Phenomenal Women of AltoPartners – Susanne Frey
This week we talk to Munich-based Susanne Frey, a partner at Jack Russell Consulting / AltoPartners Germany, about why she swopped a career in industrial engineering for executive search.
What was your childhood career dream?
To become an engineer like my much older brother, whom I admired very much.
And you followed it?
I studied engineering in Munich at the University of Applied Science, focusing on mechanical engineering, which was very unusual for a girl at that time. There were only three of us in the semester. Unfortunately, as a woman, you weren’t taken very seriously in the technical internships; it was a male domain in Germany.
And so you set out to work in the engineering field?
That was the plan. I started in the semiconductor industry as a product marketing engineer at Motorola. It was great – I was responsible for Italy and Spain. From there, I moved into marketing and IT, which appealed to me as it is a fast-paced, ever-changing environment. The company I was with went through a major acquisition, which spurred my interest in organisational change and restructuring. As marketing director, I also served on the supervisory board.
So why switch?
It was a most unexpected turn of events. I sought some career advice from a former TechData colleague who had joined a boutique executive search consultancy. He saw the potential for a partnership right away and invited me to meet Thomas Heyn, the managing partner of Jack Russell Consulting. He and Thomas made me an offer to become part of their Munich team, and I decided to give it a try - the best decision I could have made.
What motivates you to do what you do?
The people. Clients, colleagues, candidates – I love the interactions, the challenges and the joy of placing the right person in the right job at the right time. I also love working in an environment where empathy, discretion and diplomacy are highly valued. Plus, I get to use my engineering background and my leadership and managerial experience, especially so far as restructuring and human resources are concerned. And you get to see real-life examples of best practices. For example, we are currently working with VAUDE, a German family-owned outdoor sports company that prides itself on sustainability and environmental awareness. They produce an entire climate-neutral product range and demonstrate an enviable company culture of trust, which is highly appreciated by their employees in Germany as well as in Asia.
Did you have a mentor? And if so, what was the best piece of advice they gave you?
My father raised me to be a confident woman and guided my development. He was big on mutual respect as the basis for successful working relationships. He really did instill in me that you can do anything if you want to: just stay true to yourself and your values.
I was also lucky enough to work closely with Jochen Tschunke, the founder and CEO of Computer 2000 and later a subsidiary of the Klöckner & Co. Group, one of the largest steel and metal distribution companies in Germany. He was my mentor for many years, and at the end of the 1990s, he brought me onto the supervisory board of TechData.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Take more risks and embrace the challenges. Be braver.
How do you relax and unwind?
I love to be in the mountains. When I was very young, I spent the summers in a very old, simple mountain hut in the Austrian alps with my best friend and her family and their cows! There was no electricity or running water, and we’d go for days on end without seeing anyone else. Ever since, mountains have been my happy place. Whenever the going got tough, this was - and is - my refuge. It’s the place I draw my strength from.