- Published on: November 5, 2019
- Reading time: 8 minutes
Today, we are seeing an increasing number of women heading some of the most important tech companies in the world. Women are leading technological innovation the world over and working tirelessly to encourage more women to pursue a career in tech.
”In the technology space, you need to understand the dynamics of how the tech world works – at the minimum – from a conceptual point of view. Therefore I would advise women to study up on data science, coding, and artificial intelligence. Become a subject-matter expert. Read, read, read. Because what makes you good at your job are skills, hard skills.” Birgit Thumecke
We had the privilege to sit down with Birgit Thumecke, the Co-Founder and CGO at Eventerprise, to talk about Eventerprise, Success Skills and Female leadership in the digital world. Birgit has extensive senior management experience with over 20 years in the airline industry, including time as Group Managing Director of Lufthansa’s Customer Service Network, where she looked after seven locations and 1,800 employees.
What do you think is the key thing that makes Eventerprise? Tell us 3 things about what you love about Eventerprise.
Eventerprise is a tech company on a mission to connect the world of events. We bring trust, simplicity, and transparency to an under-served industry that, at times, operates like the Wild West. Currently, anyone can call themselves an event professional as there are no significant barriers to entry. Who knows if the event professionals you have hired can actually deliver on their promises? It really is a hit and miss situation.
At Eventerprise, we disrupt the status quo. We showcase vendors, venues and event professionals, giving them a digital footprint within a dedicated, relevant ecosystem. We expose their service & product offering to a broader audience than word of mouth or static directories would. In addition, the vendors’ service is rated and reviewed by clients. Eventerprise facilitates the rating and review process via a proprietary review management system we developed after finding the leading solutions in the market to be a poor fit for our use case. We are ensuring technology is accessible, inclusive and affordable.
As a result, we make it easier to create memorable experiences by helping everyone find the best vendors, venues and event professionals through an intelligent quote request system, all on one global platform. We put the power back where it belongs, in the hands of the customer, those who are footing the bill for the event.
In addition to the solutions we’ve developed for managing the event planning workflow, we’ve also made it easier for vendors to win new clients and grow their businesses by simplifying digital advertising. We help vendors advertise their services both on and beyond our platform in environments like Facebook or Pinterest with just a few clicks through our Eventer Ads products.
As an inquisitive thinker, curious and open-minded, I am interested in exploring and venturing out to new shores. Much like a pioneer opposed to a settler. I can be that at Eventerprise and unleash my creativity and resourcefulness to invent new and better solutions that improve our customers’ success.
The fact that I can spark new ideas, invent new options and engage in creative problem-solving suits me very well. I thoroughly enjoy working in a distributed organization spanning over 4 continents (Africa, Asia, Europe, and the US). We are a remarkable team of like-minded and determined people with complementary skills. It’s a calling and not a job. We do it because we want to and we can and not because we must.
We are truly diverse and inclusive, and by diverse, I mean in culture, ethnicity, religion, age and gender. T his topic is very close to my heart, being a woman co-founder and CEO of a technology company, I’m still a rare species. Ensuring that there’s room at the table for everyone and that each individual has a voice is a priority for me.
Ultimately, not only are all of the values, principles, and challenges I am most passionate about, including transformation, organizational change and innovation, present at Eventerprise, we have the opportunity to instill and expand each of them in every area of the business.
Given your experience, what would you say makes a great CEO? And how would they differ from an average one? If you had to pin it down to just one skill, what skill is most essential to being a successful CEO?
In my experience, developing outstanding communication skills is of utmost importance for anyone in a position of leadership, not just a CEO. Anyone who seeks to advance their career should master the art of communication with bravura.
A significant part of the role of a CEO is to generate buy-in and expand your sphere of influence. Influence and buy-in which leads to establishing a following. In simple terms, a great leader has to be convincing.
It’s not about giving commands, but about deploying influence. It is essential to have the ability to relate to people, to read them and adapt to necessary management- and communication styles. This builds rapport and sustainable relationships.
To be clear, I am not referring to rhetorical tricks, accentuation, verbal projection or even breathing techniques but explicitly, the ability and willingness to employ empathy in communicating with staff. Leaders who want to enforce their beliefs with rhetorical finesse violate the rules of appreciation and authenticity. They may be able to pull people on their side in the short term but without any lasting effect.
In effective communication, the context is specific to the recipient and is therefore situational. An investor or shareholder usually needs to be addressed differently to an employee, and at the employee level, the approach may vary depending on many different criteria, so a broad repertoire is needed. And while that may be the case, the core statement should be consistent regardless of the audience, and the transmitter (the leader) should always be authentic.
Whenever needed, a great CEO should always take the lead, call the shots and direct their people decisively.
How would you describe your leadership style and what has made it so effective?
I have an authoritarian, and at the same time, a laissez-faire leadership style. It may sound contradictory, but that’s not the case. Let me explain why:
There are potentials and energies, I call them my “power sources”, which have evolved and proven to be successful over the years. At the top of the list is outstanding communication. It plays a vital role in persuasion. Those who want to inspire people and make a difference, usually require strategies to convince others. The decisive factor is to immerse oneself in the imaginary world of the counterpart and argue convincingly from the counterpart’s perspective. In doing so, I always bear in mind that in most conversations different and subjective worldviews collide. Unfortunately, most people try to convince others to change their actions according to their own goals. But what I have learned is that effective persuasion can usually take place only in the reality of the one being addressed or persuaded – for example, in the reality of the employee. That’s why I dive into other people’s worlds and hence argue from their perspective.
To this end, I have developed communicative competencies and understand how to purposefully, and convincingly, formulate goals and convey them to others in a manner in which they are likely to understand. I know how to present arguments with a “chain of reasoning” that leads to a solution (compromise). I try as much as possible to integrate the opinion of the people I seek to convince.
I am also confident and have the courage of my convictions. While I give my people space and plenty of freedom to make their own decisions.I will not hesitate to make the decision on my own if I see that others are not filling the void. I have authority and can be bold, decisive and dominant. Since I have a passion for learning and personal growth, I need space and trust to venture out and explore. I want to grant everyone that same freedom.
For employees, this style has the advantage of allowing them to make their own decisions and maintain their individuality. This is especially true for higher qualified, creative and more mature people who appreciate freedom and room for their individuality. Too many rules and controls stifle creativity at its core. Nevertheless, I am aware that competence ambiguity, and thus conflict potential, may arise and lead to a drop in performance. If that is the case, I naturally assume the position of power and influence.
With my combined orientation toward learning and authority, I am driven to think up new possibilities and exert influence. That is why these styles are complementary and tend to play well off each other. While not everyone around me may share my desire for learning, people tend to appreciate my openness and imagination.
Tell us what was it like working with British Airways, as well as Lufthansa Aviation
It was great and I enjoyed it very much. During my time in the airline industry, I was an intrapreneur, an employed manager who promoted innovation and change and used entrepreneurial skills and thinking to seek out initiatives that could benefit the organization. I was given a lot of creative freedom which is rather atypical for big corporates and for that I am very grateful. I was often thrown into the deep end, not knowing how to manoeuvre myself out of it, but there was always a way. I learned a lot, especially how to overcome and eventually appreciate challenges.
With more than 25 years of leadership experience in the airline industry, within international, multicultural environments, I was considered a poised leader with pronounced HR skills, honed in multiple labour law jurisdictions. During my lengthy tenures with British Airways as well as Lufthansa Aviation Group, it was never about maintaining a particular status quo. On the contrary, I was always nominated to drive innovation and change. I had to master real business challenges, the type that can make or break an operation and the tasks I was entrusted with went far beyond subject matter expertise.
I consistently led from the front when it came to performance principles. My wealth of experience, proven track record of strong, decisive leadership, and ability to both contextualize concepts and relate to others allowed me to connect people with purpose – a rare strength in high demand within transformation processes. I am adept at creating new strategies through collaboration, including the implementation of turnaround campaigns that capitalize on new operational models, innovative restructuring, and acquisitions. I was able to leverage my pioneering vision to craft organizational development processes that controlled costs, increased performance, and optimized resources, thus supporting the company’s bottom line. I accomplished continuous operational progress by acquiring new businesses and diversifying service and product portfolios.
I headed complex operations such as Lufthansa’s customer service division, directing a 1,800 strong team spread across seven global locations. I also led a comprehensive change exercise that transformed formerly dispersed units into one unified, award-winning ‘customer first’ network.
As a leader in a big corporation, I did not face the outsized risks or reap the outsized rewards as an entrepreneur. I missed that because I wanted to be rewarded as much as possible based on my performance. However, I had access to the resources and capabilities of an established company. This may be a comfortable situation for someone who is security-oriented, but that’s not who I am. Additionally, I do not handle internal company bureaucracy very well, I’m just too direct, competitive and impatient. So eventually the time came for me to move on.
Inspired by the ‘digital revolution’ and its transformational impact, I co-founded Eventerprise, a global platform for the events industry.
What are your current areas of focus?
As the CEO of a startup, I wear many hats and so do my colleagues. My main role is planning and steering the company, with limited resources, on a path toward profitability, financing, and/or an exit. I manage expenses and external financing, so we don’t run out of money. I allocate capital to the company’s priorities and direct its financial management, I focus on fundraising and investor relations. I oversee the business plan and financial model as I am responsible for efficient administration, particularly with regard to compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements, and for ensuring that the decisions made by the board of directors are implemented.
We have just completed a rigorous Due Diligence with the Keiretsu Forum, a global investment consortium of accredited private equity angel investors, venture capitalists and corporate/institutional investors. It kept me fairly busy for the last 2-3 months. For more information please find our Due Diligence summary and further investor-related content at https://www.eventerprise.com/invest . We started with this right after two investor roadshows; the first one took us back to the US, particularly Chicago, Ann Arbor, Cincinnati, and San Francisco while the second took us to Hong Kong, where we exhibited at RISE, one of the largest and fastest-growing tech conferences on the planet.
Eventerprise is now raising a late-seed round of $1.1 million via convertible note with a 20% conversion discount and a $10M valuation cap. $275K has been raised in the first close, with $825K remaining, of which we plan to raise no less than $500k in this second close to fund the LA launch – our first US city.
In the growth phase that lays ahead I will be able to focus more on team building, talent sourcing, motivating, supporting, and growing our team as well as sales because at Eventerprise, we are all in sales!
If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before beginning your career what would it be?
Be bolder, be more daring & think bigger!
One of the most common regrets even successful people have is that they “didn’t think big enough.” Many of the things we want in our lives will come to us as long as we give ourselves permission to receive them. If we cannot envision it, it won’t ever happen or ever be ours. Whether you’re looking for a promotion, a new career opportunity, or a better life overall, it starts by thinking 10X bigger and raising your standards.
For example, billionaire and co-founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel, came up with a great question you can ask yourself to do just this:
“What would you have to do if you want to achieve your 10-year goal in six months?”
This level of XXL-thinking forces you to break past your current limitations and fears and ultimately approach your career with confidence and ambition.
How do you improve your financial knowledge?
I like numbers. I started my career as a subject matter expert in revenue accounts in the airline industry on the back of a diploma which I have received from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Airline Accounting & Finance.
Later in my career, I became a managing director of a company with 450 staff, and although I employed a financial manager, as managing director I naturally had to understand the finances. I’ve always dealt with the tasks and never shied away from taking up the challenges. Finance is not rocket science, it’s pretty straight forward. It is a rational discipline and, should you need to learn more, everything can be found on the internet.
Today, I am a crossover between CEO & CFO, I run the financial management at Eventerprise. I am constantly learning and that will probably continue. One can never know it all, and you have to stay open to learning new things. I am fortunate that I have a good network of advisors, on whom I can rely at any time, made up of investment bankers and accountants amongst others. The important thing is not to be too arrogant or too shy to ask. The formula I apply is simple:
Q: Should I ask or should I be told? – A: ASK! Q: Do I look stupid if I ask? – A: Who cares?
We can all obtain knowledge and we should be proactive about it, as it will not be delivered to us on a silver platter. That is how I have improved my financial knowledge, by asking a lot of questions, reading up and simply doing it: cash flow analysis, accounting, financial modeling, use of funds projections, capital formation strategy, annual financial returns and so forth.
What advice would you give to a woman considering technology as her career?
The truth is that women are still vastly underrepresented in the tech space. Those who are in tech must speak up. I would advise them to use their voices to bring more women in and use that same voice when it comes to creating more inclusive technological solutions. A lot of the technology is funded, designed and built by groups of predominantly male investors, designers and engineers. More women deserve the investment and support of their peers to develop inclusive solutions that have the potential to unlock entirely new markets and revenues.
Sometimes women are other women’s worst enemies. We do not do a fantastic job of creating jobs for other women. We need to elevate each other and rely more on mentoring and networking.
In the technology space, you need to understand the dynamics of how the tech world works – at the minimum – from a conceptual point of view. Therefore I would advise women to study up on data science, coding, and artificial intelligence. Become a subject-matter expert. Read, read, read. Because what makes you good at your job are skills, hard skills.
What is a skill you think all women should learn and why?
Women are hesitant to talk up their accomplishments because they are often penalized when they do. And yet I advocate that women should learn how to better self-promote. Both women and men fear that people won’t like them if they are self-promoting, but women are more likely to let it stop them. So, while both genders worry about rejection, this fear inhibits women’s, but not men’s, abilities to promote themselves. It’s not that women are inherently lacking in the ability to self-promote, but it seems unnatural or unethical for them. That’s an unfortunate reality because self-promotion is essential to getting ahead. Men also may be perceived as overly boastful, but the bar is set much higher for them. Women, on the other hand, face a double bind. They’re punished for behaving in ways that might be perceived as immodest, and they’re punished professionally for behaving in ways that aren’t self-promoting. Regardless of the underlying reasons, whether it be misunderstood modesty or the risk of being perceived as pushy or bossy, I firmly believe women should promote themselves more strongly and way more often. However, each woman should do this in her own way and not simply copy of men. For anything to yield the desired outcome, it must be carried out authentically. You can’t expect anyone to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself. That means that every woman has to determine her own stance, be more or less assertive etc. until it feels right for her.
Tell us about your proudest achievement?
It’s personal. My mother was from South Africa and moved to Germany to marry my father and live there. This was not possible in South Africa because of Apartheid and the so-called “immorality act”, as my mother was a person of colour and my father was white. At that time, one wrote airmail letters on thin light blue paper that took forever and a day to reach its destination, let alone to receive a reply. Approximately every 3 months, my parents registered a long-distance call to South Africa with the local post office. Although the call never lasted for more than 5 minutes, the cost was horrendous. When my maternal grandmother was seriously ill, my mother flew home for the first time in almost 10 years. That was very expensive at that time and hardly anyone ever flew on vacation, not even short distance to Mallorca, so I was very aware of my mother’s constant yearning and homesickness. I was maybe 10 years old and helped my mother washing the dishes when I looked out of the kitchen window and saw an aeroplane flying high up in the sky. Then and there I promised my mother that as soon as I grew up, I would allow her to fly home regularly. I did not know how, but I was certain I would find a way.
At the beginning of my twenties, I started working for an airline and my dream came true. My mother flew regularly to South Africa several times a year.
This is most certainly one of my proudest achievements. It ties in with my answer to question no. 6 – who dares wins.
To read the original interview click here.