Strong Voices Interview #16: Anne Pohlmann – Head of Strategy at Siemens Smart Infrastructure
"Embrace curiosity and find joy in learning - then you'll either win or learn but never lose." - Anne Pohlmann
You started your career in strategy consulting and have now been with Siemens Smart Infrastructure for more than four years. What factors were decisive for you to take this path - both the first step into consulting and later the move into industry?
My motivation to start a career in consulting evolved from my interest in a wide range of topics. I’ve always been eager to learn new things. Additionally, I’m a very analytical person, thus strategy consulting was a great first step, as you get a broad understanding of the economic context, and an insight in various industries as well as company politics. Though you mostly get a side perspective as an external consultant, there is still a lot to learn about communication and methods. What I have always appreciated about my job in consulting was the variety of new challenges and problems I had to deal with. I did many projects that always covered different topics and industries, requiring out-of-the box thinking as the environments were very dynamic and there wasn’t a “blueprint” applicable to all of them.
Over time, however, I started to wish for a more long-term responsibility - for topics as well as for people. Consulting is rather short-lived, you do a project with one team, then after several months or even weeks you move to the next project with a new team. After doing this for a while, I felt it was time for something new, where I would see the impact.
What difficulties have you encountered in the course of your career? How did you overcome them?
I have always looked for demanding jobs and of course, accordingly got confronted with several challenges. In the end, every single one of them was a great experience. Most difficulties I had previously feared turned out to be pretty manageable. The more difficult ones were those I did not expect - mostly interpersonal or leadership issues. You meet new people with different strengths, needs, desires and different backgrounds than yours, especially when changing from a consulting job to an industry job. And though you can apply methods to a lot of things, interpersonal skills depend a lot on openness and experience.
Personally, what I always try to remember is the learning you can draw from every challenge you face. Especially with difficult situations it helps me to keep in mind that when it doesn’t work out, I will learn how not to do it.
What has helped you the most to follow your path and pursue your goals? What factors motivated you? Did you have a certain "mantra"?
For me, it’s about learning new things as well as setting and achieving goals.
I try to consciously take the time to reflect and then set private and professional goals. Usually, I think about 1-2 goals per year, realistic ones that can be achieved with small steps. If I face difficulties during the day, I usually try to find a positive thing that has happened and focus on it, as to say “This day was really bad, but hey, there was something positive in it”.
And with regards to learning: If I have a mantra, then it is probably: “I do not lose - either I win or I learn”.
In your current position as Head of Strategy, what is your experience as a woman in this leadership position?
I can't say if my experience is different from that of men. In the current management team I’m in, there are more women than I have worked with during my time in consulting in the automotive industry ;) - even though I work in a very technically-driven company.
I think there are challenges that may affect women more than men, but at the moment there are also many opportunities for women. Personally, I try not to focus on gender so much. However, one thing that’s actually still on my mind is the little number of women studying and working in tech-focused areas. I also decided against a tech-focused study in the first place given the low quotas of women, although I’ve always been interested in this field. I regretted this decision afterwards - maybe not regretted it, as I still found my path, but I often thought, I should have studied something more technical. Luckily, it’s never too late to learn something new, so currently I’m doing a Master’s degree at the ETH in Applied Technology to get some technical basics for non-technicians. It’s a great opportunity and I personally think it's important to be interested in tech-related topics, as we are increasingly influenced by technology.
How do you balance work and personal life?
If I'm completely honest - work has always been an important part of my life. I've always looked for jobs that motivate me, help me grow and that I can pursue with genuine interest and enthusiasm.
Still I have to say, the older I get and the more time I spend in the workforce, the more I start looking out for a reasonable work-life balance. My working day consists mostly of meetings, emails, and chats. Since a lot of it is taking place in a virtual environment, I realized I need some balance in the “real world” and I was lucky to find my private passion a few years ago in tango dancing. Indeed this is an important component in finding a good balance in my life. Apart from that, I also take conscious time-outs, where I don't read emails, messages and instead take time for sports, my partner, family and friends. But I had to learn this somehow, taking some time off work and spending it with other activities - I’m better at it now compared to my time in consulting.
If you were to give one piece of advice to young women just starting out in their careers, what would it be? What tip would you have wished for back then?
I thought about this one and here are my favorites:
- Don't let fears stop you - fear can be a good thing, but some are there to be overcome.
- Admit to yourself what you need and then pursue it - because no one else will do it for you.
- Focus on your strengths - both your own strengths and the ones of others. This was really important for me, especially after consulting, because in this work environment you're constantly measured against a very high standard. And you will always have this gap in between. I guess it’s far more important to focus on strengths - yours and the ones of others - and also lead by strengths in order to foster them even further. Ask yourself: Where are my strengths, where are the strengths of the others? Where can I use that? I think that also helps a lot when it comes to the quality of interpersonal relationships.
- Embrace curiosity and find joy in learning - because the questions that you might not dare to ask are often the ones that others are curious about as well, however also don't dare to ask.
- Find yourself mentors who tell you unpleasant truths - advice that doesn’t feel good at first is often the most valuable one. I think nothing hinders you more from learning than a mentor or a boss who only tells you what he thinks you want to hear.