Professor Spotlight: Claude Varley

The professors who teach in the University of New York in Prague’s programs are our most valuable asset. The UNYP MBA offers an unrivalled quality of postgraduate education in Central and Eastern Europe, and provides an opportunity to learn directly from industry leaders, senior executive managers of companies such as Coca-Cola, British Telecom, Volkswagen, Bell Labs and 3M. Our MBA students learn through the renowned case method of instruction and are challenged by the diverse perspectives of their peers. 

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For this article, we interviewed Mr. Claude Varley, UNYP MBA instructor and the former president of two Coca-Cola Bottling companies in the south of France. 

Could you please briefly introduce our readers to your career path? How did you become an educator after years of working in big business? 

I did an MBA at ICHEC in Brussels. One of our professors was the Defense Minister, and he had just come up with a new law that exempted a student from military service if he went to an underdeveloped country as an engineer or a teacher. Although I am British, I went to Tunisia, with a good friend of mine who was Belgian. I taught there for two years and enjoyed it very much, (and also met my wife who was an airline stewardess), but I told myself that I wanted to go into business rather than teach all my life. 

I joined American Standard as a junior accountant, from which I was rapidly promoted to senior accountant. I did internal audits for about five years, going to different countries in Europe and doing operational audits in Italy, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. When my wife was pregnant with our second child, she stayed in Brussels, and I would take the first train or plane out on Monday morning and the last one back to Brussels on Friday evening. A year of that was enough for me, and I was appointed as an Assistant to the Vice President of Finance for Europe. After another year, I was headhunted by another American company called American Hospital Supply Corporation as the International Auditor, where I did operational audits and acquisition audits in the United States, Mexico, and Europe. Within a year and a half, I was promoted to President of the subsidiary in Belgium, where I stayed for several years, and then I was transferred to Paris, as Vice President Finance for the Atlantic Division. After that, I became the Director of banking for Europe. Some time later, I again got headhunted to become President of a big corporation in France that was a subsidiary of an American corporation, but they went into Chapter 11 after a couple of years. 

I then had an opportunity to go to Monaco as a headhunter. I did headhunting all over Europe for about four years, and then I myself was headhunted by one of my clients, which was a Spanish Coca-Cola bottler. The owners asked me to do an audit of one of their plants in the south of France that was losing money. I very quickly found out why: everybody was stealing. In my report, I recommended firing the Managing Director, and that’s what they wanted to do, but they needed an independent opinion. Because I was a headhunter, they asked me to find a new President for the two bottling companies in France, but I told them that there would be a conflict of interest, so I could not do it. They replied that it was their company and that they were hoping that I could find the replacement, and after an hour of discussion, they made it clear that they wanted me to become the replacement! To cut a long story short, I joined them and stayed with them for twelve years. At that point, the Coca-Cola Company bought back the two franchises, and offered me a job in Paris. However, I enjoyed living in Monaco, so I decided to set up my own consulting company there. 

At the same time, I joined the educational group founded by Mr. Foutsis, and I became a professor in Athens, Belgrade, Skopje, Tirana and finally Prague. As the MBA is a weekend program, I was teaching in a different place every weekend, and at the University of Monaco during the week. Three years ago, I came back home from traveling, and my wife asked me: “Sir, who are you?” At that point, I decided to quit everything except UNYP. I love teaching here, and I always get exceptional students on this campus. I still have my consulting company in Monaco, and together with my son and daughter, I have acquired the company that used to be the Monaco sister company of the two Coca-Cola bottling plants. We now sell fruit juices, coconut water, and bio drinks – my son is vegan and very bio-products oriented. That is my business career. 

When I was a teenager, I had three dreams. 

I was in a jazz band during my early college years, playing piano in Brussels, and I wanted to be a famous jazz pianist, but that would mean that I would have to play in jazz clubs overnight, and it would be hard to combine it with family life. I also wanted to be a professional tennis player, but I started too late, so there was no chance. My third dream was to become a businessman, and I did everything to become a manager. At the age of 35, I was already a managing director, and I was president of a set of companies when I was 50 – at the time when I joined Coca-Cola. And I still want to continue teaching, as well as running my business. 

In your opinion, how do your students at UNYP stand out, and what makes them unique? 

To join an MBA program, you need a university degree, plus five or six years of business experience. When I explain something to my students, I look into their eyes, and I see them understanding pretty quickly. One of my best rewards is when students say, “They showed us that many times in our company, and I never understood it, but I get it now, and now I am going to start asking questions!” That’s fantastic because Financial Reporting and Analysis and Managerial Accounting are the two courses that I give here, and they immediately apply it to their work. 

I ask them: what do managers do every day? They make decisions. And whether it is a sales, marketing, production, HR decision, that decision will have an impact on the balance sheet, the income statement, and the cash flow of the company. And if you, as a manager, cannot read a financial statement, cannot do a budget, cannot do capital budgeting, you have to rely on other people. Can you always rely on other people? Their answer is NO! That is why you, as a manager, should be able to read a set of financial statements, analyze them, interpret them, and make business decisions based on them. One of the things students enjoy about my classes is the opportunity to learn about real business cases. Of course, we start with theory, but during the course, I teach them what managers use in companies, and I can give them many examples because I had so many different managerial positions within American Standard, American Hospital Supply and Coca-Cola. So I know how it works. This degree increases their chances of getting a better job, getting promoted, or achieving new goals with their own business.

What advice would you give to a person looking into applying for an MBA degree at UNYP? 

For me, an MBA doesn’t make you a specialist in anything, but it makes you a fantastic generalist because you are going to touch everything that moves in the business. You are going to learn about Financial Reporting and Analysis, Managerial Accounting, Financial Management, Strategic Management, Global Marketing, Corporate Governance, Entrepreneurial Management, etc. – everything that is part of running a company. This MBA gives them a fantastic knowledge of every part of business.

I also want to add that I love Prague because this city has amazing music venues and classical music culture. Prague has some fantastic jazz musicians who deserve to be known outside the Czech Republic. 

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