Risk-taking and Preparation Propel Alum’s Ascent

Gernot MittendorferGernot Mittendorfer (MBA ’96) manages commerce throughout Central Europe in his dual role as Chief Financial Officer and Chief Performance Officer of Erste Group Bank AG, Austria’s oldest savings bank. The 195-year-old bank, which went public in 1997, now has €48 billion ($66.2 billion) in assets.

Mittendorfer began his career as an Erste Bank branch employee nearly 25 years ago. A few years after joining the bank, he was one of two employees selected to pursue an MBA at Webster University’s campus in Vienna. “Webster University taught me how to work across cultures, with people from different countries, customs and backgrounds,” Mittendorfer said. “These experiences proved invaluable for my career and gave me access to a strong network. Today, many of my classmates are still part of my professional network.”

While he feels fortunate to have worked with people who set high standards for him throughout his career, he said climbing the career ladder is hard work, fraught with lots of risks. “It’s important to keep in mind that this journey is not a stroll through the park, but rather one that is filled with challenges, risks and consequences. If you are willing to take a chance, you have to be ready to seize the opportunity when it arises.”

Mittendorfer said he did just that when he accepted a position in 1997 that required him to leave Erste Bank’s headquarters and relocate to Rohrbach in the Czech Republic. “This small savings bank that Erste had acquired had four branches in the Czech Republic, and I knew it would give me the chance to learn about the business in a country which the group identified as one of its core markets for future development,” he said. Within three years, he received an offer to move to Prague and join the management team responsible for running the country’s largest bank. “While I did not foresee that my ‘big break’ would lead me to where I am now, the reality is that chances in life come and go, and they usually don’t appear when we are ready for them. Once that big chance comes your way, you need to think fast and act.”

Throughout his tenure with Erste, the organization has transformed its business from a small savings bank in Austria to one of the largest banks in Central Europe. With his experiences in management, commerce and acquisitions, Mittendorfer has become a valuable asset to the banking industry. “Experience is gained from doing, especially in banking,” he said. “You’ll learn more from what went wrong than from what you got right. And while mistakes are inescapable, you can’t afford to make the same mistake twice.”

Check out the 2014 edition of Notabene for more stories from the Walker School.