Today’s Alum in the ‘what I wish I’d known when I was a SOAS student’ series was Alex Schoch (on the right in the picture).
Alex graduated in 2009 with a degree in History & Asian Studies without a really clear idea of what he wanted to do, but a very clear interest in sustainability and clean technology.
He’d heard of Tesla Motors which was (at the time) a small start-up modifying the Lotus Elise to become a battery-powered car, and called them up speculatively to see if they had anything for him. To cut a long story short, due to his interest in the sector and his convincing story, he was hired and became the European Sales and Marketing director by 2014, managing a team which had grown from 4 to 250 people in 35 European locations. Tesla worldwide now has about 1200 people and a market capitalisation of over $50bn, so it’s clearly no longer a start-up!
Alex’s boldness clearly paid off. He’s currently on a sabbatical year, and due to return to Tesla in March to head the division which will explore battery storage on a grand scale.
Alex and the students who came to the session had a really interesting discussion about the relevance of degree subject to jobs in Sales & Marketing (answer: not necessarily relevant); why he chose the degree he did (answer: it was a passion he longed to pursue); how he learnt the technical skills for his job (answer – make sure you spend enough time with the experts to get the gist of what they are saying and have confidence in yourself).
There was also a fascinating discussion about what Alex looks for when he is hiring fresh graduates himself (answer – people who have taken the trouble to research the company thoroughly rather than just rely on the ‘about us’ page on the website; people who can show their passion for the company’s ethical approach).
Finally, here are Alex’s top tips for current SOAS students
1. While you are at University, don’t think you have so many classes and seminars that you won’t have time to do anything else. Take all opportunities to go out and look for clubs, events, activities which will help you to deepen your own interests and may give you some new contacts.
2. Look for roles or sectors which interest you but don’t restrict yourself – you may find that that a similar role in a different sector, or a different role in the same sector would bridge your interests and skills.
3. All work experience is useful – try and make it last at least a month so you can demonstrate you have completed a project or achieved a result as part of your work experience.