German management company OSCAR GmbH is a business success story. The consultancy has a list of international clients and is leading the way in providing experience. More impressive is that it's managed by students.
Students prepare and present their own projects to major companies
For those who think that students are lay-abouts who spend their time, and taxpayers' money, reclining in front of day-time TV, drinking cheap beer in the evenings and occasionally writing an essay, the staff of German company OSCAR GmbH is out to change all that. The management consultancy with a Europe-wide range of clients covering all manners of enterprises is run exclusively by students.
OSCAR GmbH, the Organization for Student Consulting and Research based in Cologne, originated in 1984 as a student initiative to pursue business theory in practical, working situations.
Two years after the initiative was founded, OSCAR conducted its first pilot-project with an established company, German pharmaceuticals giant Bayer AG.
Since that initial contract in 1986, the OSCAR initiative has managed more than 230 national and international consulting projects, becoming the most successful student-run management consultancy in Europe.
The success of the initial project was such that in 1992, the consulting department was spun off as OSCAR GmbH. Currently, in its 12th financial year, the consulting company employs about 35 students.
Company chief and full-time student
Students continue to study while working for OSCAR.
Kolja von Westerholt is the head of the company. The 24-year-old treats the job as a full-time position but continues to keep up with his studies. Despite the pressures of running a company and learning, von Westerholt sees OSCAR as a great opportunity for all those involved. "The money I earn helps pay for my education and I learn here too. I might work here no more than eight hours or it may be twelve to fourteen hours a day. It's a real challenge."
Von Westerholt oversees a company experienced in dealing with many successfully completed projects in the last 18 years that provides students of all faculties the chance to acquire practical knowledge in consulting. OSCAR GmbH provides the students with the opportunity to apply their recently learned knowledge in real-life situations.
Each project is dealt with by the student and their team which works independently with the client. For many, it is the chance of a lifetime to experience consulting at the sharp end of the industry, a chance most would have to work for years in another company to enjoy.
Learning the skills for the future.
The students work directly with the client with the aid of the support network provided by OSCAR GmbH. While dealing with the client face-to-face, students are instructed by their more experienced peers on how to prepare for interim and final presentations through internal training seminars on such skills as presentation techniques, IT and rhetoric.
The student consultants are monitored and assessed by both the staff at OSCAR and the company they are working for. These assessments are intended to help when the student heads out into the world of employment after their studies are over.
One student currently benefitting from OSCAR is Judith Jussenhofen. She sees the work she does with the company as good preparation for her future career.
"Everybody has to take on responsibility," she said. "The students alone are responsible for the project from beginning to end. You work closely with your team members, you learn to deal with differences of opinion; we all bring our ideas right up to the final presentation in front of the board of directors."
It's a labor of love for the students involved. The stress and the often large amounts of time involved earns the students €400 ($508) a month, but many see the occupational experience and the valuable advice they get to be more important than the money.
Deutsche Telekom logo atop communications tower, Cologne, Germany
Few students can say that they have helped in a consultant capacity with such diverse and powerful organizations ranging from Deutsche Telekom and Sony to the government of Peru. With OSCAR GmbH, some German students are getting that chance.