Larissa Skarke has a mantra that has shaped her choices since entering the business sector after graduating law school in Germany: If you want to be effective in business, you need to know the principles really well.
It’s this guiding principle that has led her to London Business School (LBS) and the Master in Finance (MiF) programme. A strategy consultant with McKinsey in Munich, Larissa took up the firm’s offer of sponsorship to pursue the Masters full time in 2018 in order, as she says, to understand her customers’ needs.
“Although I’m a lawyer by training, in my current role as a management consultant I work predominantly with private equity funds and financial institutions. Interacting with clients on a day to day basis, you realise pretty quickly that if you want to advance and move up the ladder you need to understand your customer’s business problem inside out to give them the best advice.”
McKinsey has a practice of sponsoring its consultants to pursue higher degree programmes to sharpen their expertise. And it’s a very welcome opportunity, says Larissa, to gain insight and knowledge and to enhance understanding of the underlying mechanisms in finance and financial statements.
The choice to pursue the opportunity at LBS was “pretty straightforward,” she says.
“LBS was recommended to me by a partner at the firm. But really, in terms of a degree programme in finance that responds to the needs of post-experience practitioners, like me, this is the only programme on the market that offers both the theory and the hands-on practical dimensions that you need.”
The diversity, too, of the MiF cohort was a major drawcard for Larissa.
“This programme attracts people from all kinds of different backgrounds and there’s so much to be learnt from your conversations with your colleagues. I’m studying with people from 38 different countries, which is something I have never experienced in any university.”
This mix of backgrounds enriches discussions in class, she says, fuelling an exchange of experience and knowledge that in turn broadens out perspective.
“I’m one of the few management consultants in my cohort, so when we’re looking at cases or business dilemmas, I can contribute my understanding of how business works, how to develop strategies and so on. By the same token, when we’re exploring areas that are new for me, there’ll be someone within the group who can fill in the gaps and share their expertise.”
The sharing of expertise is also supported by real-world practitioners – professionals representing the entire value chain in finance, whose case studies are shared in class and who then come into the School to discuss the case with the students.
“This is pretty amazing. It’s a unique chance to analyse a deal and then to talk to the architect of that deal and have them answer your questions in real life. You get to really unpick the challenges and explore the business solutions that were designed in response.”
At LBS, Larissa has also had the opportunity to explore another area of business, which has particular personal resonance for her: impact investing.
“Impact investing meshes real business with social outcomes. Prior to my work in consulting, I spent time living in Latin America, teaching children in Ecuador. This is something that I am close to and working in the field of social impact is something that I would hope to weave into my career in the longer term as it becomes bigger and bigger in the investing world. At LBS I’m member of the executive committee of the Impact Investing Club and it’s a chance to look at this world from a business perspective.”
Together with a small group of fellow students from Latin America, Larissa is part of team competing to win the MIINT Impact Investment Competition in 2019. The goal of the competition is two-fold, she says: there’s the critical, hands-on learning dimension for the team members, but there’s also a chance to make real-world impact.
“If our team wins the competition, a prize of $50,000 will go to the enterprise that we’re working with in Latin America. So we have an opportunity here to do something tangible too.”
Larissa is confident that the MiF will empower her with a holistic understanding of finance – knowledge that she can put to work in her day-to-day role and that will drive her career progression. She also feels that the learning experience at LBS is giving her the tools and sensibilities to “deal with diversity.”
“The exposure to diversity at LBS is amazing. Because when you put people from all over the world together in the same room, the chances to learn are multiplied. You learn so much on a personal level and that equips you with a kind of ease and confidence to do different kinds of business.”