“Enjoying yourself” may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of doing a PhD, and yet, for Fabian Hänle, that is exactly the key takeaway from his Executive PhD journey at AMS. Of course it was a challenge, but above all, he thoroughly liked and enjoyed researching and collaborating with his fellow PhD candidates and with the experts of AMS and University of Antwerp.
Fabian Hänle is CEO at Blickle in China, a family business founded in 1953 that is now one of the world’s leading manufacturers of wheels and castors. His position comes with responsibilities and keeps him quite busy, to say the least. Embarking on a PhD was definitely not an obvious decision. Yet, feeling encouraged by the unique AMS approach, he decided to go ahead with his plans: “After having compared several options from all around the world, I felt the AMS PhD program was the best environment for me as an executive: you get to choose your own research topic and you are provided with a crystal-clear road map to master the required skills and accomplish your PhD in 4 years."
Did the program meet your expectations?
“The Executive PhD here at AMS is fantastic. You get to know a lot of exciting peers, professors and industry experts from all over the world. Combined with fast response times and strong support from the PhD promoters, you get a well-tailored program fitting to your situation. On top of that, thanks to the combination of linking academia and the business world, you can make a profound impact with your doctoral research. I definitely made the right choice, that’s for sure.”
Speaking of impact, what was your research about?
“I am very passionate about the strategies of medium-sized hidden champion firms, and during my PhD I focused on a very important aspect: the internationalization of China’s SMEs. In addition to understanding the success factors of European SMEs, I got the opportunity to dive into the characteristics, differences, obstacles and strategies of their Chinese counterparts. For example, we conducted a comparative case study of Chinese SMEs in Germany to shed light on their investment goals. Elite interviews with business owners, senior executives, and global industry experts provided unique insights, which can now be applied for future investments.”
Do you think that your company could also benefit from your research?
“Yes, as my research topic focused on internationalization and growth strategies of SMEs and hidden champion firms, I could directly apply the gained expertise in directing and expanding my company. What’s more, my personal development during the program also helped me to become a better leader. ‘Correlation is no causation’, of course. Still, I feel that these factors significantly contributed to the success and far above industry-average growth rates we achieved as an organization.”
You already mentioned personal development, in what ways did the program change you?
“I got much more aware and critical of potential bias in our daily thinking, both in academia and in business. The PhD program also trains you to quickly capture and process complex information. This helps to identify and synthesize the key aspects you need to effectively address challenges, both in academia and practice. To me, life means to grow and to enjoy the process. As Tony Robbins puts it nicely: ‘It’s not about achieving the goal. It’s about who you have to become to achieve the goal.’ And the PhD program certainly helped me to become a better person and leader.”
‘It’s not about achieving the goal. It’s about who you have to become to achieve the goal.’
Well, you definitely did achieve the goal of getting your PhD, and in just three years’ time too. How did you manage the triple combination of work, life and research?
“The key for me, is to create space for each area of life. Thus, besides work, I created space for my PhD by for instance doing research in predefined regular times (high-performance sessions), setting up an own research room, and, very important, fostering the support and understanding of my loved ones. Still, combining all this is no easy thing to do, which is why you also need to take particular care of energy management: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Fortunately, on top of getting a worldwide acknowledged PhD degree, you also get a lot of positive energy from working with exciting peers, dedicated promoters and top experts from around the world.”