The International Directors Programme: “Learning from this collective experience was just wonderful.”

Dr. Thomas Wiegelmann

Managing Director at Schroder Real Estate

Past participant of the Internationsl Directors Programme

Dr. Thomas Wiegelmann, Managing Director at Schroder Real Estate, wanted to broaden his perspective and connect with other directors. INSEAD’s International Directors Programme gave him more than that: it changed his mindset.

Dr. Thomas Wiegelmann is well versed in risk-taking.

Thomas has been working in the real estate industry since 1999 across consultancy, corporate finance and investment management. In 2009, Thomas co-founded BLUE Asset Management, a real estate investment boutique. Fast-forward to 2019, and BLUE Asset Management – managing some EUR 1.2 billion of assets at the time – caught the eye of global investment manager Schroders, who were keen to broaden their existing footprint in the DACH region. An acquisition followed, as a result of which Thomas took on the role of Managing Director at Schroder Real Estate, a role he has held ever since. Schroders is a global investment manager operating from 37 countries across Europe, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and Africa and with over 200 years of experience. Schroders employs more than 5,000 people and is responsible for EUR 815 billion of client assets (as of end of June 2021).

But his appetite for risk – as well as knowledge and discovery – has kept him close to the action in terms innovation and change within his industry. He is an advisor to global early-stage venture capital firm Antler, and is involved with (Prop)tech start-ups. Meanwhile, he has been a Board Member of the Harvard Alumni Real Estate Board since 2017.

Thomas has always been driven by curiosity – about institutional real estate and other industries. Curiosity has always been part of his thinking as an entrepreneur, business leader and director. And it’s curiosity that brought him to INSEAD in 2021, and specifically to the International Directors Programme (IDP).

“I came to INSEAD and to the IDP to really explore the director dimension of my career. Beyond that, I wanted to further expand my global perspective. Here was a programme that would provide me with insights and best practices from other board members from around the globe, as well as the research, the case studies and expertise of INSEAD’s exceptional faculty,” he says. “I also wanted to expand my network of board members from different industries, and connect with the wider INSEAD community of thinkers and experts.”

No stranger to the concept of continued education, Thomas holds a PhD in Real Estate Investment and Risk Management from Bond University and is a graduate of the Owner/ President Management program (OPM) of Harvard Business School as well as from a post-graduate real estate program at European Business School. That said, the INSEAD experience contained a “few surprises” from the start.

“I was amazed at the pace and the breadth of learning from the get-go. We covered so much content in a really comprehensive way. I’d expected INSEAD to deliver quality, but it was actually quite surprising how much learning the programme delivered – the calibre of my peers, and the exceptional expertise of the faculty was impressive. Learning from this collective experience was just wonderful.”

Among the principal highlights of the programme, Thomas points specific sessions on board effectiveness and cross-cultural engagement; seminars that were rich in terms of frameworks, tools and an exchange of perspectives, he says.

“In the session on board effectiveness in particular, I was able to develop a much deeper understanding of frameworks, tools, and perspectives to enhance the effectiveness and impact of individual board members and the collective performance as an overall board. A key success factor is the composition of boards as well as leadership succession as one of the most critical events in any organizations’ development and history.”

“Success in cross-culture business depends highly on the ability to identify and bridge different cultural realities. In my profession, a key motivational and enjoyable aspect is that I am offered the opportunity to collaborate and negotiate with people from various cultural backgrounds. As such I enjoy dealing with different temperaments, values, business habits and ultimately also senses of humour. The session on Cultural Map was exciting.”

Thomas also found the programme’s simulation exercises, group feedback and coaching revelatory. The simulations and the comprehensive feedback from his peers and coaches was helping him to reflect on my own strengths and weaknesses with respect to my role as a director.”

Coming out of the programme, Thomas feels he has gained uniquely valuable insights.

“Discussions with faculty and my classmates further sensitised me to how disruption is continuously afoot in almost every industry. In my case, the institutional real estate sector is ripe for tech disruption and requires a change of mindsets on management and board level. Digital transformation is increasing the scope of boards’ mandates and requires a thoughtful recalibration in terms of where to focus resources. And the transformation ahead of us is huge – it is essential to keeping current business models viable while developing new revenue streams. A wave of new technology may enable real estate to be used in myriad new ways, reinforcing the idea that real estate is a service rather than just a long-term commitment - a multi-trillion-dollar global asset class. For me, the programme was really insightful about how and where value may be added in this kind of context.”

The programme has also enacted a shift in his mindset and approach that he describes as invaluable.

“Once a strategy is set, I’ve always been quite action-oriented in my approach and thinking. Something that the programme has taught me is the value of a process-oriented approach in the context of board activities. I genuinely appreciate the time I spent as a participant of the International Directors Programme. This was an experience full of invigorating energy and positive spirit from both faculty and participating peers.”

 

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