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Episode 453: Cornelius Fichtner's Project Business Career - Part 1 (Free)

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A few weeks ago, Cornelius Fichtner was interviewed by Martin Berneburg and Oliver Lehmann of the Project Business Foundation about his career as a project manager, project leader and experience in project business management. Here is the announcement:

For many practitioners in project management, Cornelius Fichtner is a household name. He is known mostly for the digital offerings of his company OSP International LLC, such as the PM PrepCast for project managers heading for the PMP® certification of PMI®, the Project Management Institute.

Meanwhile, his lineup of exam preparation tools was expanded by a family of further podcasts, augmented with simulators and inhouse offerings for corporations.

Much less known are his personal roots in project management and particularly in project business management.

Interviewed by Martin Berneburg and Oliver F. Lehmann, he will tell us the most interesting stories of his years as a consultant and project manager under contract, working hard to make the customer happy, but also with the obligation to make the project profitable.

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Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: In this episode of The Project Management Podcast™, I am being interviewed by Oliver Lehman and Martin Berneburg of the Project Business Foundation. We’ll talk about my career, leadership, and lots of project business management.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome back to The Project Management Podcast™ at www.pm-podcast.com. This is Episode 453, and I'm Cornelius Fichtner. Thank you very much for joining us. Nice to see you again.

So in this episode of The Project Management Podcast™, it’s all about this guy here. I was recently interviewed by Martin Berneburg and Oliver Lehmann of the Project Business Foundation. It was a 90-minute interview. They had so many questions. And as you know, I can talk quite a bit.

So without further ado, let’s step right into part one of the interview. Part two will be coming your way shortly.

Podcast Interview

Martin Berneburg: Hello, and welcome everyone to the new installment of the Project Business Foundation interview here. My name is Martin Berneburg. I’m the CEO of the foundation and I’m here today with Oliver Lehmann, the President of our organization. Hello, Oliver! Good to have you.

Oliver Lehmann: H, Martin!

Martin Berneburg: Oliver and I are fortunate to be joined from the US by Cornelius Fichtner, President of OSP International today widely known and I mean world-widely known towards online offering supporting project management exam preparation and PDU training. Hello, Cornelius! It’s such a pleasure to have you here. How are you?

Cornelius Fichtner: Good morning or good afternoon, rather. Thank you for having me.

Martin Berneburg: Always a pleasure to talk to you. Before be we get started, I wanted to let everyone know that a lively conversation as always when Oliver and Cornelius get together. Everyone out there, please do feel free to submit your questions to the chat and should we have enough time, we will try to go through those questions towards the end of the session.

But now, let’s jump right in. Cornelius, project managers know you for your trailblazing business helping aspiring certification holders prepare for some of the most rigorous professional exams. But beyond having to help more than 50,000 exam takers prepare, your own background offers quite some colorful experiences both in project management and project business management. Can you please tell us a little bit about your own?

Cornelius Fichtner: Yes, I can! I think that’s what I came here for today. So thank you very much! I did write up for you guys a little bit of a history of where I was and I what I did and all the jobs that I had in preparation of this conversation. And then this morning when I woke up, I suddenly realized Oxford, I have to mention Oxford. We have to start with Oxford because without Oxford, I wouldn’t really be where I am now. There’s another event that comes later on in my life that also made quite a big change in how things progress.

Oxford is where I went to school when I was sixteen and a half, seventeenish, and I always have to clarify, no, I did not go to the University of Oxford. I went to St. Claire’s Hall. St. Clare’s Hall is a privately-held college in Oxford. They’re just a little bit north outside of Oxford. I went there to study English as a foreign language. So I went there with fairly good command of the English language and I came out of that school after six months. My English was close to native level at that point. It really propelled me. Something just clicked and opened up in my brain, and my English went from ‘I have a good command’ to people in England had a hard time telling me apart from foreigners. They couldn’t tell whether I was native or Swiss. I think without those six months laying the foundation of being able to do business worldwide, without that, I don’t think I would be where I am right now.

I went back to Switzerland after that and I did a commercial apprenticeship. Something that’s very unknown here in the United States. Everybody seems to want to go a university and learn on a theoretical level at the university, and get the master’s or just a degree. Whereas in Europe, and I think Germany as well, we do have a very traditional apprenticeship system where you work for a company for a certain time. You’re a junior. They are masters there. By masters, I literally mean, they have a master in that particular field. They will teach you the tricks of the trade.

I went to work at the local newspaper there Solothurner Zeitung. Still exists today and I was there for three years and I did a commercial apprenticeship. So I was in the Purchasing Department for six months and then I went over into the Logistics Department, and then I went to Bookkeeping for six months. And so they rotated you around the company for six-month periods over the course of three years, so you would get to see six departments. At the same time, you also go to school. So that’s where I learned business from the ground up. One-and-a-half days per week, you go to school, and that’s where I learned typing. Believe it or not, for one year in the first year out of the three, typing was part of this. My colleagues, they are always amazed when we are on chat. I type at the same time as we talk. I can type as fast as I can, almost as fast as I can speak. That was there.

Yes, after that, I was unemployed for one-and-a-half days. I was at a low point, I was just kidding. And I started as a software developer in the Paper Mill of Biberist. That company later on went out of business and that might actually be an interesting topic to talk about as well. Let’s see where we get to. Oh, I think we just lost Oliver there. So yes, I went to the Paper Mill of Biberist and I got a job there as a junior software developer and for the next three, three-and-a-half years, I worked from four of them doing all kinds of software development. Everything was on mainframe. It was COBOL, Common Business Oriented Language that was our [Vogue] back then.

That’s also where I did my first, I call it the project, I’m not quite sure. It was something along the lines of projectish. It started out with my boss coming to me and saying: ‘Why don’t you go over into the Products Department? There is..’ I forgot his name. Let’s call him Mr. Smith. ‘There is Mr. Smith. He wants something.’ So I went over there. I spoke to him and 14 months later, I was done. He wanted a software package that could calculate the cost for the development of every single piece of paper that the papermill made. That was a Herculean effort, I tell you. That was just incredible. We made thousands of different shades, colors, and sizes, and weights, and it was just enormously complex. I wouldn’t call it a project because you know I was really more just, I was just developing, grabbing information from him, doing a little bit of business analysis, understanding what is next, and then putting that in. It just grew and grew and grew, and 14 months of development work. That was a purely internal position. So there was no project business at all because we worked for ourselves. The business was to sell paper obviously.

And now, let’s fast forward to the end of the company. Two things that happened that led to the shutdown of this company. I’ve been long gone then. But there was a big turnover of the paper business in Europe at that time, lots of consultation. Other paper mills going out of business and all that. My former employer, they decided they wanted a piece of the cake. So they grew. They really expanded their business in Switzerland. It was millions and millions and millions of infrastructure that they spent on. There was one warehouse project where I don’t know if they went with the lowest bidder, but it must have something like that. That warehouse, it was a measly 50 million or 25 million, something along those lines. So it was a bit sizeable chunk. But in comparison to the other projects, that particular warehouse was nothing. So it did not get the appropriate oversight, the appropriate attention. It was just a smaller warehouse project where they were constructing this business. It turns out, it was built so badly that you couldn’t enter it. It was a risk of falling down with the screws just not being up to the quality that they needed. And so, the house, the warehouse literally, it crashed, and the project literally crashed.

But those few millions that they just wasted on that project caused the whole of the company to go down because they had invested so much money in that and then this tiny little thing crashes and it just took everything else down with it like a house of cards. So interesting how that ended there.

Let’s see after the papermill, I went abroad. I went on a worldwide tour with a group called “Up With People” that took me a year. I traveled around the world, performed the musical show, sang, performed on stage. I’ve never done anything like that before. It was very interesting.

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only. Please subscribe to our Premium Podcast to receive a PDF transcript.

PDUs: Technical Project Management, PDUs: Strategic and Business Management, PDUs: Leadership

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Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on projectmanagement.com and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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