IAA Voices on transformation and leadership with MANN+HUMMEL
MANN+HUMMEL is a leading global company in filtration technology. Under its two business units Transportation and Life Sciences & Environment, the Ludwigsburg-based Group (Germany) develops intelligent filtration and separation solutions that enable cleaner mobility, cleaner air and cleaner water. Thus, the company makes an important contribution to a clean earth and the sustainable use of limited resources. In 2021, over 23,000 employees at more than 80 locations generated a turnover of EUR 4.2 billion.
Ms. Weissenbacher, you've made a brilliant career at MANN+HUMMEL, rising from trainee to CFO in the space of 21 years. Did you know from the start that you would one day make it to the top?
No, it wasn't clear to me. Because in the political and economic system of Romania – my country of birth – career advancement at that time was only possible with the support of the communist party. That was not desirable for me. So when I came to Germany, my only goal was to get a good education that would enable me to get a job.
Since then, two principles have always guided me in my profession. First: I always look for challenging tasks and avoid routine as much as possible. Second: I always give my very best and always try to deliver excellent results.
It's not a secret that women are dramatically underrepresented in german management. You've been involved in promoting women for years, e.g. as a part of the "Spitzenfrauen Baden-Württemberg" network, and you also act as a mentor. What needs to happen for more women to follow a career path like you have?
In my view, ability starts with desire. Women have to want to take on leadership responsibility. They also have to be convinced that work, career and family go hand in hand. That will always be strongly linked to a willingness to go the so-called extra mile. Both privately and professionally.
It is therefore helpful to have a supportive partner, a reliable solution for possible childcare and a network of family and friends to cope with the daily challenges – such as traveling, having to stay late at the office on an ad hoc basis, children's sick days. It also takes an employer who is understanding about work-life balance.
Visibility, courage, curiosity and a willingness to learn are important qualities that apply not only to women. If you want to get ahead, you should raise your hand and jump boldly into new tasks and projects. If you deliver good results, you will be seen. Even if you fail from time to time, you learn your own limits – which in turn is important if you want to take the next career step and develop further.
I always recommend looking for mentors and coaches who can outline the path if you have questions. However, the decision is up to each person. Last but not least: opportunism has no place in a management career. The only alternative is to stand up for your own opinion and take a clear position. Wanting to be "Everybody's Darling" is a wrong strategy – whether for women or men. Nevertheless, it is important to take a solution-oriented approach, because only by working together as a team can the goals that have been set be achieved.
What does the advancement of women look like in concrete terms at MANN+HUMMEL?
We have redesigned our talent management. Every woman who is convinced that she has the potential for a management position can register for the talent pool every year. In addition, we officially advertise all positions worldwide. Every woman has the same opportunity as a male colleague to take on a leadership role.
Basically, I believe that we have a culture at MANN+HUMMEL where women are not hindered in their development. I and many other female colleagues are the best proof of this! If a woman wants to make a career at MANN+HUMMEL, she will find the right conditions. In doing so, each and every one of us must be prepared to take responsibility for ourselves.
One way to encourage women is to create platforms and networks that enable an open exchange and learning from each other. Particularly with regard to Germany, we see a strong deficit and corresponding potential in technical professions such as R&D, IT or operations. However, talent is not simply there; it is important to start early and to consciously promote and develop women at the operational level.
On LinkedIn, you write that today more than ever, managers are faced with the challenge of combining rational intelligence with emotional intelligence – an ability that is commonly attributed to women. Is there a connection there?
I don't think so. For me, two important qualities are critical to emotional intelligence: humanity beyond any level of hierarchy, origin or social position, and empathy. Is one willing and able to put oneself in the shoes of another? Do we show an honest and true interest in our counterpart? Both qualities can be possessed by women as well as men, right?
At MANN+HUMMEL, in addition to finance, you are also responsible for the CTO/CDO areas, among others. In the past, you headed the product area for commercial vehicles. Where does your enthusiasm for technology and vehicles in particular stem from?
I clearly have a scientific bent. At school, mathematics, physics and chemistry were my favorite subjects. My father was a mechanical engineer whom I visited very often in the factory. At home, he had solved all the technical challenges – in Romania at that time, you still repaired your car yourself.
In Stuttgart, I studied business administration with a technical focus – so engineering and technology have been with me all my life. I've always enjoyed learning new things. It was more by chance that I ended up in the automotive industry. But I feel very much at home here.
Hardly any other industry is facing greater challenges in these times than the mobility industry. What contribution can MANN+HUMMEL make to ensuring that the transformation toward greater sustainability succeeds?
Filtration is sustainability. With our products, we ensure clean mobility, clean air and clean water. For us, the emission-free vehicle is not a vision lying in the future, but rather a realistic goal. In the future, a vehicle with our solutions may even absorb more particulate matter from the environment than it emits. This is a major contribution to sustainable urban mobility, especially in the last mile sector. And our cabin air filter systems also ensure longer ranges in e-vehicles through increased recirculation.
What is your current view of the business relationship between car manufacturers and suppliers?
We are in particularly challenging times due to various influences such as disrupted supply chains, inflation triggered largely by the pandemic, as well as geopolitical conflicts and the switch to alternative drive technologies. These require the courage to rethink things in many areas. The transformation of the automotive industry will only succeed if we listen to each other, learn from each other and respect each other in order to truly find solutions together.
How much transformation is already taking place within MANN+HUMMEL, and what goals the company has set for itself?
Companies that have existed for 80 years, like us, must constantly reinvent themselves in order to grow. The current transformation of the automotive industry is moving us to apply our core competence of filtration in new areas, and thus to further develop our business model. Filtration is just one, but an essential technology that makes the common goal of a clean world achievable. We live in a world that is filtered.
In terms of drive forms, MANN+HUMMEL stands for openness to technology. Here, we are working on a wide variety of solutions. In terms of digitalization and sustainability, we have very ambitious goals. Last year, for example, we communicated our Carbon Zero Strategy and are consistently implementing it. In 2030, we want to be CO2-neutral in our own production. By 2050, we want our entire value chain to be carbon neutral. We have also taken and continue to take the issue of social responsibility very seriously and conscientiously. In 2021, we joined the UN Global Compact. This is our clear statement on the goals and values of the United Nations. We will make our contribution! The basis for this is people. That is why MANN+HUMMEL has redesigned talent management to empower the organization for transformation and take it to the next level.
MANN+HUMMEL will also have a stand at this year's IAA TRANSPORTATION. What can IAA visitors there particularly look forward to?
Definitely hospitality and promising new products. We will be showing filtration solutions for the future of drive systems – from combustion engines to battery vehicles and fuel cell drives. We will also present innovations that enable better air quality and simplify service with smart products. We are looking forward to numerous visitors and the personal exchange with our customers!
Emese Weissenbacher has been Chief Financial Officer since 2015 and Executive Vice President at MANN+HUMMEL since January 2020. The business studies graduate, who has been with the company since 1994, is responsible for the business units IT, Finance & Controlling, HR, Technology and Global Business and Technical Solutions. After different positions in Operations and Business Units, Romanian-born with Hungarian roots Emese Weissenbacher was previously Group Vice President Europe and was responsible for a total of seven plants and roughly 3,000 employees in Europe.