Silvia Kreibiehl, is head of the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance in Germany.
Before her appointment at the Frankfurt School in 2013, Ms Kreibiehl worked at Deutsche Bank for more than 17 years, 10 of them as an investment banker for corporate finance. She also developed the bank’s sustainability initiatives, which included a microfinance project in Uganda.
Ms Kreibiehl has an MBA from the University of Hagen. In her spare time, she enjoys nature, trekking and experiencing new cultures.
1. Who are your business heroes?
My parents and my brother who supported me throughout my career and always encouraged me to follow my dreams; when I worked endless hours in investment banking, when I decided to take a sabbatical and spend six months in a small village in the western part of Uganda and when I finally left the banking industry to join the ‘good guys’.
2. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
“When suggesting a solution do not assume others understand the problem.” We often try to convince somebody to change something – this is nearly impossible if he or she does not understand why the status quo is causing problems. For example, when designing and presenting schemes to overcome barriers or mitigate risks of climate investments, my counterparts in the policy arena are often much less aware of the details than me. While presenting possible solutions is important, we need to invest just as much time ensuring that others understand the necessity to conduct the suggested changes.
3. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
Fight for your vision if you are convinced of it. Life is not always a piece of cake. All too often people try to place obstacles in your way or try to tell you that what you are envisioning is impossible. The truth is as long as you are passionate and patient in what you are doing, you will be able to achieve your goals.
When we developed the Global Energy Transfer Feed-in Tariffs for Developing Countries, a scheme for encouraging private-sector investors to deploy capital in renewable energy projects in developing countries, many stakeholders agreed that the model was a nice idea and made a lot of sense. However, no one trusted that GET FiT could ever be realised. Needless to say, with some effort and a lot of valuable work, we recently launched a pilot in Uganda, creating 125MW of clean, affordable and reliable energy.
4. What is the worst job you have ever had?
My worst job experience was an internship in a sizeable chemicals company, during the course of which we were testing the quality of water. At night we released a number of small fish into a tank of waste water and it was one of my tasks to count the “fish casualties” the morning after. The experiment helped determine whether the quality of the water was good or bad.
5. What advice would you give to women in business education?
Be yourself and don’t let the talk about discrimination of women in business intimidate you. On the other hand, avoid exaggerated feminist influences.
6. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
Play to my female strengths. Women approach many things differently from men. That’s the reason why a good mix and a high level of diversity adds tremendous value. Women do not need to imitate the behaviour of men.
7. What is the strangest thing you have ever done when studying?
Writing my masters thesis in parallel to a full-time investment banking job and preparing an equity capital markets transaction. Our Deutsche Bank presentations team was confused when I mistakenly handed them my thesis rather than another mark-up of the presentation.
8. How do you deal with pressure?
My physics teacher at school used to cite Henry Kissinger: “A diamond is a chunk of coal that is made good under pressure.” I have found this quote to be quite true. Pressure usually helps me to create my best work.
9. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
I would be more relaxed and go for a full-time study course. Looking back I feel that I accepted too much responsibility early on without having taken the time to enjoy life before entering the business world. I believe a year spent travelling after school would have given me a bit more time to brace myself for my professional life.
10. What are your future plans?
Advancing our Frankfurt School – UNEP Centre to the next level and making sure that we contribute to the global action against poverty and climate change. I want to bring together academic work and “real” project experience from developing countries, private and public sectors and stakeholders from developing and developed countries to create a cleaner, sustainable global economy.