*V nadaljevanju objavljamo intervju s Heleno Š. Sambolec. Intervju je objavljen v angleškem jeziku.
You run a successful family business that is usually perceived as a “man business”. How would you describe your company’s culture?
Family businesses are known as very strong and their contribution to the economy is immense. The peculiarity of family businesses is that they are more personal and that their employees are even more at the forefront.
When I look back, I see that family business is part of my life for more years than I am alive (lol)! When I started my career, the beginnings were full of challenges, lack of knowledge, and practical experience. Luckily, I was blessed to have my father as a mentor who accompanied me in the first years. When my father retired, we decided that our family’s best option to manage succession is to sell one part of the company to one of the region’s most prominent family-owned companies. Then, my possibilities to grow, as part of a bigger system and an even bigger know-how platform, expanded!
Opportunities for women in male-dominated industries are already improving, but there is still a massive amount of room for improvement. I have always loved to follow women in leadership positions. Women in business have always seemed like fantastic teachers and role models to me as I moved up the career ladder. Today, I try to be the same role model. Due to the limited number of women in business in many companies (including our company), I met a lot of people in my career who advised and taught me – I just had to ask (“there are no stupid questions, just stupid answers”). I always try to find men colleagues who do not feel challenged and support diversity in the organization in my career.
What was the biggest challenge during the covid lockdown your company has faced in the past year?
Due to our stable financial situation, our first and biggest concern was our employees and our business partners’ health. At the beginning of the pandemic, we immediately introduced clear rules and instructions on how to protect ourselves and others. Coworkers who were able to work from home received all needed access from our IT department (this was a huge stress test for them, and they succeeded perfectly) within few days. The organization of protective equipment in the first corona wave was a huge challenge. It was not only the price but also the availability of the goods in Slovenia. Luckily we received support from our headquarters in Austria and enabled our employees safe working conditions. During the second lockdown, our service areas were running without interruptions because they are performed outside or in rooms with fewer people. Our office work is organized in a way that we work in two teams in separate business premises and according to the profession’s recommendations. The last quartal of the year was also successful since my team managed to adapt to work in a»new normal«. My challenge as a leader in the environment is influenced by events that we cannot predict. I focus on my team and their physacal and mental health. My opinion is that the company’s which will focus on their most important »asset« – employees, will come out of this crisis stronger. Like my favorite Winston Churchill saying: »Life can either be accepted or changed. If it is not accepted, it must be changed. If it cannot be changed, then it must be accepted.«
You are at your final stages of your MBA? What has this journey thought you the most?
When I look back, I am proud that I decided to take part in the MBA program. Before I decided to join, I had 20 years of working experience, and I had the feeling that I am stuck in my daily routine (»been there, seen that, done that« mode). I meet a load of exciting people in professors, student collegues, and MBA organization team on the journey. During the program, we were members of many groups. Teamwork was quite a challenge because we were always in different constellations of people. Cooperation with study colleagues with »leaders« character was not always easy, but I learned to adapt and listen to others’ experiences and advice. It was also a challenge for me to hear more, talk less. With all stakeholders’ support during the journey, I have widened my horizon on my leadership function’s most important areas. Now I know what I don’t know. I got new ideas, a fresh look at me and my professional career.
How do you find balance in your Life? What gives you the joy and energy to balance all the roles that you play?
First, I am a mother, wife, and women in business. As a leader, I am running the company, and I also care for my family and loved ones. My Life is juggling between my professional and personal responsibilities. Since I work mostly in the men’s world, I can’t compare myself with their time window available for the business. To be better »in balance, « my calendar is always scheduled for professional and private meetings, enabling me to easier track my life duties. I still have to improve a lot in favor of private time in my calendar. Time spent on my 2yeras MBA journey will be renamed to » time to recharge«. I believe finding a work-life balance is easier when you stop worrying about it. I allow myself to permit me to let go of perfection. It’s OK when you relax and ask your professional team or your family to support you. My dear husband, parents, and sister have always supported me in my career decisions and helped me balance my roles as wife, daughter, sister,… And if I answer again if I manage to balance all the functions, all the time, I had to admit I don’t, and this is also a learning.