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Andrea Herrmann, Chief Financial Officer at the Vienna Stock Exchange and former Chief Financial Officer at Western Union International Bank , was born and raised in Vienna, always had a passion for working with numbers and gained her first practical experience at the age of 19. She was dedicated to her career, but made no explicit plans for her future, always keeping all options open – and her willingness to try new things and learn was unwavering. According to Herrmann, learning doesn’t stop when you get older; it’s a constant process of self-discovery and further development.
Born and raised in Vienna, Herrmann graduated from the Handelsakademie (a higher education institution in Austria, which focuses on commercial and business education) in 1983, which is where she discovered that mathematics, so working with numbers in general, came with ease to her. “My good relationship with math was already there when I was born,” she says smiling. “And also, financial topics were the ones I really loved to hear and think about and which made me feel confident as I was able to help others. I guess that’s why I ended up in finance.” Thus, without wasting any time, she dived into a career, making use of her talent in math: She started her first job at Brown Boveri (BBC), a Swiss electrical corporation that was founded in Zurich in 1891. Herrmann began working at BBC in 1984 as a purchasing clerk but as the company merged with ASEA to form ABB (Asea Brown Boveri) in 1988, Herrmann’s position at the company gradually shifted to supply management, where she worked for three years before advancing to the field of Controlling at the same company, and in the end, to the position of Corporate Controller in the central holding. “Through my shift to Controlling, I was really supported by my superiors in my personal development,” she notes. “They were always encouraging and supporting me a lot when I obtained my international controller diploma.” Overall, Herrmann stayed with BBC, which later became ABB, for 18 years. She left when she got a position as a commercial manager (of energy and automation business area). “After so many years, I asked myself if it was time to start working in another company,” she says. “Because I started wondering whether I was actually good at what I do – or did I just seem to be because I spent so much time there?” She was around 38 back then, and asked herself if she wanted to spend her life in one company – the answer was no, and she decided to move on and gain experience in other companies and different fields.
You have to be very open and at the same time encourage the team to be open. Because if they don’t like the work they’re doing, you might not notice it as a manager, but the quality of the work suffers or you lose good people without knowing why.
Herrmann always kept one foot on the ground, gaining practical experience, and she jumped right into the next two challenges when she left ABB: She started working at Telekom Austria in 2002 as the head of Finance & Administration of the IT Division, and simultaneously started pursuing a controlling diploma at the Vienna University of Economics and Business in 2003 to become a certified international controller. Telekom Austria was a completely different company culture compared to the American companies Herrmann was working afterwards. She says that she gained more experience in how to treat people, which is a central lesson she took away when she left the company. Another important difference was that she was working in the IT department, something that was novel to her. “The IT department in Telekom Austria consisted of 600 people,” Herrmann says. “There, I learned a lot about the IT perspective of the business, which meant a very critical step in my self-development that helped me in all further jobs I had. From a finance perspective, IT has always had a huge impact so it is very helpful if you have an understanding in that field.” In 2004, another change of companies came, this time to GE Money Bank, the first bank she had ever worked for. Herrmann spent the next three years as manager for controllership there, “from a US point of view”, as she puts it, which is more focused on the accounting side and on regulatory responsibilities. “It was both the first bank I had worked at and also the first American company, which meant a huge change for me,” she says. “I had to learn many new things which took a lot of time but to be honest I enjoyed it a lot.”
After three years, in 2007, Herrmann changed to Western Union International Bank where she would stay for fourteen years, making this the second longest period of time she spent at one company. There she started as a director for accounting and business processes. After only two years she was promoted to CFO in 2009 and she stayed until 2021.
...the WU Executive Academy Global Executive MBA Alumna has been Chief Financial Officer of the Vienna Stock Exchange since May 2021. Previously, she was Chief Financial Officer of Western Union International Bank. She has gained experience in a variety of international and regional companies, including ABB, GE Money Bank and Telekom Austria, as well as in various areas such as supply management and controlling.
Andrea Herrmann is an alumna of the business school of the Vienna University of Economics and Business Executive Academy, where she completed her Global Executive MBA in 2010. “Back then the WU Executive Academy had a partnership with the University of Minnesota,” she says. “This was one of the things that motivated me to do that. To be honest, because I was working for Western Union at that time, I was concerned about having the time to pursue an MBA. But it was something that I had had in mind for several years already.” She says that the program was a great opportunity for her to gain global expertise and insights into management and leadership. The MBA at the WU Executive Academy took her to three continents: Europe, America and Asia. There were two weeks of intensive training in China, India and the United States (New York and Minnesota). “I was faced with real life and real time challenges to foster the potential to become a world class leader,” Herrmann says and goes on to explain what the MBA was offering her, which was a unique combination of experience and multicultural management. She highlights that it was a great mixture of case studies, group discussions and project work. “In the end we had a virtual team project, which was a very intense experience”, she says with a chuckle, “because we were working with people from different countries, different cultures and in different time zones.”
In May 2021, Herrmann moved to Wiener Börse AG as CFO. Operating the stock exchanges in Vienna and Prague, the group offers state-of-the-art systems, information and IT services. “I find it very special to work in a company with a 250 year history. It was a great opportunity for me to meet the largest stakeholders in person despite the pandemic,” Herrmann says. The Vienna Stock Exchange, which is the market leader in trading Austrian stocks, was founded in 1771 by Maria Theresa to raise state capital. Today, the market capitalization of the Austrian stock market is 125.06 billion € and has an average monthly trading volume of 8.16 billion €. The basic mission of the Vienna Stock Exchange has not changed in the 250 years of its history: It is the central marketplace for the pricing of securities and providing transparency.
“One of the best experiences I’ve had was having young women on my team,” Herrmann says, explaining that she works with a lot of young people and has never had a problem collaborating among different generations since she focuses her leadership practice on the outcome her team delivers rather than devoting resources to controlling and shaping the way people accomplish their work. She places special emphasis on the flexibility of the work environment: “For instance, if people need to leave early to take care of personal business, they can do that after they’re done with their task. It’s a win-win for the employee and the employer, and you need that flexibility when you’re leading a team.” For Herrmann, the most important thing in managing a team is the authenticity of its leader: “You have to be authentic as a leader for your employees. You can be accountable and also understanding.” Leadership, for Herrmann, doesn’t mean treating people the way they want or the way they would feel comfortable with, but instead treating them in a way that they develop further, which means seeing employees holistically, as people with different backgrounds, ideas and ways of doing and acting. “You have to treat people in a way that motivates them and gives them the space to grow. This is also a win-win situation,” Herrmann says. She also believes teamwork and open communication are very central to successful leadership practices. “I think creating feedback loops so that information can flow both ways – from the team to the leader and from the leader to the team – is very important,” Herrmann says. “You have to be very open and at the same time encourage the team to be open. Because if they don’t like the work they’re doing, you might not notice it as a manager, but the quality of the work suffers or you lose good people without knowing why.”
But what were the most important skills Herrmann had that helped her succeed in finance, holding top management positions in large, international companies? First, it was her gift for numbers: “As I started in the field of controlling, I saw that I was able to memorize figures very well, and did not need to go back and check. This was very easy for me and made it possible for me to help everyone, making business processes more efficient.” The second is the set of skills the WU Executive Academy provided for Herrmann, as she puts it – in internationally active companies, one needs an understanding of international relationships from a financial perspective.