Alum-spiration: “You can never start building your network too early”

Johannes Loh stresses the importance of building a strong and lasting network.

Johannes Loh (MPP 2010) is a Senior Manager for EY‘s Public Sector Consulting practice in Abu Dhabi. After graduating from the Hertie School, he moved to Singapore and worked on solutions for urban poverty before moving to a boutique insights consultancy advising the Singapore Government on communications campaigns and public policy research. Having served as an alumni representative for both the Hertie School and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, he is committed to building the alumni community. Johannes is also part of the alumni mentorship programme.

It has been 10 years since you graduated from the Hertie School. What have you been up to over the last decade?

After graduation I ended up moving to Singapore, which was one of the best decisions in my life. I spent a few years working on poverty alleviation in a research and communication role, then moved to a boutique insights firm called Blackbox Research. As a Senior Manager and later Director for Public Affairs and Public Policy, I was responsible for managing clients’ accounts with the Singapore Government.

Working in a small team for a fast-growing small business was fascinating and taught me a lot of business skills that have helped me get ahead in my career. The work was really stimulating and gave me exposure across many different public policy arenas and also tremendously shaped my professional development to take on a leadership role. One of the highlights has been to conduct research on citizens’ sentiments towards new public policies and provide recommendations to decisionmakers on the implications for future policy in the island state.

Two years ago, I followed my wife to the Middle East, to Abu Dhabi, and spent a year as a stay-at-home dad and then transitioned into a public sector consulting role with EY. Abu Dhabi is an ambitious place where everyone is building the future – a fascinating place for someone passionate about public policy and keen to make a difference to the future of the society you live in.

How has the Hertie School – and its network and community – helped you in the career path you have chosen?

The alumni network is extremely strong and I kept in touch with people from all continents. Public policy careers can take so many shapes and forms that it is always fascinating to catch up with alumni a few years later and compare notes.

In Singapore, I networked extensively both with Hertie School and Lee Kuan Yew School alumni at events and social gatherings. The advice and insights from others in different industries and roles have been invaluable in building a better understanding of my career options and the opportunities available to me. The only regret I have is not having been able to attend more reunions due to the long distance to Germany.

Looking back at your time at the Hertie School, what are some of your fondest memories?

I have to say I fondly remember the house parties with music from all over the world and dance moves that transcend cultures. This is on par with the many philosophical discussions I had with my classmates on life in general and the challenges the world is facing.

What was your favourite class and its key takeaway that stuck?

Governance in Areas of Limited Statehood left a lasting impression on me. I remember the discussions on piracy off the coast of Somalia, and how different nations interpreted international law to find solutions to this difficult problem. Sadly, the strength and relevance of international organisations seems to have suffered a little bit over the past decade, but I am optimistic that the future will bring some governance innovations to the likes of the UN, IMF and the World Bank.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self on your first day at Hertie?

Make sure to get to know as many people as possible, attend all the interesting events and talks, and most importantly: network, network, network. It is the best way to chart a successful transition from grad school into your professional career.

Is there any piece of advice you would like to share with current students and fresh graduates?

The same advice I would give my younger self. Academic work is important but should be fuelled by your interests. It is even more critical to find out what you are passionate about and to speak to professionals in different jobs. You can never start building your network too early. That is one of the most underestimated aspects of setting up career opportunities, which most grad students and fresh graduates pay too little attention to.

In this series, we talked to Hertie School alumni who graduated ten years ago. We asked them to reflect about their time in Berlin and to share with us where their path took them afterwards.

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Views expressed by the author/interviewee may not necessarily reflect the views and values of the Hertie School.