Moneef Barakat from First Solar

"Where before I was a subject matter expert focused on specific topics, now I am open-minded to new perspectives."

Moneef portrait

General information:

  • Home Country: Syria & Russia
  • Current Job Location: Berlin, Germany
  • Job Function: Commercial Management & Business Development
  • Industry of Work: Renewable energy
  • Name of Company: First Solar
  • Hobbies:: Swimming, Diving, Football, Programming, Socializing
  • Degrees:
    • Master of Business Administration (MBA), ESMT Berlin, 2014
    • Computer Systems and Networks Engineering, Al-Baath University, 2008

What did you do between undergrad and MBA?

During the five years between graduating with an engineering degree and starting an MBA at ESMT, I developed my consulting experience across many industries, including oil and gas, utilities, transportation, and airports. I started as a generalist for an IT consulting firm before joining eSolutions as a technical consultant customizing enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Next, I mastered the business process of eSolutions clients in the energy sector and was promoted to lead an ExxonMobil project to digitalize supply chain business processes and help the maintenance team to automate the work order management system.

Why did you decide to pursue a Master/MBA degree? What was the “light bulb” moment you knew business school was in your future?

My last assignment at ExxonMobil enlightened me from two perspectives. First, I experienced the global scale of business operations as wide as it gets which made me realize that soft skills are equally as important as being a technical guru. Second, as I advanced to manage the project, many of my weak points were exposed, such as my lack of finance and accounting knowledge and my primitive toolbox of managerial skills. My limited people management skills became clear with the growing number of consultants on the project. Both factors motivated me to search for a solution until I discovered it’s called MBA!

Please describe your current job and the skills you need.

I have enjoyed working in two different verticals at First Solar in the last two years. I started as the head of Supply Chain for the Operations & Maintenance (O&M) business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) before transitioning to lead country operations in Turkey for the Modules Business Development vertical. The wide scope of the General Management specialization at ESMT played a big role in this transition. I was able to switch from being a buyer to being a seller thanks to many transferable skills I acquired during my career and MBA program at ESMT.

My consulting skills across utilities, power plants, and oil and gas smoothed my transition to the renewable energy sector. I also capitalize on the negotiation skills I developed during the MBA program, daily utilizing the skills and techniques we learned in the pricing, international finance, managerial analysis, and decision-making classes at ESMT.

What did you learn or gain from business school that has allowed you to get where you are today (skills, internships, network, etc.)?

ESMT empowered me in multiple ways. With my career background limited to the Middle East and Africa, the school played a cornerstone role in building the strong and purposeful core of my European network. It is a rewarding network of classmates, alumni, and guest speakers who have helped me land two jobs during the last three years. Additionally, being an active member of the Investment Club at ESMT granted me the know-how I needed to manage my own successful personal investment portfolio.

What was your inspiration for pursuing your current job/career—why did you get into this particular line of work?

I always dreamed of a successful career bringing digital solutions to the oil and gas and conventional power generation industries. Nevertheless, our curriculum at ESMT raised many questions regarding my career plan. Where do fossil fuel exploration and conventional power generation industries fit in the global sustainability context? How can I demonstrate responsible leadership while I'm competing for finite resources and polluting the planet? Day by day, and through discussion after discussion, I developed my passion for the renewable energy industry that I now work for.

Your greatest takeaway from business school?

ESMT changed me from a heads-down employee locked to a fixed career ladder to who I am today. Where before I was a subject matter expert focused on specific topics, now I am open-minded to new perspectives. I can generate more passion not only about topics of interest, but even those I used to dislike. ESMT coached me to be entrepreneurial in every endeavor which has made not just my career but my whole life much more enjoyable and purposeful.

Describe any internships or other professional experiences you had while in business school and what you learned.

During my ESMT MBA program, I was part of a team of five students that completed a consulting project for HERE in Berlin. The project was phenomenally exciting, introducing a new autonomous driving technology to the truck industry. We received a very informative onboarding package that gave us scope to combine our passion for technology and our business analysis skills to bring a new technology to the market. As a result, three out of five students were offered full-time positions with our client.

If applicable, what concerns did you have about going to business school and how did you overcome them?

I was worried that my lack of knowledge in finance and economics would be a hurdle. On the contrary, I had the chance to learn from economics gurus such as Prof. Michael Burda who generated my passion and joy for economics and made every group assignment an adventure that I still remember.

Did you take the GMAT exam and if yes, when do you think is the best time to take the GMAT (e.g. during the Bachelor or after practical experience etc.)?

I took my GMAT exam four years after graduation from engineering school, but I wish I had taken it earlier. Fresh knowledge from school would have made it smoother to prepare for the quantitative parts of the exam.

Things you wish you had known when first starting to think about business school and a career in business?

My successful and exciting MBA experience is a combination of intuition and luck because I didn't do as much due diligence as I would do now. I always advise young professionals to research thoroughly and write to alumni of schools of interest. You would be surprised how helpful they can be!
Secondly, even if you are not sure if you will start your MBA degree in one year or two, start preparing early. I knew that I needed some business education after my engineering degree. Although I didn't know then that MBAs existed, I knew I would need TOEFL and GMAT certificates which I obtained over a two-year period. When the day came to apply for the MBA program, I didn't have to go through crash courses or emergency exams, which don't usually come without extra cost or difficulty.

Where do you see your career taking you 10 years from now?

Even though I'm comfortable in my current role, I plan to leave my comfort zone in the future. I want to start my own business, one that will help make the world a better place. It doesn't have to be in the energy sector. I'm more passionate about technology and the positive impact of digital solutions on business. By increasing efficiency, reducing waste, and moving towards sustainable resources, we can create a positive impact on people and planet.