Strong Voices Interview #27: Catharina Riedl
During our interview with Catharina, she shared her insights on a range of topics, including her sources of inspiration and motivation, strategies for balancing her professional and personal life, and advice for other women seeking to succeed in their careers. Throughout the conversation, her enthusiasm and energy were palpable, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to share her experiences and perspectives with you.
Catharina Riedl is the Chief Operating Officer for SAP Germany, with over 20 years of experience in tech industry leadership. She is known for driving innovation, growth, and customer engagement at SAP, and is committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
You've been at SAP for a very long time. What made you decide to join SAP? And more importantly, why did you stay?
At the beginning, right after my studies, my plan was to get started in the field of digital marketing at a social media agency. But back then, "content creation" was not yet a business field for marketing agencies and I quickly got bored. I need variety, change and momentum to be able to develop. For me, there's nothing worse than routine. While I was looking for new challenges, I remembered back to my studies and the fascinating and complex lectures on SAP, which excited me right away. A few weeks and conversations later, I started as a trainee at SAP. And there's one thing I know for sure today: I definitely won't get bored here!
Our innovative solutions and large organization present us with challenges every day, which I take great pleasure in tackling. In addition, I have taken on many different roles within SAP over the past few years. That has added to the variety. I really appreciate that, by the way; the freedom we get here to keep trying new things and take on responsibility is unique. At SAP, we have managed to retain part of the start-up culture. Talking to colleagues at eye level - regardless of whether they are members of the Executive Board or employees - increases the team spirit enormously. There is a hearty and familiar atmosphere in which everyone gives their best.
Last week, a colleague said to me that, as a manager, I was a typical innovator. In that compliment is much of the answer to the question of why I'm still here: I love challenging the status quo, solving problems, developing, implementing and driving new ideas. I'm sure I couldn't exercise these skills better at any other company than at SAP.
You just said you were called an innovator. You are also very committed to employee empowerment. What is particularly important to you personally when it comes to empowering employees?
I believe that the fundamental basis for a successful career is employee development. Whether you are an aspiring student or one of the most experienced employees, no matter what your role or position, I support a student in her development just as much as someone who has 35 years of professional experience. Everyone is equally close to my heart.
The same is true for all of them: There are many types of careers. And the most important thing is that you feel happy, stop comparing yourself and don't just aim for the "highest position" in a company. That's not going to get you anywhere. To stay in the hierarchical mindset: A step back or sideways should never be seen as a defeat. On the contrary, it is an opportunity. A chance to find what really fulfills you, what you're good at and the overlap between who you are and what the company expects from you is as large as possible.
This isn't new, but it's true: our time is limited and investing time and energy in something we ultimately don't want will hurt us. Question yourself, "What do I really want?" "Do I even want a leadership position?" "Do I want to work in a higher management position or do I have a passion that I want to pursue in a specialized way?" We need to move away from hierarchical career models. The reality is that there is no one "right" way and "higher, faster and further" is long outdated. A successful career must be multi-faceted and offer different opportunities for growth and development. As COO, it is my responsibility to highlight these paths, to lead the way, to ask myself these questions as well, and to inspire others to shape their own careers in their individual ways.
You also founded your own company. Self-employment, SAP and private life - what helps you keep your balance in all of this?
I think my family is a big driving force. I am lucky to have a husband with whom I share many experiences and views. Like me, he grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. That was a difficult time in large part for both of us. We both learned early on to take responsibility, to keep an eye on everything, and to learn what "self" and "constantly" meant.
On the other hand, this has also meant that neither of us is afraid of making decisions, implementing ideas and facing the consequences. We have already founded several companies together (the first one already during our studies) and are always looking for new ideas.
But this journey together has also been very liberating because we have now built up a confidence and know that we can solve any problem together. Most of all, we like to implement ideas that are not only fun for us, but also benefit society. Like our concept store, where we offer products that not only have a great design and are sustainable, but also support a good cause.
What advice would you give to young women at the beginning of their careers?
If I've learned anything, it's that it pays to try new things. I'm a strong advocate of "do it." In my early career, I tried out many different roles and positions that allowed me to gain a broad overview. Each role and position broadens your horizons and ensures that more experiences and views can be incorporated into your decision-making. Ideally, you develop a comprehensive understanding, gain a clear vision for the whole, and thus broaden the scope of your decisions.
And never take a job just because you think it's the key to the next stage of your career. I never have and never would. It won't make you happy. Always focus on the tasks that you really like to do and that you stand behind with your heart. Then you're good, then you have fun and then you shine.