that I traveled probably a bit too much and worked perhaps too many hours. I know that I could have gone the partner route if that is what I wanted to do. I never felt that was the track that I wanted for myself from a holistic view.
How has a liberal arts education affected your career? What about the emphasis on language?
To me a liberal arts education has absolutely been key to my career. I have seen far too many cases of people that have the technical skills but lack the communication and soft skills to get by. A well-rounded person seems to be in a better spot to be successful. For instance, in public accounting, I worked with clients a great deal. The people that were able to speak and communicate with the client got noticed. The client always felt better served, which is the most important factor in client-service work, which is what public accounting is all about. The technical skills are important, but are not enough on their own. Likewise, someone in public accounting cannot just be a good communicator without solid technical skills.
Regarding language: a second language would only be helpful if the job specifically could leverage that. For instance, I never felt that I needed a second language at Deloitte or Allianz, and I include my time here in Germany. However, if you have a second language, you can seek jobs that can leverage that language. I can almost guarantee you that your odds become better as the interviewee-talent pool is smaller for a bilingual job. I would definitely recommend studying a location-specific language before moving to a place that speaks it. It just makes things far easier. Other countries may not be as accommodating to English.
I have been highly motivated since arriving to learn German. I have had about 30 private lessons and things are starting to really come together. I feel better about living here and it is a wonderful experience to learn and use another language. It is a great opportunity.
We are unfortunately deprived of this experience growing up. Language courses were not available for me until Junior High. Students here in Germany start learning English very early on. I hope that our daughter (10 months) is able to have such an opportunity to learn language as well.
What role did your major here at CSB/SJU play for your current career?
My experience with the "real world" is that you never know where you are going to end up. I started with public accounting and am far from that now. I would suggest rounding yourself out beyond just the major. Stay in close contact with the Career Resource Center and the professors in your field, because they are best positioned to answer your question specific to that major. Enjoy the liberal arts education, because I have always felt that was a key differentiator early in my career. I knew I had different skills than my colleagues from the U of M or UND, etc. And, this was to my advantage.
Overall, the job market is going to be looking for talented individuals with a business background, whether in accounting, management, or finance. Business is business. I always felt that the major was only a prerequisite. It was how I surrounded that major with experiences and stories to tell in an interview that was able to help me land the job I wanted. Grades and a major are very important as well.
How does a student start up an international career? Do you recommend going abroad right away or building experience at home?
When I started my career search at CSB/SJU, I did not look to start internationally. I think it is probably easier to do so later when the world doesn't seem quite as big, at least that is how it felt for me. However, if you are interested, you should pursue your dreams. It may just require a bit more research, which is the key. The fun part of this is that you can look at companies, like Allianz, that are based internationally. Most large US companies (many of which are based in Minneapolis) also would have an international presence (Cargill, Carlson Companies, maybe Best Buy).
You can get a lot of info by looking at the career web pages. I have always thought this has been very insightful about how the company is organized along with what are the opportunities that are out there. You will also find that perhaps some of those opportunities are only possible after a few years experience. This info is still good in that it could tell you a lot about the company and what possibilities are available from a career path standpoint.
My experiences here have been very positive. I have been here for 7 months and have learned so much. I, personally, have really enjoyed working in finance for a company's headquarters. Before, I worked for the subsidiary company, which is obviously a very different viewpoint.
What challenges have you faced with a career abroad?
The challenges have primarily been logistical in relocating to another country. Where can we get the right baby food? Where can we find the best doctor that speaks English? What do we do if X happens? The triumphs come in figuring all these things out. Now, we are having visitors come reasonably often and it feels very good to be able to take them to less touristed spots that the locals like. We are slowly starting to feel like locals.
From a career standpoint, the triumph here is that I feel that I am making myself very marketable. International experience, whether in the form of studying abroad or working abroad, is very valuable in the market. I feel that I am getting better experience and learning more than I could ever get in any post-graduate studies.
Ed. Note: This interview can be found at http://www.csbsju.edu/Career/Students/ExploringMajors/Alum-Profiles/Chris-Chambs.htm
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