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Notes From the Berlin School: Question Everything and Keep an Open Mind

Leo Burnett Sydney’s Iggy Rodriguez shares his experience from the famed program

Iggy Rodriguez, a creative group head at Leo Burnett Sydney, is the recipient of the Contagious Brand Innovation Scholarship, to use toward his MBA at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership.

Rodriguez this past fall completed his first module at the acclaimed school. Despite being besieged with work and studies, he carved out some time to share his experiences with us.


Wow! What a whirlwind of a trip.

From day one it was an intense experience, with the workload in and out of class keeping us busy every day. I was feeling excited to be going back to university again, which I think is weird because it certainly didn’t feel that way when I was younger. I’m more excited to take it on now than, say, when I was just out of high school and felt forced to study because it was the thing you had to do to if you planned on getting anywhere in this world.

Fortunately, the other members of my class met my enthusiasm in the same regard. There was a buzz in the room, a sense of excitement for the journey we were all undertaking together. We’d all made it this far to begin our MBAs together, so it was important to respect each other and the value we could contribute to the group.

In our class there were 29 people from 17 different countries, and it wasn’t just advertising people. One man was CEO of a newspaper in Mexico with 500 employees; another was head of broadcast for NBC in New York. There were some entrepreneurs with their own start-ups, a graphic designer from Italy, one woman who runs an NGO in Denmark, another in PR, a film director, a producer, a few strategy guys and plenty more.

This meant we had a lot of different perspectives in the room, which helped bring fresh insights to our conversations.

We discussed topics like authentic leadership and value creation for our customers, not to mention making sure we’re always adding value in everything we do. I learned about business strategy and analysis, as well as new frameworks and tools for organization restructuring. I was really inspired by some of these lessons, which can be applied back into my daily work life at Leo.

Unfortunately, our schedule didn’t include a huge amount of free time, but thankfully school management did organize a bus tour for us one afternoon. It was a nice moment where we had a couple of hours to let the day’s lessons sink in while seeing some iconic parts of Berlin—“Oh, look, there’s the wall!”—which was good for a little downtime. We rounded the night out at the famous food markets in Kreuzberg before getting an early night’s sleep to prepare my brain for the battering it was going to take over the next few days of corporate accounting and finance classes. Fun, fun, fun!

Another cool thing was I got to meet Michael Conrad in the second week when he gave an inspirational session to the class. Not only is he founder of the Berlin School, but for me, personally, as a Leo Burnetter, it was great hearing firsthand about his time as chief creative officer of Leo Burnett Worldwide. I didn’t know that he helped set up the current Global Product Committee (GPC) and 7+ rating system, and it was amazing to hear about some of the great work that was created.

The biggest challenge was managing the workload. After each day I had to go through my notes as part of preparing a 20-page journal that was to be handed in six weeks later as an assessment. I also had pre-reading to do for every class and make time to work on group assignments. It was all go go go.

But the biggest reward has been the network of colleagues I met and survived the experience with. The fact that we all got thrown into this new experience brought everyone very close together, very quickly.

Here’s what else I’ve learned so far: The Berlin School isn’t just about the learning. It’s about changing the way you think, the way you see the world, in particular the lens through which you see the business you’re in. From day one, we were taught to question everything.

Plenty of questions were asked, discussed, argued and agreed upon, but plenty of questions still remain to be answered. The experience has actually opened me up to the possibility that it’s OK to not have all the answers in life. But as long as we’re asking the right questions—of ourselves, of our companies, of our industry—then we’re constantly evolving and heading in the right direction: forward.