From growing up in Oklahoma, to living in Ukraine and Germany, before finally moving to Singapore in 2020, Michael shares the incredible journey he’s taken together with his family.
15 April 2021 / By Michael Nichols
Growing up in Oklahoma
I cannot say that I have a hometown, since my father and mother were both coaches and teachers, which meant we moved around quite a bit. I can say, though, that I have a home state. I grew up in Oklahoma, a place that still resonates in my heart with its endless plains and big sky. Although many still only view Oklahoma as a flyover state or as a barren, destitute dust bowl from the novel The Grapes of Wrath, it is home to magnificent rivers, lakes, and wildlife. The history of Oklahoma embodies the history of America itself, a pioneer land full of possibility but also of tragedy as the final destination of the Trail of Tears. I am proud to have grown up with this complex history and cherish very much the Native American culture of the state.
My father played professional football, and my mother was generally good at all sports that she played. Although I exceled at sports, I was fortunate that my parents did not push me in that direction alone. My father and mother instilled a love of education in me, but I also grew up playing guitar and singing country music. Music is a recurring theme in my life.
The Path Less Travelled: From Oklahoma to Russia to Germany
In university, I majored in Russian and East European Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Why, one might wonder? I had always been fascinated with foreign languages and cultures, and, at the time, the Cold War was winding down. Being a generalist at heart, I did not want to specialize in one area; I wanted to study many disciplines at once but with a focus on a particular culture. I went on to obtain an M.A. in Russian Studies from Middlebury College. During my studies, I lived 2 years in Ukraine, Russia and half a year in Germany. This is probably when my course was set to spend most of my adult life overseas.
What I loved about Russia was the people and a very flexible way of looking at life. Behind the brutally cold weather outside and seemingly cold exterior of Russians is a very warm and welcoming people. I realized that Russians and Americans are very much alike in many ways, particularly when it comes to getting things done, though these things can be expressed in very different ways. To this day, I very fond of Russian literature, from Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Bulgakov, to the present day. Russian authors have a very powerful way of writing about the real world where things don’t always end as happily as in Hollywood, and there’s a kind of beauty about that. It was in Russia that I learned to see my own culture more critically, and that is something I will always cherish.
After my M.A., I worked as a Russian language instructor at The Ohio State University to pay off a government scholarship I had obtained during my undergraduate studies. There I met my wife Maryana. She grew up in the Ukraine as the Soviet Union was ending but was studying medicine in Germany at Ludwig-Maximlians University in Munich. She just happened to be working on a medical research project as part of an exchange between her university in Germany and the Ohio State University. We met serendipitously as she heard me singing a song in Russian in the dormitory in which we were both living.
After that, I moved to Germany without a job to follow her until she finished her medical degree. I ended up working as an English-language instructor for those 3 years. I actually learned German quite well to help me understand how to better teach Germans English. During this time, our youngest daughter Yana was born. After she finished her studies, we moved to Florida, so I could do an MBA at the University of Florida on full scholarship. While I was working on an internship at Walt Disney in finance, our second daughter Mila was born.
As I was finishing my studies, we had a dilemma. Where would we live? The US medical profession is notoriously difficult for foreign doctors to enter. I began applying at German companies with a presence in the US, because we wanted to have the possibility of moving to Germany in case we had no luck with her job search.
Starting a career in Bosch in Germany
As I was searching, I ran across an advertisement for Bosch’s Junior Management Program. It promised a 2-year program that would expose me to different functions, business units, and countries as a great foundation for future managers. As a generalist, this was highly appealing to me, and I did what is not recommended when applying for jobs; I applied to the announcement without having any network or interactions with Bosch employees.
One doubt lingered in my mind – how could I as a non-engineer get hired at a German engineering company? As luck would have it, though, I got an interview, and it turned out that my German-language ability helped me get the job. To this day, I believe my value contribution to Bosch is primarily due to my non-traditional path. It turns out that innovation, which I have spent nearly my entire career on at Bosch, is at the end of the day a social science and, in many ways, an art. This non-traditional background helps me think beyond the technology to consider the cultural, social, and economic factors that drive the customer value and behaviour making innovation possible.
I have spent a total of 7 years in Germany in a professional context. Highlights:
1. Learned to appreciate nature more. It’s a hiking paradise.
2. German really is a beautiful and expressive language in its own fashion.
3. Started learning piano and actually can play Für Elise, only to realize it’s an amateur piece.
It’s hard to express what Germany has meant in my life, because it has played such a huge role in it. It’s very hard to boil down everything I’ve learned from German culture in a few lines. I will just leave it at that.
Making the move to Singapore
Ultimately, we decided to move to Singapore at the end of January 2021 for a variety of reasons.
I had the unique opportunity to expand Bosch Innovation Consulting’s presence in the Asia-Pacific region and drive business model innovation with our service portfolio both inside and outside of Bosch. But why Singapore? I believe Singapore is well positioned to rival Silicon Valley or London as an innovation ecosystem. Corporations need such ecosystems to thrive in innovation today because they can no longer depend on in-house innovation alone to achieve their strategic ambitions. Open innovation and open business models are the name of the game. In that regard, Singapore is a perfect launching point for testing and scaling up a new venture to all of Asia-Pacific with its excellent business environment and nascent, thriving innovation ecosystem.
So, when I learned about the EDB partnership with Bosch to run the Bosch Accelerator Program at our newly launched innovation hub, I jumped at the chance to come here.
In all of our travels, we especially loved our time in Florida because of the climate and wildlife. Singapore provides a very similar climate and wildlife backdrop, but also goes above and beyond it. Singapore is the future of the world that I want my kids to experience. It is multicultural, international, the intersection and perfect balance of wildlife and city, outstanding multilingual education, and the food! I’d be lying if I said the Somebody Feed Phil Singapore episode had nothing to do with it.
My entire family joined me on this adventure. In fact, they were the most excited. One might think that the pandemic is a bad time to go on an adventure. I can’t think of a better time, to be honest. We even did it with a new addition to the family. We are all thrilled with the move so far – from the wildlife, the weather, a swimming pool always nearby, the food, and so on. But, above all, the people have been extremely welcoming and friendly. We look forward to making an effort to get to know them better. As one can see from my background, I am a bit of a language nerd. I am already planning to learn the languages of the region, probably starting with Mandarin and Malay. I have already started on Mandarin.
We’re living in Yishun where we found a nice cluster house that meets our space requirements. Our many journeys have led to the acquisition of entirely too many souvenirs. One of the things that attracted us to the area was exactly that it’s not typically where expats live. We don’t want to be just expats. We want to be part of the neighbourhood and integrate as best we can. It wouldn’t be fair for me to describe the neighbourhood just yet. I’ve only been here a few weeks. We are still exploring, but we have so far found it extremely nice, and everyone is so helpful. Of particular note, is that every evening I hear the sound of pianos in every other home. Not a bad place for an amateur musician.
We love the nature trails on the island, something locals typically undervalue and take for granted. As my oldest daughter said, “We’ve moved to paradise.”
About Michael Nichols
Michael Nichols graduated with an M.A. in Russian Studies from Middlebury College and an M.B.A. from the University of Florida. He joined Bosch in 2014 via the Junior Managers Program and has been working in the field of business model innovation since 2015. Since joining Bosch Management Consulting in 2017, Michael has been responsible for the Bosch Accelerator Program and is now Head of Bosch Innovation Consulting in Asia-Pacific. Bosch Innovation Consulting is creating a validation engine for exploratory innovation to bring more innovation ideas beyond the core business to scale.
Connect with Michael here.