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Reunite, reconnect, reflect: The 10/15 Year Reunion of the WU Executive Academy provided a platform for alumni to meet former classmates and listen to world-class speakers. One thing became clear: While there is a stronger tomorrow ahead, excellent leadership is needed to get there.
The sport of football provides a calming presence in our ever-changing world: If we look back 15 years ago, to 2006, Italy won a major football tournament (the World Championship) by penalties in the finals. 15 years later, Italy again won a major football tournament (the European Championship) by keeping their cool during penalties. But the world of business is not like football: In the last 15 years, almost nothing has stayed the same.
In 2006, the iPhone had not even come out. After it hit markets, everything from how we communicate to how we travel changed for good. This speed of change has increased immensely in the last decade and a half. But it was still a slow ride compared to the changes we’ve seen in the last 15 months. The Covid pandemic upended not only how we communicate and travel, but also the very ways we live and work.
“Change is the only constant.“ The words spoken by Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy (WU EA), during the 10/15 Year Reunion never sounded truer than now. And Jochen Borenich, COO at Kapsch BusinessCom and WU EA alumnus of 2005 added a phrase that was directed at everyone in the audience: “One characteristic you have to bring as a leader is to be adaptive.” Because what else than adapt could we do in a time when our work went remote, when we couldn’t travel anymore, when our very lives were in danger from physical contact?
All these were just some of the questions that came up during the 10/15 Year Reunion of WU EA. Celebrating the graduates from 2005, 2006, 2010 and 2011, the reunion was a first: Never before had it taken place as a fully digital experience, drawing participants from Austria and Russia, Romania and Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Belgium and even some from the US. We from Forbes DACH, a long-time partner of WU EA and heavily interested in the topics of leadership and digital transformation, decided to co-host this event, reaching out to the entire WU EA community.
Hopefully, we delivered on our high promises. Timea Reicher, board member at Slovnaft, WU EA alumna of 2007 and ‘Most powerful female manager in Slovakia’ (as voted by Forbes) told the audience about her way to the top and why 15 years ago she didn’t even think she would ever make it into a boardroom. Patrik Ziman, Head of Finance & Administration Russia at Boehringer Ingelheim (BI), provided his ‘drop in the ocean of knowledge’ of the event by telling his story of cross-functional leadership moves and how he navigated the Covid crisis in his day-job at BI as well as his side gig as substitute teacher for his two daughters.
Janina Kugel, former Chief Human Resources Officer at Siemens, outlined her vision of a ‘Stronger Tomorrow’, making a connection between leadership, sustainability and diversity and how companies can and should combine all three in their future strategy. In the end, it comes down to good leaders, she says: “Only 10% of people are born as natural leaders, 20% can at least learn the skill.” To finish the formal part of the event, Stöttinger, Reicher, Borenich and Kugel came together in a panel discussion, covering everything from leadership paradoxes in the post-pandemic era to their personal role models. During the end, the discussion even heated up a bit – in case you want to know why, the livestream is still available here:
While all this was meant to inspire our listeners, the networking happened elsewhere. Within dedicated Zoom calls, former classmates had a chance to reconnect and share memories, while also discussing how they experienced the last 15 months. Ending the event in style, the graduates came together during a virtual happy hour, sharing a cool drink and reflecting on what they took away from the event or from the last months and years.
Leaving the last word to one of our speakers, Timea Reicher’s words spoken during the event show us that a Stronger Tomorrow is only possible if we remember that coming together and reflecting on our lessons learned provides incredible value to everyone. Asked if she was still in contact with her former classmates, she provided a possibility for everyone she studied with to reach out: „I haven’t heard from some of them, so I’m looking forward to seeing them – if there’s a chance.“ While many things change – not only Italy’s penalty-taking expertise, but also the need to stay in touch with those you haven’t spoken to in a while.
Titelbild: Marcella Ruiz Cruz