A self-confessed cricket nut who rubbed shoulders in his formative years with international athletes, Kurt Schröder was hell-bent on broadening his horizons by studying abroad. The plan? To follow in the entrepreneurial footsteps of his close family. The circumstances? A Campus France application made without his knowledge that led to a highly fruitful learning experience at emlyon business school. He tells the tale of reviewing his sporting ambitions, uprooting from his native South Africa to France, and the work ethic that has made his entrepreneurial journey a growing success.

Did you see yourself studying abroad in France while still in South Africa?

Kurt Schröder – from the playing fields of South Africa to doing serious business

Yes and no. I certainly had the clear intention of acquiring experience in another country and continent, preferably either Europe or Asia. My early career plan was very much in sport. I got some experience working in social media and marketing positions for the Northerns Cricket Union and the Titans Cricket franchise. It was by listening to top professionals like coach Rob Walter and CEO Jacques Faul that I woke up to the importance of developing activities and business outside my sport of predilection – cricket.

How did the opportunity to study in France at emlyon materialize?

As often in life, partly by accident, partly by design! I had gone into what I call ‘intellectual Robin Hood mode’, wanting to see what learning opportunities I could dip into. Studying abroad was definitely on my radar but it was actually via a CampusFrance application (made on my behalf by my dear professor, Dr Engela van der Klashorst) that the chance and the required scholarship came up, after which the main question was the choice of business school. I did a deep dive search and emlyon was the one that ticked the right boxes for me.

What made you opt for emlyon?

The overall reputation, which was more than proven during my time there. I was also actively seeking a multicampus experience, so the opportunity to spend part of the program in Annecy and Shanghai were major draws. The MSc in Sports Industry Management looked like the kind of dynamic learning experience I was after, plus Lyon as a destination also helped tipped the balance - what a city!

How did you deal with expatriating for studies and then returning home?

I’m from a family of entrepreneurs, in the areas of upholstery, catering, construction, and consulting. Taking calculated risks and embarking on ventures (educational or business-oriented) are very much part of my make-up, plus I have the kind of work ethic which means that the potential wrench of leaving home for a year or so would pay dividends in the long term. The chance was facilitated by a discount on the tuition fees from emlyon, plus I was already sold by everything the school had to offer, so moving thousands of kilometers away was the proverbial no-brainer.

How did your career develop in the wake of your studies in France?

I managed to still be involved in a venture I had set up back in 2012 called Spoken Sessions, a business designed to organize poetry and spoken word performances and help develop up-and-coming artists. From there I assumed positions of a more strategic nature, with a particular emphasis on working with and for brands offering opportunities for international expansion. Then in 2019 I founded the business that I run at present, a strategic brand and communications agency called DoubleShift. This was the realization of the entrepreneurial bug I had from early on, driven by the track record for business creation within my family, and then fueled during my time at emlyon.

What challenges have you faced since launching your business?

When I was an employee, I always needed to work in synergy with my superiors. I have tried to carry this attitude into my own business, by being prepared to work hard and create opportunities for others. I’ve dealt with clients and industries where deadlines are crazy, the pressure intense, where emotions can run high in the workplace, and where effective positioning is key to success. I’ve learned that healthy growth comes from a healthy working culture, so creating that has been crucial for our business performance. And when you have achieved a certain level of success, re-invest it in people. I am proud to say our business has enjoyed 57 months in a row of paying salaries - and we’ve spent the largest chunk of our profits on bringing in more exceptional talent.

What recommendations would you make to prospective students considering an entrepreneurial path like yours?

It sounds clichéd, but developing a sound and relevant network is like setting up your own goldmine. By this I don’t just mean squeezing palms to bring in new clients and contracts. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely experience, so by ‘network’ I also mean surrounding yourself with good people, having the humility to keep asking for advice, and being bold enough to slide into people’s DMs to pick their brains. I’ve also been acting as a business coach for the past three years, so I haven’t lost sight of the need to keep learning from experience and going out there actively seeking work. Coaching enables me to give back while continuing to broaden my outlook on the reality of being an entrepreneur.