Christofer Gratz is the founder and CEO of suntours, a German travel company that helps thousands of families each month book their dream holiday.
After his undergrad degree from Fachhochschule Dortmund, Christofer spent five years in London working for British Airways, and then completed the renowned Warwick MBA programme before starting suntours.
In this interview, you will learn how he got into Warwick in spite of a low GMAT score, and read about his insights from many years living and working abroad:
You got your Bachelors degree at Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts. What can you tell us about student life in Dortmund?
When I arrived to Dortmund it was totally unknown to me, despite being the 6th biggest city in Germany. Its reputation was not the best but I chose it due to the International Business programme the university was offering. I have to say I fell in love with this place pretty quickly. Dortmund is a very friendly place, one of the greenest cities in Germany and super-easy to get around. Its geographical location within the heart of Germany makes it a perfect getaway, especially for foreign students who want to explore the country. Student life is great in Dortmund, with one University, one University of Applied Sciences and a private one on top you have around 40,000 students in the city and you can feel it. Student parties are everywhere and accomodation is still easy to find and relatively cheap. Football dominates this place and it is hard not to get infected with the Borussia Dortmund virus.
If you really want to make something happen, it will happen.
Which experience stands out from your time in Dortmund?
My aim was always to get something done besides the usual curriculum. So some fellow students and I thought how we could combine the theories from class with practical experience. The solution was to organise a business symposium on a specific subject. The huge challenge was to find speakers, a location, catering and lots of other smaller things that are related to such event. All this without losing any money of course. The fact that we didn’t get any support from the school made it even more difficult. We only had six weeks and with the one or other fallback but with a great team of roughly ten students we actually successfully managed this event in a beautiful location, great speakers and happy participants - even with a small budget surplus. So remember, if you really want to make something happen, it will happen.
After five years working for British Airways, you enrolled in the Warwick MBA programme. Why did you choose Warwick Business School?
My initial push to go for an MBA was my little experience and knowledge outside my expertise. For me it was important that the programme would last at most 12 to 15 months, be one of the leading schools in the UK or the US and fit into my budget. I was very late with the application, so a number of schools had already closed their application process. All this automatically narrowed it down to Warwick. I also liked the area, just one hour by train from Central London, and knew I could spend a good time there. I only had one other successful interview, at Henley Business School at the University of Reading - but the Warwick MBA programme was ranked much higher while it was much less expensive, so the decision was an easy one for me.
If you think of studying in the UK, don’t choose London. Real student life can only unfold in smaller cities.
How was student life in Coventry?
Coventry is a great student place. With Coventry University and the University of Warwick at the edge of the city there are thousands of students living in and around Coventry. Many more senior students tend to move to Leamington Spa which is a beautiful victorian city a good 20 minutes from Warwick University. Birmingham is only a 12 minute train ride away, which is great for shopping and proper nightlife. For the first two terms I share a detached house with two other MBA students. Later, for the dissertation, I moved onto campus to stay in one of the modern student halls. The houseshare cost me around 350 GBP per month while living on campus was significantly more expensive. If you think of studying in the UK I recommend not to choose London: too big, too chaotic, too expensive. Real student life can only unfold in smaller cities.
My GMAT score was too low to get accepted in the first admissions round. So I picked up the phone and told them how much I wanted a place.
Warwick is one of the best business schools in the world. Do you have any advice for students applying for their MBA?
I had a good interview with one of the admissions staff at Warwick, but because I was below the GMAT threshold I didn’t get a place at first. My second GMAT attempt was not much better, but I still really wanted to study at Warwick. I took advice from a personal coach and she just said: Pick up the phone, call them and tell them how much you want that place! I did exactly that and about two weeks before the programme started I got the confirmation of my place.
What were the benefits of doing an MBA?
Meeting many inspiring and smart people from around the world and various industries was probably the biggest benefit. On top of that, I made a number of very good friends who I am still in contact with. Naturally being at one of UK’s largest universities, I was able to get access to a huge network - which I am afraid to say I am very bad in making use of.
I also improved my self-discipline and time management skills as an MBA is nothing like a 9-to-5 job, especially the first thee months. Nevertheless, there was still time for student life and being back in that environment felt great. Last but not least I was able to significantly broadening my private as well business-related horizon: No given hierarchy project classes and group work were a melting pot of different cultures and knowledge of non-familiar industries and business areas.
You spent many years living abroad, working and studying. Can you recommend the experience?
Living and studying abroad is something I can definitely recommend. Starting life abroad is much easier through a study programme than through starting work in a foreign country. Plan wisely, get informed... but not too much: As with all decisions, if you think about it too long, you may not choose the right one. Follow your gut feeling. After all, when studying you are not alone: Nearly everything is organised for foreign students, and if in doubt it is easy to follow the crowd. On the other hand, when you start working abroad you need to organise everything yourself, and at work you are just another new employee.
As a foreign student, you are not alone.
What inspired you to start your own company?
After the MBA I spent some time working as a freelance consultant in a for me unfamiliar industry. However I was not able to invest the level of passion and energy that I was used to from my time in the travel & transport industry. Therefore I decided that if I stayed self-employed it would need to be something in travel, hospitality and tourism. Sometimes you need to be at the right spot at the right time, and I was able to take over suntours - at the time a little tour operator with a potentially big brand.
As a travel expert, what destination can you recommend to students reading this interview?
My favourite city destination in Europe is Lisbon, Portugal: super-friendly people, best food & coffee, beautiful old quarters, the location by the sea and fantastic value for money.
My favourite destination in Europe for relaxing are the Austrian Alps: awesome scenery, cosy guest houses, great hiking paths to suit all levels, excellent food and drinks and again very good value for money.