J-1 Alumni Success Stories
Mathieu Dath is one of the alumni whose career path – starting with a J-1 visa – became a success story. After completing his Bachelor’s degree in Engineering at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Belgium, Mathieu was unsure what profession he wanted to enter, just like many students his age.
His internship under the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program played a crucial role in his decision process. In 2014, Mathieu interned for three months with Boehringer Ingelheim in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Boehringer Ingelheim is a German pharmaceutical company with more than 50,000 employees worldwide.
As an intern in the Compensation Department, Mathieu was able to apply his engineering studies to a business context, and this mix turned out to be a fascinating experience for him. He realized that such a combination was what he wanted to pursue as a career.
As his first work experience, the internship with Boehringer Ingelheim on the East Coast of the U.S. was truly ideal for Mathieu. He excitedly recounts the global outlook and open-mindedness he experienced from his American colleagues – a refreshing characteristic not strongly incorporated in the European business mentality. A very open and honest business mentality was especially important for him at this early point in his career, and constructive feedback helped Mathieu to grow professionally.
Working in the U.S. as a J-1 intern advanced Mathieu not only professionally but also personally. One of the major eye-opening moments he recalled was the vast size of the U.S., which is truly inconceivable unless one has lived there. “In Belgium, everything is so close together,” he remarked. “Even if you move away for university, you’re still only one hour from home.” Interning under the J-1 in the U.S. therefore also became an experience of true independence for the first time for Mathieu. The ability to be so far from home and to organize himself as a young adult in a foreign country helped Mathieu’s personal growth and maturity.
As he networked with many different business contacts, as is common in the U.S., Mathieu connected with one of his colleagues who had previously worked at Deloitte – a major global consulting firm. Hearing about his experience Mathieu developed an interest in the company. After he left Boehringer Ingelheim and finished his Masters in Mathematical Engineering in Belgium, Mathieu started his career as a Consultant for Deloitte in Belgium – facilitated with the help of his internship experience in the U.S.
Today, as a senior consultant for Deloitte, Mathieu still has many touching points with the U.S. and works frequently with American managers leading Belgian firms. His J-1 experience has been a great benefit, as Mathieu he has been able to connect with his clients on a personal level over a shared American experience.
While he is no longer in very close contact with his colleagues from Boehringer Ingelheim, Mathieu went back to the U.S. to reunite with them some years after his internship ended. A final thought on the importance of the J-1 program? “Its impact has really been huge on my life and how it has evolved” Mathieu concluded.
The J-1 Exchange Program has impacted young students and professionals for 56 years. Countless surveys and studies have shown the positive effect of the program, but few figures have the power to speak for the program like individual stories do. To that end, the GACC Career Services interviewed J-1 alumnus Sebastian Lutz to get a first-hand look at the transformative power of the J-1 Exchange Program. Sebastian interned at Commerzbank’s New York Branch in early 2011 and has been riding high ever since. What follows is his J-1 alumni success story.
GACC: Can you tell me a bit about your career path? How did you get to the position you’re in today?
Sebastian Lutz (SL): After high school, in 2004, I was doing civilian service in a small city outside of Stuttgart. It felt really good to do social work and help less fortunate kids and elderly people. Especially the practical aspects of the various jobs I was given showed me that I was not really ready to go to university and study immediately. I decided to keep to a practical path and do a vocational training at a bank to see where it would take me. After a full day of exams and interviews at Commerzbank, they made me an offer for vocational training, which I gladly accepted.
This gave me a very broad education in finance and was my entrée into the world of securities and in particular derivatives, which still fascinates me today. I remember that I ordered various books about securities during my first year, and my knowledge level was just not there to understand the formulas. I had never seen these Greek letters before in my life. However, it became clear to me that I wanted to learn more. I decided to pursue a higher education in finance.
After I completed the training and one year as a customer consultant, I was ready to move on. My research on universities convinced me that Frankfurt School of Finance and Management offered the practical aspect of working and studying in parallel, which from my point of view, is one of the best models Germany has to offer. In August 2008, I started working at Commerzbank in Frankfurt while earning a Bachelor’s of Finance at Frankfurt School. This was right before the financial crisis. I questioned if it was wise to stay in banking? Colleagues advised me to study what all my friends from Stuttgart had studied —engineering— but I wanted to see my education in finance through.
Frankfurt School includes both an obligatory semester and internship abroad to expand the intercultural education of their students. For my semester abroad I decided to go to Australia and then, after a short Christmas break in Germany, to do an internship in New York. It was, to date, the best decision of my life and a crossroads in my future career.
After I came back from New York, Frankfurt felt tiny. My Bachelor’s with Frankfurt School gave me a taste of international studies, so when I began my Master’s I decided to do another semester abroad - this time in St. Gallen Switzerland combined with work experience in Zurich. Once I finished my Master’s I worked in various institutional sales roles at Commerzbank, mainly in Frankfurt, and I was given the opportunity to start a new Desk in New York, which is where I am today
GACC: What role did your internship in the US play in that career trajectory? How did it help you in achieving your goals? Did it open any doors?
SL: Each year in the beginning of January, Commerzbank hosts a German Investment Seminar in New York, which is one of the largest gatherings of German top management. Over the past two decades it has established itself as the mustattend event for North American equity investors. During my time in New York I was lucky to be a part of the team that organizes this event. Dealing firsthand with CEOs, CFOs and Investor Relations representatives from Germany's largest companies was the best experience I could have had. I was, and still am, fascinated by New York and all it has to offer. My time in New York brought me in touch with great people, top companies and amazing minds. The skillset I developed is a huge part of why I was given the opportunity to open the Desk in New York later on in my career.
GACC: Do you still do business with the US? How has the internship impacted your opinion and future interactions with the US?
SL: Yes, I am responsible for Commerzbank’s Equity Derivatives and Commodities Institutional Sales department in North America, so while my trading and structural operations are in Europe, my clients are entirely based in the US. My internship in New York was the first time I was surrounded by institutional investors, company heads, and senior management, and it was the foundation for my professional global network. It was during this time that I realized just how important it is to make and maintain relationships.
GACC: Did your internship influence your political or economic views?
SL: I would say anytime you are living and working abroad, it makes you reflect on your roots – how you were raised, what you were taught, your culture – and for me, it illuminated the global interconnectivity we’re experiencing, especially in trade and finance. Growing up, small and medium sized businesses were typically financed by the banks geographically close to them. It feels like finance doesn’t have those same borders anymore.
GACC: Can you share an eye-opening moment about American culture or lifestyle that you had during your internship or after?
SL: Before I moved to New York for the second time, I was fortunate enough to have intercultural management training. One thing my management trainer said that has stuck with me is that Americans can be like peaches –soft on the outside, but hard on the inside– whereas Germans can be like coconuts: initially a bit hard, but soft once you crack them. It highlighted for me how direct the German culture is, especially in comparison to Americans -a valuable lesson when managing people with various backgrounds.
GACC: Are you still in contact with Americans you met during your stay?
SL: Yes, I am. The fantastic aspect about social sites like Facebook and LinkedIn is that it has helped me maintain those connections I made during the time I lived abroad. For all its flaws, social media is wonderful in the way it makes the world so small. It gives you an easy way to return to places and reconnect with the people you met before.
GACC: What is your opinion on cultural exchange and exchange programs such as the J-1 Visa Program or the Erasmus Program, in general?
SL: I would encourage everyone who has the opportunity to see as many different countries as possible. Each time I see a résumé that shows a person who values travel and has the experience of working with different cultures, I am interested in learning about their background and experience.
GACC: Do you have any criticisms that could help us improve it?
SL: I was fortunate enough to have the experience, and I wholly recommend it, but recognize that the financial aspect of it can be daunting. I think more people would be encouraged to pursue the programs if they felt they had various options to finance it and if that information was communicated upfront by the program.
In my experience these types of exchange programs can give you a leg up professionally, but, much more importantly, they enrich your personal life by exposing you to new places, different people, and fresh ideas. That’s an experience that has long-lasting effects well beyond one career move or the next.