Around the World and Back Again
By Samantha Beavers
More than 20 years ago, Christa Langenburg became a recipient of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Scholarship – a scholarship giving high school students the opportunity to live with host families and study abroad in Germany for one year. German culture became a part of her – and her fluency in the language opened doors for her to start a job in the automotive supply chain space.
From supply chain at the factory level to inside sales, her career in business piqued her interest in analytics and ultimately led her to the Master’s of Management, Marketing Analytics (MMA) concentration at Poole College of Management.
“I’m no spring chicken in the marketplace. For years, I watched as systems exploded at exponential rates and learned that you can’t sit back and stick with the status quo,” Langenburg explains. “Seeing where the market was headed and recognizing that data is the wave of the future, I started exploring different master’s programs. Finally, I stumbled upon the MMA concentration at NC State.”
She joined the MMA program’s first cohort of students in fall 2021. Then, in a full-circle moment, she had the opportunity to return to Germany on Sunday, May 8th for MBA 590 – a week-long study abroad course studying innovation and marketing systems in Munich.
She first heard about the trip from senior marketing lecturer Tom Byrnes, who learned she was fluent in German and connected her to professor of marketing and innovation Jonathan Bohlmann, who facilitated the course. Learning more about the trip and the opportunity to see innovation in action, Langenburg signed up – joining 15 students from the Jenkins MBA program and two peers from the MMA concentration.
As part of the course, students had the opportunity to visit several companies to learn about how they are driving innovation forward – including BMW, Ernst & Young, Siemens Mobility GmbH, Fujitsu, HYVE, MUST and Celonis.
“Their openness with innovation was remarkable. All of them were very transparent about their thought processes, explaining why they did what they did,” Langenburg says. “And seeing this innovative spirit in Munich right alongside the city’s ancient history and old traditions was really special. It’s important to look to the future – but it’s equally important to be cognizant of where you come from.”
Langenburg was particularly impressed with the innovative culture at Celonis, a company that specializes in process mining and is classified as a ‘decacorn’ (a startup valued at more than $10 billion).
“They recognized the need for businesses to identify inefficiencies in their digital steps and built a company. It’s an incredibly innovative concept and there’s a huge demand for it – but nobody was out there doing it, so they have virtually no competition,” Langenburg explains.
Another highlight of the trip was the visit to Siemens, Langenburg says. A competitor of Hitachi, where she works, she got a sense of what it might be like to visit her company’s global headquarters. And while there, she also had the opportunity to step into history.
“When we arrived, Alexander Stuebler, the senior vice president, explained to us that they had just held a press conference with MSNBC and Bloomberg announcing that they were pulling out of Russia after over 170 years of operations there – and he explained some of the ramifications that came with that,” Langenburg says. “It felt like a historic moment. It was just mind-boggling to be part of.”
And during her visit with BMW, Langenburg caught a glimpse of the future – and her past.
Seeing BMW implement a just-in-sequence (JIS) strategy – a process that delivers vehicle parts to the production line in a particular sequence and just-in-time – she saw how analytics can power a greener future.
“If we allocated natural resources like this, sending them where they’re needed at the right time, we could make leaps in creating a more sustainable world. But if you want to see something like that happen, you have to leverage data,” Langenburg explains.
“Being there also brought me back to a moment from 30 years ago – when my second grade teacher in Michigan took us to visit a nearby Pontiac assembly plant. I still remember how many people were involved in the vehicle manufacturing process. So standing there 30 years later, watching BMW make cars with robots and understanding the cost savings with labor – that was just amazing,” she continues.
Langenburg’s time at BMW also highlighted just how much marketing has evolved over the years – which, she admits, has changed her perspective on the field.
“Glenn Schmidt, marketing communications leader at BMW, commented that we’re seeing a shift from push marketing to pull marketing. And I thought that captured everything. Companies are now doing marketing before products even go to market – tilling the market for ideas before products are launched. All it takes is some word of mouth and there’s a backlog,” Langenburg explains.
“This is interesting to me, because if I’m honest, I was still a bit skeptical of marketing when I first applied to the MMA program. It had always felt somewhat deceptive to me. But innovation and analytics have completely changed the way marketing is done – and so my concept of marketing has been flipped. With analytics, you can capture data on what your market wants and use it for whatever product you’re working on,” she continues.
Since returning from Munich, Langenburg says, she received a promotion to marketing and sales analyst at Hitachi, which parallels her studies. And as she looks ahead, leveraging predictive analytics to drive her company’s mission forward, she knows she’ll continue to carry the experiences and lessons she learned in Germany with her – just as she did 20 years ago.
“It’s one of those academic experiences that will stick with me,” she says. “From seeing innovation in action to networking with a diverse group of people from all walks of life, I know these experiences will pop up over and over again in my career. This was just the beginning of a journey.”