Embrace the gray areas… and dream big.
Growing up in Germany, Susi Fiedler was always taught to “do as I was told” and “never be too optimistic.” But during her 22 years with our company, the president of our EUCan business has learned two big lessons: “Embrace the gray areas, rather than think there are only black and white answers, and dream big.”
September 1, 2019
A rocky road
Susi’s leadership journey got off to a tough start. “My first job was with an insurance company, and it was awful. I was the youngest staff member, the only woman and the only person with a Ph.D.,” she recalls. “After a year, I knew the job wasn’t for me, but I learned a lot about how to manage through adversity.”
With advanced degrees in marketing and business management, Susi was thrilled when her husband showed her a want-ad from our Germany-based business. “The company was looking for someone exactly like me and hired me immediately.”
For nearly four years, she worked with our company’s market research team. “I fed numbers and marketing insights to the brands and watched them present my findings. I thought, ‘I can do that.’ That’s when I applied for a position in product management.”
Later, she held roles in marketing and sales in Germany and worked as a global brand leader in the U.S. She also served as a managing director for Australia and New Zealand, and, most recently, Germany.
Each time she took a new role, “I was afraid that I would fail and not be good enough. But I refused to turn down opportunities just because I was scared. Instead, I’d say, ‘Why not give it a try?’”
The hardest job
Susi points to her role in Australia and New Zealand as the most challenging – and the most rewarding. “It was 2012, and our business in Australia was behind budget, our targeting was off and I had to let some people go. From the beginning, I was not very popular with the team.”
The situation seemed impossible, but in the months that followed, Susi turned things around. First, she spent time learning about her team’s culture and building trust with them. She also invested in her leadership team despite a lean budget, and brought everyone together around a clear strategy.
“This is the time I learned to accept the gray areas and to avoid black-and-white thinking,” she says. “I began to see a fundamental change, because we had shifted everyone’s thinking. Instead of focusing on the things out of our control, we learned to focus on the things we could influence. We began to ask: How can we achieve the best outcome?”
Susi moved on from Australia and left behind a thriving team and a growing business. She also carried with her a new attitude. “Australia was the most important job of my career. I thought, ‘If I can do that, I can do anything.’ It was a turning point for me.”
An unforgettable moment
Susi has experienced many turning points and unforgettable moment during her career. One of her favorites happened during a recent company meeting in Europe. “We were taking a break, and all around me, people were on their cell phones, talking in different languages. I love the diversity.”
But diversity is not enough, she adds. “Inclusion is important too. People of all genders, ages, races, nationalities, skill and experience levels need to speak up, ask honest questions and make their voices heard. And we all need to be open to those voices, listen and provide feedback.”
What she wants others to know
“People often ask me, ‘What do I need to do to get to a higher level?’ I explain to them that a career is not a ladder. Life is too short to spend all your time thinking about how to climb that ladder. Instead, focus on your existing job and work hard at it. Enjoy the moment, and you will recognize the really special opportunities that come your way.”
Mighty mentors offer lasting lessons
When Susi came to New Jersey for her first U.S.-based job with our company, she arrived “exhausted and stressed.” She was assigned a coach who asked how she could help. “I told her I felt like a hamster on a wheel. I had been putting too much pressure on myself and trying to meet everyone’s expectations.”
The coach told Susi to write herself a letter and describe all the positive things that would happen during the year – a tactic found in leadership books.
“I thought the advice sounded ridiculous,” recalls Susi. “But I wrote the letter, gave it to her and forgot about it.”
A year later, her coach returned the letter “Every positive thing I had written had come true. That’s when I learned the amazing things you can achieve when you think positive.”
The secret to high performance? Take a break
Her breaks come in a variety of ways. She starts most days with a run and enjoys hiking with her husband and walking her Bernese Mountain Dogs. When in her home country, Germany, she helps at her father’s vineyard and spends time with old friends.
“Exercise, healthy food, enough sleep, time to relax – these are all important. I’m not perfect at these, and I’m always working on them, but I know that balance in my life helps me be my best,” says Susi.
She’s learned many lessons from mentors throughout the year, including from a managing director in Germany who believed in her leadership abilities and encouraged her to take on challenging roles. “I could feel his trust in me, and that gave me courage. He taught me how a leader’s attitude can make a big difference in someone’s confidence and performance.”
What other coaching advice does she have for leaders
“Along with internal mentors, find an external coach – someone outside the company. As leaders, we often get into our routine. An external coach can help you get out of your head and out of that routine.”