How are international brands led in the German market? In this episode, the editor-in-chief of German Elle tells us all about their national edition and how close they cooperate with the international Instyle family.
The best way to start your career is to learn from role models who have already achieved professional success. In our interview series, female trainees from the Burda Journalism School get the chance to do precisely that. This time, Louisa Markus meets Nina Zimmermann from BurdaStudios to discuss the start-up scene in India, juggling children and a career and why managers should stay humble.
Nina Zimmermann is the managing director of BurdaStudios. Born in London, she worked in various places – such as Hamburg and Darmstadt – before eventually finding her way to Munich, and Burda. Among other things, she is responsible for Bunte.de, the affiliate platform Tracdelight, the influencer platform Brands You Love and Prettique, the affiliate shopping platform for jewellery.
After studying journalism in Hamburg, Louisa Markus also made her way to Burda in Munich. She has been a trainee with Elle.de since October 2017. Alongside her job, she runs the podcast “Louis, Who?”, which looks at digital developments in the fashion industry.
I imagine that, as managing director of BurdaStudios, you must have extremely busy days. What does a typical day look like for you?
I don’t think we actually have a typical day. I spend a lot of time discussing things with my employees. It’s always a great challenge to spend enough time with all the different teams. So I attend a lot of internal meetings and see how our projects are going and what we are going to tackle next together.
What do you personally focus on in your day-to-day work?
The team and our people culture are my top priority and take up almost half of my time. I don’t believe in rigid hierarchies; my employees should make their own decisions. We call this the “ownership culture”, a philosophy that allows everyone from the interns to the managing director to make decisions relating to their work. For me offering this kind of freedom means being a good leader and using my actions to ensure that our team pulls together. If every member of the team is enthusiastic about achieving our goals and looks forward to coming to work, then I’ve done a good job.
How do you maintain this enthusiasm?
With us, nobody works in isolation on secret projects. I believe in transparency. It’s very important that everyone knows what our goals are and why they are doing what they do. It motivates us. And if someone doesn’t like it, they should be allowed to say so – our culture includes a certain amount of dissent. We have a lot of discussions and many different opinions, but in the end we’re all working toward the same goal.
You are from Britain originally and moved to Germany for professional reasons. Why?
There was no master plan – I simply wanted to get out of my comfort zone. I wanted to spend some time working abroad to improve my German. I moved to Germany to see how it would go and ended up staying – simple as that. Who knows where I’ll end up next. (laughs)
In the media landscape in particular, people often look to the UK and the US. Do you try to interpret their innovations for the German market?
I work in a digital environment and have always worked for very international companies – and while it’s true that people often look to the US, we are increasingly looking at Asia for trends and new developments. Exciting developments are coming out of many different countries. Obviously Silicon Valley will always be Silicon Valley and has a global reputation, but I recently went to India and was astonished by its huge start-up culture. It is one of the world’s most populous countries and many new companies are setting up there. This tells me that we can and should look at other countries too.
What was it that attracted you to Burda?
Having worked for start-ups and big corporations, I have seen the benefits and drawbacks of both sides. Burda has evolved greatly and is no longer a traditional publishing house – today, most of its revenue comes from the digital sector. I find this tension between the traditional and the new to be very interesting and challenging. It was also a gut decision – I just had a feeling that my manager and I would get along and work well together. Experience has also shown me that you should always look at a company’s corporate culture, and I was impressed by the culture at Burda.
What characteristics do you think a manager needs?
The ability to listen and a certain amount of modesty. For me, the most important rule is to always stay humble! You don’t always have to be able to do everything or know everything, it’s about recruiting people who can do some things better than you can yourself – that’s how you form a strong team. You definitely need to be willing to see things through to the end and you have to want to make a difference. Progress is key; standing still is not an option. It also helps if you are interested in other people and can get the measure of them. When I recruit someone, I make a distinction between their skills and their personality – the latter is always more important. Young people in particular will have certain talents and preferences, but their specialist skills often develop later. For me, this means that their character and demeanour are more important – they can learn everything else.
What was it like for you when you applied to work here?
I applied for an internship and put a lot of effort into my cover letter and designing my application. I had a telephone interview and got the job – after my internship, I was offered a trainee position. I knew straight away that I was going to take it!
Do you think you’d like to continue this work in the future too?
Yes, I would. I studied fashion journalism and have known for a long time that this was the direction I wanted my career to take. I started sewing when I was six and discovered how much I enjoyed fashion. But at some point I realised that the process of designing and producing clothes takes too long for my liking – so I started writing about fashion. I think that was the right decision and it is what I want to carry on doing in the future.
What does the future hold for BurdaStudios?
I don’t know! (laughs) That’s what makes it exciting. We have achieved quite a lot in the last two years – we have launched new platforms and are now working on some new areas. I don’t know where we’ll be in five years. But we have a vision, and I believe in it: We want to lead the way in digital publishing – particularly when it comes to topics affecting women. This recurs throughout everything BurdaStudios does, be it fashion, jewellery or product testing. We need to constantly check what our customers are doing – which services they use, how they behave. Our future is, where our customers are.
In addition to working as a managing director, you also manage a family with two children. How do you juggle it all?
It has a lot to do with project management. People have often told me that it can’t be done and that I’m crazy, but I had a pretty good idea of how to make it work. And I have learned that one of the most important things in your professional life is to stay true to yourself and to say what you want – for example, a certain degree of flexibility and time for your family. I always try to get home on time, see the kids and then – this is the advantage of digitalisation – do some more work from home. I have a lot of meetings during the day, and in the evening I have the peace and quiet to work on conceptual things. I always spend time with my family between the two. It all comes down to your attitude and planning your time well.
Do you feel that the world of work has changed and that it is now possible to have a career AND a family?
Yes and no. Sadly, I still believe that it greatly depends on your boss. There are still some old-school people around who value the amount of time you spend in the office more than your actual performance – it’s a shame. I would say that things are definitely changing, but we still have a long way to go. I believe it is important to encourage people to accept the idea of women wanting both children and a career. This is why I try to get involved in these issues through associations like “Working Moms”. New mothers in particular often don’t know how to juggle work and family – after all, it’s not easy. It helps to chat with others and to have role models who can show you how to do it.
Finally, what tip would you give to people starting their careers?
In the initial period in particular, you should learn as much as possible and explore what makes you tick. Then you’ll realise what it is that you really enjoy. I’m not a big fan of concentrating on your weaknesses – you should focus on your strengths. You need to know or find out what you can do really well and put everything else aside. In most cases, if you enjoy something, you’ll do it well.
Nina Zimmermann read European Studies at Queen Mary University of London. After her studies, she began her career in Germany and took on digital roles with Bertelsmann, T-online and Experteer – most recently as a member of the management board – before moving to Burda in 2016.
Louisa Markus studied fashion journalism and media communication in Hamburg and has been a trainee with the Burda Journalism School since October 2017. She is a permanent member of the Elle.de editorial team and runs the “Louis, Who?” fashion podcast with two female colleagues from Elle and Instyle.