Tales from the Lockdown #2: a conversation with Molly Ihlbrock, ESMT Berlin

01 May 2020

In this series of conversations, our guests talk to Senior Consultant Claudia Monteiro about what they're learning during the pandemic and what future they're imagining. 

What are we not talking enough about during this crisis? 

I really want to see a conversation on internationalism. Are we trying to flip the switch on globalisation? So much of our modern higher education experience is about internationalism... Will exchange programmes, Erasmus-style, become more the norm than the current trend of taking a full degree abroad? 

What’s surprised you the most - either positively or negatively – once normality disappeared and your organisation had to adapt to a different reality? 

Our students have adapted to and collaborated with an experience that’s different to the one they had only a couple of months ago. We’re grateful for that. Students at the MSc in Management were about to start their social impact projects all over the world, and they quickly turned those around to online exchanges. There’s been a lot of innovation coming forward – one group built an online operation to discover what significantly constitutes COVID-19 symptoms and to provide policymakers and medical institutions data-based with machine learning. 

Solidarity has been a constant too – we created a clearing station where those who with less work can register to help those who are overwhelmed with work. We now have several colleagues and students working with our EdTech team for example. People are really helping each other out.  

Tell us a tale of one of your local heroes, a person or a group within your university or school community who has pulled out all the stops at this time of crisis. 

Our MBA cohort had started in January and were barely two months into their experience when the pandemic hit. Our faculty and EdTech staff were amazing with this group – they took the programme from face-to-face teaching to an online environment in less than 24 hours. This was probably one of the most remarkable actions during this crisis. 

There were a bunch of things we did to build community quickly. Setting up a LinkedIn group to support people within the ESMT community who might need help is one example. Now we even have a radio station. The idea came to me in the shower. I was despairing about yet another email update that had to get out to students quickly – and I thought ‘Gosh we need something to cheer us up; we need music!’. So, I just put it out there. People really took to the notion and now we have our own community radio. Turns out there are a few DJs at our school. 

Name one change that you or your organisation has been forced to take that you’d like to carry into the future? 

There are three main changes, all to do with digital. We will be travelling less, and we will be taking more meetings virtually. Remote working will become more natural – organisationally we hadn’t offered a standard model on how to do that, but now we’ve proved it does work. And we’ll be taking a closer look at what we focus on. How much classroom teaching will we have in the future? Will we have shorter modules? How much digital learning should we offer? 

Can you reflect on one area that you might let go of, going forward? 

In my own area we’re already looking critically at how we manage events. Can we identify those events where content is king, and could we transfer those online? Can we look at events where networking is the main driver – how do we go back to offer that? 

What have you learnt about yourself? 

Having the autonomy to craft my day in a way that suits my work demands is something I’m really enjoying, without constant interruptions or meetings. It’s really added to the quality of my work, and I see it in others too. We’re gaining time to think, we have more of a chance to be leaders, rather than just managers. 

We had to be extremely open and transparent with our students and I was communicating with them daily, consciously keeping it light in tone. I was very aware that we couldn’t change the crisis. But finding the right tone was within my control, giving factual updates while being upbeat. It’s paid off, as we received feedback from students on how important that’s become for them. 

What partnerships and collaborations really came into play when it came down to it?  

For us it’s been extremely important to be a member of the Future of Management Education Alliance and have our shared learning experience platform, together with top business schools such as Imperial College. Having that educational technology at our fingertips means we can also share modules within that partners’ network. Those relationships are only going to go further, and we really need to be collaborating with each other in order to be more sustainable. 


Molly Ihlbrock is Director of Corporate Communications and Marketing at ESMT Berlin. 

Photo: Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels 


Read more Tales of the Lockdown with

Kai Peters, Coventry University, UK

Dil Sidhu, Coursera, USA

Sarah Lethbridge, Cardiff Business School, UK 

Ivan Bofarull, ESADE, Spain

Rob Angell, University of Southampton Business School, UK

Antonio Batista, Fundação Dom Cabral, Brazil 

Yusra Mouzughi, Muscat University, Oman

Kate Kearins, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand 

Daniel Traça, Nova School of Business and Economics (Nova SBE), Portugal



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