“I wasn’t good enough to win an Olympic gold, so it was a no-brainer to choose a career in business”
For Gerald Pollak, giving up his dream of winning an Olympic medal to carve a career in business was simple. In July 2014, the Austrian National Rowing Team member was representing his country at the World Rowing U23 Championships. But months later, he quit the sport to work as a sales support executive at Apple.
At the time, Pollak was two years into a four-year degree in business administration and marketing at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. He could perhaps have continued rowing for another five to six years, but what then? Pollak had one eye on the future when deciding to retire early from the sport he loved.
“I’d reached a point in my life where I had a decision to make: do I join Apple, the world’s biggest company, or continue rowing for the next six to seven years but then have no business experience?” he says. “I wasn’t good enough to win an Olympic gold, so it was a no-brainer to choose a career in business.”
Pollak interned at Lazard (August 2014) and the Boston Consulting Group (September 2014), before joining Apple in Vienna, where he worked for two years as a sales executive and then telecoms analyst while completing his undergraduate degree. In 2017, he signed up for the Global Masters in Management (Global MiM) programme at London Business School (LBS).
“I wanted to do a business management programme that would help advance my career,” he says. “One of the marketing managers at Apple suggested I look at management programmes in Europe and LBS had the best one. The School is known for being incredibly diverse and having a great reputation.”
His sporting background and year (2013-14) spent in the Austrian Armed Forces – the nation’s army takes in and trains talented sports people – helped Pollak secure a place at the School. Since joining, he has learnt about the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur from people with their own ventures. Hearing about those experiences has helped Pollak address his own concerns about launching a business.
“Being an entrepreneur is high-risk, but the Entrepreneurial Management elective has given me more knowledge and confidence about what it takes to build a company,” he says. “The speakers on the course shared their experiences of overcoming hurdles, making mistakes and the things that worked with their ventures. Getting insights from people who have been there and done it is really helpful.”
The programme has also given Pollak and his peers the opportunity to develop and test their own business ideas. Working in groups, the students develop a concept, do market research and get feedback from potential customers to tweak their venture. “You go through the process of developing a prototype business and how to improve it based on what the market tells you,” he says.
The second year of the GMIM programme will see Pollak moving to Shanghai, where he’s looking forward to experiencing Asian business and culture. “I’ll be able to practise my Mandarin [Pollak’s been learning the language at LBS] and travel the region,” he says. “Many businesses in Europe now rely on Chinese trade, so I’ll see how organisations in China negotiate and do business and be able to apply that knowledge when I move back to Europe after the programme.”
Once he finishes the Global MIM, Pollak plans to either become an entrepreneur or get an in-house role. “I’ll launch my own venture or go into consulting or tech,” he says. “I’ve worked in the technology industry before and may go back to it after LBS.”