"Even the most promising idea must stand up to scrutiny"

Dr. Manuel Hälg, NZZ Award winner of the EMBA 60

Manuel, how do you feel after the summer without EMBA?

It’s almost a bit boring without EMBA. Sure, you have a lot to do, but when you’ve finished studying, you have more time for your family and can pursue your hobbies. That was especially nice in the summer. I went backpacking in Kenya and Ireland. That did me a lot of good and it was great to have the time and leisure to do it again.

What do you miss most when you think back to your EMBA time?

Actually, two things: the people: my fellow students, of course, but also the professors and lecturers who always gave me exciting impulses. On the other hand, it was also the week on site, the intensive immersion in other topics and the opportunity to switch off from work. I enjoyed that very much and I miss it now.

How did you experience the final evening? When did you realise that you could win the NZZ prize?

There was maybe a bit of ironic talk about it in class, but it wasn’t a big issue. I knew I had a chance when I found out that my work had been submitted. But I didn’t think I would win the prize until the end. It was a very nice surprise.

How did you come up with the topic (“Methodical evaluation of digitalisation in the life science industry”) of the paper?

The topic came about in collaboration with my employer at the time. Digitalisation was and is a big topic there. I worked in the life science industry in a biotech company and digitisation was one of the big strategic topics there. They had a lot of ideas about what they could do, but it was unclear how to proceed strategically and in a structured way and where to start. So for a long time the topic lay fallow. It was a good opportunity for me to tackle the issue.

But in the meantime, you are no longer with the company?

That is correct. The topic was created with and through my former company, but due to my departure I added general points to it and thus adapted it somewhat. Either way, the tool is universally applicable.

One of the things our jury praised about your work was that you approached the methodology building block by building block. This enabled you to explain the complex topic well. How necessary is that in this field?

The challenge of digitalisation is that you can do so many things and there are almost infinite possibilities. Software for this is basically written quickly. You could implement a lot of things, and this is also done to some extent in some industries, with start-ups that then implement as many ideas as possible. But especially in a highly regulated area, you think about it very carefully for economic reasons, because the costs are sometimes very high. It involves a lot of effort. That’s why I think it’s extremely important to approach it in a structured way and to check the most promising ideas.

Is the structure transferable to other industries?

The method can easily be applied to other industries, that’s really the beauty of the tool. Sure, if you’re a start-up, you have a brilliant idea and you pursue it, that’s good. But if you take larger companies, with many employees, then there are suddenly a lot of ideas and then it is important to pick out the right one from the multitude of ideas.

You mention that the methodology is compatible. To what extent is the work or its content part of your current work?

The systematic remains and is universally applicable. The methodology can also be applied in the current field. In fact, in my current field of work, the focus is not on digitalisation, so I don’t currently use the method on a daily basis. But the principle remains, of course.

 If you could add one more chapter to your work, what would it be and what would be its focus?

 The thesis has two weak points: on the one hand, in terms of methodology: it only looks at internal factors; for example, it does not take into account the customers’ willingness to pay. Such factors, which the company itself does not have under control, are left out. There is still potential to expand the method.

On the other hand, I applied the method to my former company and the products in the market. But this application was quite superficial. More work could be done here to make the evaluation even more robust. This could also be used to further refine the recommendation for action.

Hearing you talk about your work and the topic, it’s obvious that you put a lot of heart and soul into it…

Thematically, the topic of digitalisation is very appealing to me, especially with regard to AI (artificial intelligence, editor’s note). AI can already replace the method mathematically, but it stands and falls – as so often with AI – with the input for the method. For the evaluation of the products and the evaluation of the services, input outside of AI is inevitably needed.

At the end, the bridge back to EMBA studies. If you could take a course from your studies again tomorrow morning, which one would it be – and why?

That’s not an easy question. I think I would like to take the course “International Management” again. In recent months and years, there has been the most dynamic development in this field. In many other courses there are standards and little current change in the topics. There is a lot of movement in the field of international management. The course has accompanied me strongly since then and I am now also much more involved with international politics than before.

 Dr. Manuel Hälg wrote the best diploma thesis in the EMBA 60 course and won the NZZ prize for it. Hälg is currently Leader System Engineering at Stadler. He previously worked for Hamilton Bonaduz AG for over five years. In addition to the Executive MBA in St. Gallen, Dr. Manual Hälg graduated and completed his doctorate at the ETH Zurich.


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