QX: Currently there is a lot going on in Berlin, the coalition negotiations are moving into the final phase. You have been a resident of Berlin for 18 years. How has the city changed and what do you think where does it go to?
Irene: Coalitions come and go, Berlin remains the same. Come what may, Berlin is my “Kiez” and all my friends are here. When I came to Berlin from Leipzig after university 20 years ago, the city was one big adventure playground. Culturally, politically and socially. I still enjoy working in the heart of Berlin and being able just to drop by one of the many museums, theaters or music venues after work, not to mention the numerous and very diverse restaurants.
Of course, Berlin has changed over the last years. The diversity, which at the beginning was so appealing, has been replaced by faceless normality. By that I mean the colorful contrast of old and new, east and west, rich and poor, order and chaos, none of that really exists with the same degree of creativity and spontaneity as it used to and I miss that.
Despite gentrification Berlin remains THE place to live in. I know that even in 30 years it will still have the same vibes, with all its many distinctive neighborhoods and of course my friends.
QX: You just mentioned that you work in the heart of Berlin. What is the everyday work as the Vice-President Card Production at the Bundesdruckerei like? What is your current heart project?
Irene: My responsibilities in the Bundesdruckerei include the production of German electronic Identity Cards, the European driving license and other international ID-documents, which are all innovative from a technological perspective and which every citizen can carry with him or her in their bag or pocket. To know, that the production standards I set determine the ease and security with which people can cross borders or surf the net fills me with awe.
In my position as Head of Card Production what counts are facts and figures rather than opinions and estimates. Quality, quantity and production schedules are reported and checked daily. Production is always specific and measurable and not open to discussion. In this respect I suppose you could call it quite unsexy. But this transparency can also be very satisfying. The results of one’s work are immediately visible and tangible. And, it goes without saying, that in an emergency I am available for my colleagues at the production site 24/7.
I work together with amazing engineers, foremen and production controllers, with whom I have built up and have optimized our brand new production lines. This has recently included relocating the whole production to a new building.
In addition to the daily operations it are projects like these which make me still love my job.
My current projects include the introduction of a new technology in printed electronics and the factory acceptance test of new automatic inspection equipment.
QX: As a consequence of studying engineering, you have been working in a predominately male industry. We have just finished our study surveying “how women network”. How important do you think networking is and what advice would you give to other women?
Irene: The ten people who report to me directly are all men. For more than six month I have been advertising for two leadership positions in my department. There have been very few female applicants. I would really welcome more women into the field of technology to network with. Start applying now, girls!
To me, networking means opening my mind to new people, ideas and experiences. I really like the professionality and privacy of QX.
Looking back at my first few years in Management, I have to say that networking would have been a great benefit to me in terms of avoiding the typical mistakes of a beginner and of establishing myself more quickly. Networking can have the effects of mentoring or coaching one should not miss.
QX: Recently, more and more Germans strive for an MBA, while it has already been THE career push in the U.S. for a long time. When you finished your MBA at the Boston University in 2002, you must have been an exception. How did it influence your career and the way you work and lead?
Irene: Yes definitely, it was an exception to have an MBA in my line of work at that time. It’s common to stigmatize the Engineer as a one-dimensional “Tech-head”, but I was never one of those. Even before my MBA I worked as a Manager of Internal Operations in the fields of accounting and logistics. Nevertheless, the MBA gave me the necessary “seal of approval” in these different areas of management. I have learned a lot, from new methods of good governance to global aspects of business Integration.
And yes, it was a springboard for my career. After 2000 the strategic focus of the Bundesdruckerei changed significantly from pure product business to complex ID-Systems. After the MBA they offered me the Position as Head of Quality and Contract Management and, with that, responsibility for the definition of Business Processes for the newly built Systems house. This also paved the way for taking over the responsibility of the International Proposal and Project Management Unit. In this role I was responsible for complex ID-Projects for international clients.
To sum up, the MBA made my approach to challenges more holistic and more considering the long run.
QX: Traveling is your passion. What is your travel tip to escape the cold winter in Germany?
Irene: Where should I start? A trip to the nomads of Ethiopia? A jungle camp towards on Sulawesi Island in Indonesia, close to the most amazing diving sites? A lovingly restored Kashbah in Marokko with the view over an oasis?
For New Year this year I have decided to book an “All-time-favorite”, just “One night in Bangkok”, followed by a journey through the culture of Khmer in the footsteps of Angelina Jolie as the “Tomb Raider” in Angkor Wat.
QX: Thank you Irene for taking the time to do this interview. Finally, we would like to know - What is your personal vanity?
Irene: My Kawasaki W 650 - the rest is silence...