Gerhard Thomas is CTO at BurdaSolutions. He explains what he believes to be the greatest challenge for the IT sector, why he chose this career and how artificial intelligence is already being used in his field.
The best way to start your career is to learn from role models who have already achieved professional success. In today’s interview, trainee Sabina Kist meets with Mechthild Taminé from BurdaSolutions to discuss the number of women in her department, creative freedom and why she took a detour on her journey into IT.
Mechthild Taminé is Head of Business & Customer Solutions at BurdaSolutions, making sure that all of the company’s IT processes run as smoothly as possible. She is responsible for both the Business and Customer Solutions departments, which employ a total of 80 people. Her job is to map the business processes of the individual Burda companies and profit centres in software and to find the right IT solution for every process. These range from financial accounting to magazine orders and e-commerce solutions.
Sabina Kist graduated from the Burda Journalism School and is training with the Mein Buffet editorial team. Together with three other trainees, she set up the “Kleingeldhelden” financial newsletter and blog with the aim of teaching young people about finance and investments in an entertaining and understandable way. “Kleingeldhelden” earned them the 2017 comdirect newcomer award for financial blogs and subscriber numbers are already growing.
Sabina Kist: Why do you like coming to work each day?
Mechthild Taminé: We design a lot of processes as a team and I work with people that I enjoy having around me. No two days are the same, which makes things exciting. For me, project management is the link between technology and people – which is why I enjoy it so much.
I would say that you have had a very successful career up to where you are now – was that your plan?
No, but I always planned to shape my own working life. To achieve this, I think you have to start being a leader, no matter which position you are currently in . Either you become self-employed or you take on a leadership role. Creative freedom has always been enormously important to me, and I want to set an example. If you want to have intelligent employees, you need to give them creative freedom. A project will only be successful if different people can contribute their core skills. The most important aspect of a project is not the technology or the theory, but the team behind it. These days, the only way to successfully master the rapid pace of change is with a good team.
How has your job changed over the years and how do you deal with change?
If you don’t like change, this isn’t the place for you. When I began working in IT, there were huge, monolithic applications. The people who built and mastered them were seen as gurus. Today, IT is ubiquitous. The challenges have changed: we used to have more opportunities to regulate external access but today many things are cloud-based. Topics such as data protection, security, integration and individual solutions are more important. Over the last few decades, Burda has evolved from a publishing house into a media and technology company, and this means my work has evolved too. My job is different every day and you have to like that – which I really do.
How have the Business and Customer Solutions departments changed with you?
Hugely – like the whole of Burda. We employ more people, are more broadly positioned and have a lot more women working with us. 40 percent of BurdaSolutions employees are female. At management level this rises up to 50 percent.
Is this important to you?
Yes, of course, but above all because I want to encourage and challenge young people. Our department has become a lot more diverse. We have employees working in a variety of structures: part-time workers returning from parental leave, young fathers on paternity leave, people caring for someone at home, people with young children, etc. I believe that my boss, Gerhard Thomas, and I share a common goal: the general compatibility of work and private life – whether you have a child, a dog, a hobby, do voluntary work, whatever. You need to ask yourself how you want to live and how you want to work. I believe that the only way to get the employees you want is to try to support their individual lifestyles. What do you think?
I agree. I think there has to be a certain structure, but you need freedom and space to develop – both within and outside of work. It’s great to have this opportunity. In my generation in particular, I get the feeling that people don’t want to have professional and private lives that run alongside each other, but for their job to be part of their lifestyle and a form of self-fulfilment.
Why is it important to you that women seize the opportunity to take on leadership roles?
Because women make up 50 percent of our society. And those 50 percent must be represented in every aspect of our work, in everything we do and in the way projects are designed.
What characteristics do you particularly value in your employees?
The thing I value most is constructive opposition. From students to senior staff members, everyone should have the courage to express and justify their opinions. I also value intelligence, mutual respect and team spirit.
How did you discover your talents?
I spent a long time thinking about what I wanted to study and enrolled for a biology degree . Although I was in the advanced course for mathematics at school and was a private maths tutor, I simply didn’t have the confidence to study IT. The failure rates were insanely high. Then, while I was studying biology, I began working in the IT centre at University teaching IT courses for medics and maths courses for biologists. Eventually, a professor asked me when I was finally going to start doing the thing I was really good at. My move into IT is all thanks to him. But maybe this detour was a good thing. Learning per se is never in vain. I don’t think the direct path is always the right one.
What makes you particularly proud?
My daughter and my husband. It is important to me that we get our family life right. Whether you’re a father, mother or are caring for someone at home, I want to show that you can be a manager and still have a private life you are fully engaged in and find the time for. I’m also proud of many of my employees – the ones working for us now and those who have moved elsewhere. A woman I recruited while she was a student left to work for a management consultancy in London. One year later, she wrote to tell me that I was her role model as a team lead. That made me very happy.
And what about you? What are you proud of? The two awards you have already won for your newsletter?
Yes, particularly because I didn’t expect them. I’ve realised that I like competitions . At the Journalism School I won an award for one of my reports and we won the comdirect newcomer award for financial blogs for our “Kleingeldhelden” newsletter. I studied economics and want to break down the topic of finance so that everyone can understand it. When people who work in the field everyday tell you that you’re doing something rightl, it makes you very proud. That gave me and the rest of the team a real boost.
Would you like to carry on working in journalism?
I’m open to everything. I like journalism and feel at home in it. But throughout my career I’ve noticed that things go best for me when I keep an open mind towards whatever comes my way. Then opportunities suddenly arise and if you seize these opportunities, many things can happen.
What tip would you give to women at the start of their careers?
I think you’re doing a lot of things right already. Be open, be brave, seek out competition and always keep an eye on your current situation. The most important thing for me is to take on responsibility. Responsibility means creative freedom. I get the feeling that responsibility has developed negative connotations in the last few years. But our society needs people to take on responsibility. Keeping to yourself is very hip right now, and I find that problematic. Every generation wants to change things – in oder to do so you need to leave your comfort zone and step forward. So my aim is to show that taking on responsibility is fun – and that it is rewarding.
Mechthild Taminé studied commercial IT in Freiburg and Stuttgart and spent 13 years working for the Swiss pharma company Ciba (now Novartis). She has been with BurdaSolutions since 2005 and manages the Business and Customer Solutions departments.
Sabina Kist studied ethnology and economics in Freiburg. She was part of the 2016–2018 cohort at the Burda Journalism School. She is a permanent member of the Mein Buffet editorial team and also works for Mein schöner Garten and Focus. She runs the “Kleingeldhelden” finance blog and newsletter with a group of colleagues.