Finding Strategies and Friendship on Campus
A conversation with Alexander Gruss about his career and experience in the Executive Program in Strategy and Organization
Alexander Gruss, Director of Consulting: Digital Warfare, BWI GmbH, attended the Executive Program in Strategy and Organization to prepare himself to take on a more significant executive role when it comes. He came away from the program with new tools for tackling strategic problems, a broader view of leadership, and a global network of friends.
What made you choose this program at this point in your career?
In my current position, I am leading a consulting department specializing in military IT systems for [the German] armed forces. I’d like to be considered for a larger consulting role in the future, and I’ve always prided myself on lifelong learning and being prepared. I thought, well, you don’t want to be second best, so you probably should go to the best university to grow. I found the EPSO program and knew it would be the best step forward.
What were your first impressions when you hit campus?
My classmates were so diverse… from 21 countries and varying industries. I came into this crowd of CEOs and C-level people, and at first, we were formal, friendly, and careful. Then Professor S. Christian Wheeler led a welcome session on “Rapid Bonding.” And half an hour later, the barrier was gone and we were all friends, cheering and happy. That very first session made a big difference.
How would you describe the engagement with faculty?
The professors shared not only their academic excellence, but also their life experiences. Some had deep insights and really good stories. Professor William B. Barnett, for example, gave probably the most entertaining lecture I’ve ever had in my academic life. His approach on building strategy was so convincing, it will absolutely be a model I will work with in the future. The professors also made an effort to take part in evening sessions, where the atmosphere was less formal, and tried to bond with the class and be available for us.
What is something you are taking back to your team?
Some very useful tools that are easy to apply in daily work situations. For example, Professor Francis J. Flynn led us through a very helpful problem-solution matching session that demonstrated how to crowdsource solutions to solve our individual challenges. The second is a general way of thinking and approaching strategic problems that came from learning through cases, reflecting on our individual problems, discussions with peers, and from the lectures themselves.
How did the program change your view of your role as a leader?
In my daily role, I am a consultant. As meaningful as it is, it can sometimes be very routine work. After coming back from the program, I have developed a new mindset towards my work that includes looking at the big picture and attempting to make impactful changes when and where I can. At Stanford, I got inspired to make a difference. Walking around the campus, you are constantly met with flags: “Change Lives,” “Change Organizations,” “Change the World.” You can’t just go home and do incremental things.
You enjoyed running and even wine tasting in Napa with your classmates. Are you going to stay in touch?
Yes, without a doubt. We have an online group that people are still posting on… some even post themselves on stages showing their strategy slides. I come from Bavaria so my posts have been more about Bavarian culture and Oktoberfest! One of our members invited us all to come to Portugal next year. The biggest problem he has now is that we are probably going to do it!