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MIT Executive MBA

Leadership

The power of the softer side of leadership

In 2018, Friedemann “Friedi” Pfeiffer, EMBA ’20, was at the top of his game. He’d gained over 12 years of experience in consulting and financial services in Munich, London and Chicago, taking on increasing responsibilities along the way. As Director of Operations at Aon in Boston, he’d successfully overseen a major three-year, global restructuring program—a project that generated $500 million in savings for the company, allowing it to invest significant investments in growth initiatives.

But for Friedi, something was missing. The achievement didn’t feel as rewarding as he’d expected, and he didn’t know why. Should he take a break from work? Search for a new job? Go back to school? After some soul-searching, he chose education.

Turns out, the MIT Executive MBA was just what he needed—both personally and professionally. Here, Friedi sits down with us to talk about his experience.

Friedemann (Friedi) Pfeiffer, EMBA '20

Back in 2018, what led to your decision to pursue an MBA? 

At that time, I was focused on delivering the large-change program at Aon and felt the pressure of increased responsibilities of leading a large team. But I had spent very little time pausing to reflect on myself and what I could do better as a leader. During that particularly busy period, I realized I needed to take a step back to work on myself. I wanted to find a way to build my confidence as a leader and improve my ability to make informed and intentional decisions. I was fortunate my manager was incredibly supportive of me taking time away from work to focus on my development.

What persuaded you to choose MIT Sloan versus another business school? 

I’d heard about the MIT EMBA through a friend and was intrigued, so I decided to attend an information session.  Being in a classroom with like-minded people from across the globe and finding solutions to issues I was dealing with at work was incredible. Learning from experienced classmates and some of the best professors in the world, I took so much away from a mock classroom session. It convinced me that MIT offered the right combination for me—a program focused on management, analytic excellence, and leading with purpose, integrity, and empathy.

What were your goals when you enrolled in the program? Did anything about your experience surprise you? 

My background is in finance and operations, two areas MIT Sloan is known for around the world. My intention was to dive into finance and analytics, which I was able to do during the 20 months of the program. What surprised me was how much I learned about the importance of soft skills. I wasn’t expecting that.

Courses like the executive module, Leading with Impact and Entrepreneurship had a big impact on me. They changed how I look for solutions and work as part of a team. They helped me see that being a good leader means being able to show vulnerability and share what’s below the water line on a personal level. This approach helps build trust and a deeper connection with your team. Furthermore, I experienced how working on diverse teams—with equal sharing of ideas and knowledge—leads to better ideas and results. Results I would not be able to get close to on my own. Maybe a logical and not-surprising revelation, but I had to experience it myself.

Are there other tools, techniques, or strategies you learned in the program that you rely on in your work today?  

There are many techniques I learned that I apply regularly, and many stories from classmates and faculty that guide me in my daily decision-making. However, one of the most important lessons for me was getting comfortable with not knowing something and how the power of many with a diversity of backgrounds leads to better ideas. 

When faced with a problem, I used to say, Give it me. I’ll take it home and solve it by myself. Now, I ask who knows the most about it, and determine whether people with different perspectives are looking at it. I think being comfortable with this approach comes with having more confidence as a leader. 

These days you make it a priority to mentor young professionals applying to MBA programs. Why is that important to you? 

I’m very fortunate to have amazing mentors who’ve had a big impact on my career. I regularly reach out to them for personal and professional career advice. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to do the same for others and pass along the great advice I’ve received over the years. Having a positive impact on colleagues and people around me is what drives and motivates me.

I really enjoy my work as an educational counselor at MIT, interviewing undergraduate candidates. I also enjoy having mentees I regularly connect with outside of work. Watching people around me grow–whether personally or professionally–inspires me. Knowing I might have had a small positive influence on them gives me great joy. 

Friedemann “Friedi” Pfeiffer, EMBA ’20 is the Head of Finance for North America at WTW in Boston, Massachusetts.

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