Simon Rieser


Nationality: German
Work country: Germany
Graduated: 2011
Job: CFO, charitable/social entrepreneurship sector

Before I did the GEMBA we had 80 employees. Now we have 120 across 30 German cities.

Can you tell us a little about your unusual organisation?

The social enterprise I work for, JobAct, is basically a placement programme for the long-term unemployed. We have a couple of major corporate donors but are mainly funded by bidding for government grants. Although we have different target groups – such as 18–25 year-olds, immigrants or single parents – all of our programmes are based on the same idea: developing soft skills through theatre.

Soft skills through theatre… how exactly does that work?

Each group has 20 participants. And, over 10 months, they must produce a play. It’s a bit like setting up a company: they have to organise themselves, design the set, operate the lighting, rehearse the play, do the marketing... and finally perform in front of 200 people. This process develops skills like, motivation, self-awareness, communication, self - presentation… even spoken German. It may sound a bit crazy, but it works! After the programme 60% of participants find jobs. In the long term 75% come out of the welfare system. And as an organisation, we’ve existed – and have been growing – for the last seven years.

So how exactly did you find yourself at INSEAD?

Handling growth is our main challenge. And one of our donor organisations, a private equity foundation, suggested that the GEMBA would help me make the transition from COO, my former role, to CFO, my current post – and provide essential training for scaling up the organisation. In the end, I only had to find about €10,000 to do the programme, as the foundation made a generous contribution to the fees and I also received a substantial scholarship for social entrepreneurs created by INSEAD alumni.

What was it like interacting with peers from the commercial world?

It was enormously enjoyable and helpful – to both sides I think. We’re all in management but in a different kind of way and we learned a lot from each other. And I’m still learning from my peers in business. I met so many people and we’re very much in contact.

Which parts of the programme were the most useful?

The financial side was clearly very relevant to my transition to CFO. But I think the organisational behaviour classes were where I found most solutions to our growth challenge. I realised early on that with a growing organisation you need different skills in your management team than in a smaller organisation

What about the Leadership Development Programme?

That was invaluable as well. It taught me that I was used to being hands-on and that, as a result, I like to control things too much! It really did help me to step back, let other people do stuff and work as part of a team. Now I have the self-confidence to handle a company with 120 employees and many more partners.

The GEMBA has clearly had an impact on you. But has it also had an impact on the organisation?

Before I did the GEMBA we had 80 employees. Now we have 120 across 30 German cities. But it’s not just about the organisation itself. We have a network approach – using local partners. And INSEAD has helped with all aspects of handling the network, which is a complicated issue.

Where next for JobAct? And how will INSEAD facilitate that future?

My final project was about how to take JobAct to other countries: the Netherlands, France, the UK and Austria. I worked on it with a GEMBA colleague, who is an executive for a company that operates Europe-wide. He knew all about taking an organisation international but wanted to discover the social world, whereas for me it was the opposite. We looked at other German charities that had expanded internationally – and compared their different strategies for overcoming the cultural, social and regulatory differences. We ended by creating a strategic plan for rolling out JobAct… so we may be coming to a city near you very shortly!

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