Listen to this article
Irene Adler is an MBA graduate of the Open University Business School, a distance-learning course provider based in the UK. She now works for Mori Seiki, a Japanese machine tool manufacturer, and in 2011 she was promoted to become the first female general manager in the company’s history. She remains the only woman in this position today.
Ms Adler grew up in Austria and lives in Germany, travelling regularly between Europe, Japan and the US. In her spare time she enjoys skiing, swimming and researching business psychology.
1. What academic achievement are you most proud of?
That I completed my MBA through distance learning within the normal study time although my other responsibilities grew in the same period – I had to travel to Asia once a month and my husband and I built a house.
2. Why did you choose to do an MBA?
For three reasons. First, I wished to broaden my general business knowledge and my leadership skills. Second, I wanted to avoid having a “tunnel view” which focused only on my daily business in the machine tool industry and marketing. Third, I wanted to challenge my brain with learning beside my job.
3. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
How important it is to be aware and recognise hidden agendas. The unspoken words, the real meaning of words spoken, to understand and be interested in backgrounds and not only of what you can see.
When co-ordinating my study time for the MBA, my work and my private life, I have learned self discipline. Also working for a Japanese company taught me a lot of self-discipline.
4. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
There are two pieces which helped me a lot. One was when I was aged 14 and my [language] teachers encouraged me to go abroad on my summer vacation. After that, I spent all vacations during school studying somewhere abroad; working, taking language courses, and learning international cultures. This was one of the most important steps in my development from the ages of 14 to 20. The second best piece was during my MBA, where I learnt to bring my key message to the point in one sentence. This helps me in my current work a lot, as I can act and communicate more efficiently.
5. What would you do if you were dean of a business school for the day?
I would make communication a compulsory subject where students learn more about how important two-way communication is, to the boss as well as to colleagues and staff. And I would implement a coaching system: every student should get a coach and be a coach to a student who doesn’t study the same topic. This could bring great input for personal development as well as discussions and different viewpoints.
6. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
I have recognised three types of male business partners during my work life. The ones who are sceptical at the beginning, until they know my expert knowledge or how I work, the ones who want to delegate work like writing minutes of meetings or arranging conferences in which five males and one female attends. And the ones who don’t care at all if you are male or female. For me, fortunately, the latter one is the biggest group of male business partners I deal with. So in my daily work I don’t think about acting in a different way with male or female colleagues.
7. What is the last book you read?
The last book was from Oliver Bierhoff, general manager of the German soccer team since 2004 and a former professional footballer. Game Interruption draws an interesting line between soccer, economy and society. As the title says, sometimes it is necessary to stop, interrupt your game, to think about [whether you are on the right track] and, if necessary, change your strategy. A soccer game also has a break of 15 minutes in which the coach gives advice after having seen the first 45 minutes. In an important project, just take the time to reflect.
8. How do you deal with pressure?
Through sport. I need to run and exercise at least three to five times a week. This is my best release and I then deal with pressure much better. I also have learnt during my time working for a Japanese company that reacting emotionally doesn’t bring any success. So when pressure is too much, let the phone ring for a moment, make a “game interruption”, go out and start again after five to 10 minutes.
9. What inspires you?
Talking to people who have nothing to do with my job to hear different viewpoints. Reading about people who have done something special, successful athletes for example. Working with people who are better than me, who have more experience, also inspires me as I can learn from them.
10. What are your future plans?
I have never had a career plan but I have some wishes. I want to study for a masters in business psychology as this interests me a lot and maybe a PhD. I take the chances as they come.