How to take a professional leap into the unknownIrma leads corporate strategy across Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. With an engineering background, she’s testament to what you can achieve when you throw yourself into a new field. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Being bold for change’ – we spoke to Irma about challenging the status quo.
“I’d sit in meetings in Munich thinking ‘What are you talking about?’” Irma Wilde tells us. “Discussing topics I knew little about was a challenge.” Back at Siemens in her hometown of Mexico City, Irma’s expertise was in healthcare, where she’d worked her way from entry-level biochemical engineering graduate to managing business for the Magnetic Resonance Unit.
The invitation to transfer to a completely new strategy position in Munich pushed her out of her comfort zone.
Most people have sat through meetings where they can’t grasp the subject matter, but Irma didn’t see her lack of experience as a barrier in pursuing a new field. Instead, she saw that though she wasn’t an ‘expert’, there was a world of opportunity beckoning beyond what she knew.
“The secret,” she says, “is to be thirsty for knowledge and not be scared of trying something different.” Irma believes that knowing what she wants has helped her climb the ranks at Siemens. “I was sent to a new role in Munich because they believed I could do it. Why should I not believe the same?”
I knew I wasn’t an expert. But it taught me there's a world of opportunity beyond what I was used to.Irma Wilde, Corporate Strategy Director
Exploring the unknown paid off; it’s allowed her to move across countries as well as the company. Now she’s Director of Corporate Strategy and Business Development, leading projects with influence over the future of entire regions. In Mexico, she recently orchestrated a major Memorandum of Understanding between Siemens and government, including investment plans for Healthcare, Mobility and Energy reform over the next decade. This work was, she says, “her baby.”
In Cuba, Irma leads the team exploring development of an energy infrastructure which will, for the first time, bring a reliable supply to the island’s industries and attract foreign investments. Right now, power blackouts in Cuba prove a frequent challenge to manufacturing, so improving grid reliability will have a great impact on the country’s growth. The team is already planning similar initiatives to be rolled out across the rest of the Caribbean.
Being ‘bold for change’ sounds great on paper, but what does it mean in practice? “Challenging the status quo,” Irma says. An example? In Mexico, Corona were having issues meeting demand in the hotter months. “Everyone wants to drink beer in the summer. So we collaborated with them to develop an automation solution to grow production.” The number of bottles leaving the factory grew by over 50%. “The world is happy to have more beer, right?” Irma laughs.
It’s not always easy to challenge the status quo, though. Sometimes it involves questioning orders rather than blindly following.
When Joe Kaeser, CEO of Siemens, announced the need to spend 30% more time with customers, Irma questioned the reasoning. “‘Why 30%?’ I thought.” She spoke to people working on the ground to better understand how the company would benefit from an increase. Creating an assessment methodology with salespeople in the region, she cut down on wasted time, and increased time with customers by 30%.
What inspires her to push for change? Mentorship. Often people have been through similar experiences in their own careers. All it takes is asking, to reveal a wealth of advice based in understanding. “There is always a similar story behind us,” Irma says, “we are not isolated.”
Irma pays it forward, mentoring younger colleagues. It’s not always easy to give honest advice, but it makes for better mentorship with a foundation of mutual respect. It’s Irma’s tendency to ‘tell it straight’ and her passion that inspires her mentees, she says. “When I do something I always try to find a benefit for the company, or society, I think always finding a holistic objective inspires them too.”
What advice has helped her to forge ahead? She says, without hesitating: “Don't create barriers that don’t exist.” Being unafraid of exploring new avenues means stepping out of your comfort zone. Often that means picking up the phone and making calls. “Talk! If you don't communicate or find a common understanding on any topic, it's impossible to spread a message, or win a deal.”