CEIBS Alumni in Spotlight | Driving Growth in a Disruptive Era: Insights from John Hong, Partner, Excubate Corporate Startups, Germany

John Hong

John Hong’s journey from legal professional to consulting partner in Germany illustrates the transformative influence that CEIBS has on its alumni. As we celebrate CEIBS’ 30th anniversary, John’s story reflects the significant achievements of our alumni network, his own pivotal role in bridging East Asian and European business markets, and his active contribution to CEIBS' legacy through extensive mentoring and participation in global networking. His work underscores the strategic role that CEIBS plays in nurturing leaders equipped to handle the complexities of international business dynamics.

From law to global consulting: A transformative journey at CEIBS

Today, many industries are facing great challenges due to the arrival of disruptive technology. One prime example is the automotive industry, in Europe and particularly in Germany. We spoke with John about how to add value to companies during this transitional period, through learning, skills, and networks provided by CEIBS.

John acquired a law degree in Germany and initially worked in the legal aspects of mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Desiring a shift to the commercial side of business and to deepen his understanding of East Asia, due in part to his German-Korean heritage, he pursued an MBA at CEIBS - a decision that proved transformative.

After completing his MBA in 2017, John worked at some of the world’s leading consulting firms, where he honed his skills. Now a partner at Excubate, a boutique firm specializing in innovation consulting, venture building, and venture capital, John's career in consulting continues to flourish.

Navigating new frontiers: East Asia’s impact on the European automotive sector

John’s expertise lies in facilitating investments within the automotive industry. Investment from East Asia into Europe may have slowed, but it is still notable, with success stories like Q-cells and ZF Friedrichshafen involving Korean and Chinese investors. These investments have spurred considerable growth for their target companies even beyond Europe. As the landscape evolves, suppliers in both Europe and Asia are diversifying their client bases. Historically, Japanese car manufacturers found success in Europe and the US during the 1980s and 90s, followed by Korean companies in subsequent decades. Now, Chinese firms like BYD, Geely, and NIO are making visible inroads in Germany, investing heavily in their market entry. Despite the challenges, all are racing toward innovation.

John Hong

Strategic investments: Challenges and opportunities in Germany's automotive sector

John provides insights into the ongoing dynamics in the German automotive sector, where opportunities abound despite challenges. "Deals are still actively being made. We frequently engage in searches for German companies on behalf of Asian investors," he explains. The motivation behind this trend lies in Europe's demographic shifts; namely, a wave of retiring baby boomers, inheritance issues, and transitions in company management. "The reality is that not all solutions can be found within Europe's borders; looking internationally is often necessary. At the same time, Korean conglomerates continue to seek opportunities in Germany and across Europe, particularly within the automotive, energy, and utilities sectors."

John also highlights the specific challenges faced by Asian investors. "These investors often lack the insider information that domestic, strategic investors possess. Consequently, they might enter the market later, face higher prices, or pick up investments that local investors have passed over. Additionally, pressures from Asian headquarters to diversify can lead investors into overvalued deals, compounding the challenge of integrating different corporate cultures."

Adapting supply chains: Germany’s cautious approach in a shifting global market

When asked about discussions concerning supply chain security, John observes a notable lack of activity from German companies. "Currently, there seems to be minimal movement. Many companies are holding out, hoping that geopolitics and economic conditions will shift to more favourable circumstances soon," he explains. When suggesting potential outcomes, John said, "The US may leverage new capacities developed domestically to increase exports to Europe. However, it remains to be seen whether this will prompt a broader re-evaluation and restructuring of supply chains."

Building bridges: How CEIBS enhances global business networks

As a bridge between Asian investors and European companies, John navigates a complex landscape to foster mutually beneficial partnerships. Despite changes in the economic and geopolitical climate, John continues to receive numerous inquiries from members of the CEIBS community regarding potential targets in Germany within specific industries. He anticipates reciprocating when the economic landscape shifts, aiding European investors in China.

John Hong

The consultant’s journey: Learnings, challenges, and achievements

Many CEIBS MBA students are drawn to consulting, intrigued by the prospect of learning about diverse fields while being industry agnostic. John appreciates the significant impact and visibility his work brings to steering companies. He enjoys the dynamic work-life balance, though it involves hard work, long hours, and extensive travel, which undeniably affects personal time. John notes that the consulting industry landscape is evolving, with fewer applicants eager to join. "It’s crucial to find the right firm for you, as each has a distinct culture," John advises. After gaining experience, he emphasizes the importance of specializing, considering factors like personal enjoyment, cultural aspects, and tactical considerations.

Giving back: Mentorship and community involvement at CEIBS

An active mentor to current CEIBS students, John reflects on improving his own experience in recruitment and reintegration into Europe. "I’m happy to mentor current students, helping them engage in their learning process," he says, noting the lasting friendships and global connections he has developed. Fluent in Korean, John is also active in the Korean Alumni community of CEIBS, sharing entrepreneurial ideas and connections. Additionally, as an active member of the CEIBS alumni network in Europe, John is always ready to share his expertise with those looking at Germany.

For more information about the CEIBS MBA, a full-time English-language programme that has been ranked #1 in Asia by the Financial Times for eight consecutive years, click here.

Jessica Linsen and Michael Russam