Mrs Ludwig, you are COO for Germany, Austria and Eastern Europe at BlackRock. What does a
normal working day look like for you?
Exciting question! A "normal" working day is almost always varied and versatile for me. Today we started with this interview, later on I will speak with colleagues from all over Europe about regulatory risks, and after that the target meeting with an employee is on the agenda. As Country COO, I am responsible for the smooth process of our region. This includes the implementation of the country strategy, governance, change management, our talent agenda and day-to-day business in general. I feel emotionally responsible for our 170 employees in Frankfurt, Munich and Vienna. The role is also a link to our European headquarters in London. I have lived in the UK for almost 18 years. I am pleased that in my role I am still in regular contact with my colleagues there.
What tasks do you like the most?
I enjoy the exchange with my colleagues, the discussions in strategic planning and issues management. Unfortunately, this is not possible at the moment in the coffee kitchen! I also enjoy supporting our talents, helping colleagues grow beyond themselves. I am strongly focused on our up-and-coming talents, for example I have expanded a graduate program in our region. We are now in the second hiring period. I also focus on promoting career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women.
The position of a COO is not necessarily what you dream of as a teenager... what was your career wish at school?
I have always had diverse interests and like to be guided by passion and opportunity. In my youth I wanted to become a professional tennis player, I am of the generation of Steffi Graf. But unfortunately I wasn't good enough for that. Then I wanted to become a seamstress, but I found that this is a nice hobby, but not a career. Journalist was also on my career wish list.
Now you are COO... Have you always been able to organise well?
Yes, I have a passion for planning and organizing! I like to keep shopping lists and love to plan celebrations and trips. For me, there is a lot of joy in planning. I particularly like lists, there are many on my desk... I also like to use colors, because I am very visual.
How did you become COO at a large American investment company?
It was a mixture of opportunity, good network, courage, but also a lot of support. I am grateful to all my colleagues who have believed almost more in my own abilities than I have, and have greatly encouraged me. There are many changes in a company like BlackRock, and there are opportunities in every change. Of course, you also have to recognize them and then you need a network and the courage to trust yourself with things that you may never have done before. The experience and also the mistakes you make drive you forward. I have been in the industry for 20 years now and have done a variety of activities and experience. I started in retail banking, then went into investment banking, and now I found my home in asset management. I have had different roles in all areas, and of course you also meet different people and see the market from different perspectives.
There are relatively few women at the C-level in Germany. In your opinion, would it be easier if more women worked in management positions?
It is already the case that we are always looking for mirror images. Thomas follows Thomas. The more women are being represented, the more diversity will become normal. The same applies to all other underrepresented employee groups. At BlackRock, we believe in diversity on all levels. It's about building a culture: diversity, equity, inclusion. Our staff is supposed to represent our society in terms of different ways of thinking, training, origin and background. Diverse teams are not a self purpose, quite the contrary: the more diversity in the teams, the better decisions are being made. This not only increases innovation, but also the joy of the employees. This in turn makes us attractive to attract the best talents.
Do you personally think it is more important for more women to be on supervisory boards or for more to be on the active levels of control?
Neither nor. There should be a balanced representation of all groups at all levels.
BlackRock does a lot to support women. What are the company activities that are particularly appealing to you, which do you consider to be particularly effective?
It makes me proud that we are actually doing a lot here. But the foundation is important: a strong corporate culture. At BlackRock, we live and build a culture where inclusion and belonging come first. Every employee should have the same opportunities to develop and a voice to advance the common goals. One of our principles is "We are One BlackRock". This must be lived, and not just as a phrase on the website.
What does this culture look like in reality?
Part of this culture is that we drive diversity by identifying and promoting talent. For example, we have the WIN & Allies network of female employees. Here we create an environment in which women can develop. We want to become a preferred employer for women in the financial services sector. Worldwide, more than 4,500 women and men are part of the WIN network, and in the region we have as many as 41% of the workforce. This includes special support programmes that are tailored to the individual career phases of the employees. For example, we have a mentoring program and moderated funding programs like "Taking the Stage". This is about promoting self-confidence in public speaking. It has already helped me a lot. For women at the middle career levels, we have the "Art of the Ask" program. This helps employees understand what they want from their career at BlackRock. For senior women we now have the program "Women on Boards". This is about demystifying the boardroom, and there are tips on what the dynamics are and what the expectations are, or how to make an effective elevator pitch.
What is also important is how we recruit. For us, the recruitment processes are designed to ensure that you are not biased. For each vacancy, several candidates must be interviewed, and the panel must be balanced: different functions, genders, seniorities. The result: At BlackRock, we have more than 40% female employees worldwide, but we hire almost equally. In our local Graduate program, we even have 60% female graduates.
It is often said that diverse teams work more efficiently than one-sided teams. What do you think is different in the way diverse teams work?
Diverse teams lead to more perspectives because people have different backgrounds. More perspectives lead to better results. In addition, allowing different thinking leads to more fun at work. To this end, we also conduct regular employee surveys, which we evaluate and which are the basis for further development of our measures.
What advice do you give to women who want to pursue a career in the financial sector?
It is important to have courage; Courage to take risks, courage to be new, courage to be yourself and to grow beyond oneself. We must dare to try things out and make them easy. Here I recommend the book by Susan Jeffers: "Feel the Fear and do it anyway".
Thank you for this great interview!