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Sabine Weber, Program Manager, PIERBURG GMBH, Neuss, Germany

Sabine Weber, Program Manager, PIERBURG GMBH, Neuss, Germany

My name is Sabine Weber, I recently turned 50 years old, I am married and have two sons who have both now almost reached adulthood. So the two of them are about to head out into the world to fly with the wings we tried to give them. My husband and I are now starting our life "after children", which is pretty exciting again and great.

I have been with Pierburg since 2012 and worked as a project purchaser until 30 April 2019. At the beginning of May 2019, I switched to program management in the pump business unit.

Please describe your career path.

I studied business administration with a focus on human resources, procurement and logistics. During my studies I started working as a student trainee in the area of logistics at Deutsche Fibrit GmbH, an automotive supplier from Grefrath, which has belonged to the US corporation Johnson Controls International since 1998. I noticed quite quickly that this area suits me well.

After my studies I switched to purchasing and worked at Johnson Controls for 5 more years before I had my two sons. As the two boys are so close in age, I had decided to stay at home for 3 years.

After further professional stations at Johnson Controls over the next few years, my path then led me to the Rheinmetall Group in 2012, following a conversation with a friend who worked at Pierburg GmbH. I started working as a project purchaser here.

One company, many opportunities.

In 2014, following the merger of Pierburg GmbH and Pierburg Pump Technology GmbH in Neuss, I moved to the pump business unit, where I initially managed various electrical pump projects (water, vacuum, oil pumps).

Later, I was responsible as sole project purchaser for the largest global EVAP (Electric Vapor Pump) project of the business unit.

During this project, I worked together with a large international team, and also had customer contact: The development was located in Neuss, the lines were built in Italy, the first production line was built in Fountain Inn, in South Carolina/USA and the second production line is now at our JV Partner PHP in Shanghai. Here, I managed a large international supplier base which was a real challenge and involved a great deal of time pressure and many changes that continuously had to be taken into account. This was a very demanding task. I have also received support for my project tasks since 2017.

As I am always looking for new challenges and exciting tasks, I applied for the position of program manager at the end of 2018 and took up the position in May 2019.

Two new, interesting and challenging projects have also already been identified which will hopefully help to accompany Rheinmetall Automotive into the new alternative propulsion technologies – in the area of battery and hybrid-powered vehicles as well as fuel cells.

Teamwork is everything

In project purchasing, a colleague gave me the nickname "Big Mama" back then because I always took care of everything and because everyone always came to me with their problems. It's the same now as a program manager: Everyone involved in projects come to me with their worries and problems and I have to try to lead the team towards a problem solution.

What are the responsibilities of project purchasing?

Assuming responsibility in everyday project work

Among other things, I am responsible for the timing and quality of purchased parts, but also for the material and investment costs of suppliers.

In project purchasing, we have cost responsibility for all sample and modification stages until a product goes into series production and is handed over to the factory. This also allows us to have a great deal of technical influence on the cost structure. Our responsibility is therefore to design the finished series product as cost-effectively as possible in terms of material costs.

Particularly when we take over products from pre-development, we have to pay special attention to ensuring that the product continues to meet requirements in terms of function and quality, but does not become more expensive.

Project purchasing manages the triangle of tension between quality, costs and deadlines, which drives the project forward at supplier level. It is precisely this triangle of tension that the program manager is responsible for across the entire Simultaneous Engineering team and the respective project. My step from project purchasing to program management was thus resolute and consistent.

Within the matrix organization, I have no disciplinary authority, so I have to motivate the people assigned to the project across the various departments to give their best for my project. On average, a project takes 3 years until the product goes into series production. It is therefore important to have staying power, but also to keep track of all ongoing projects and drive them forward accordingly. As the deadlines are getting shorter and shorter, creativity and pragmatism are equally important.

Your area is often very male dominated. How do you as a woman deal with this?

That's true, there are very few females who work for suppliers, and those who do tend to be in administrative roles rather than technical positions.

When it comes to large chemical companies, however, there are many more women – so it is quite industry-specific. Most of our suppliers, which often have the structure of medium-sized and family-run companies, are still quite male-dominated. However, this isn't a problem for me because I've always preferred playing with boys [laughs], this has just been part of my career from the beginning.

Open communication

That's not to say that I don't enjoy working with women too! However, I like the typical male characteristic of talking a little louder, but in a short and succinct way when there are problems. After that the air is clean again and you can continue.

Do you receive special support from your superior?

My boss does not see me in the role of a woman, but sees my performance and appreciates my professional work. Nevertheless, he always deliberately has several women in his team because this promotes productivity in his team by allowing their female characteristics and perspectives to flow into the teamwork.

Superiors you want

I have actually always been lucky to have superiors who have always supported me. They have supported me professionally and personally in my career, but have also supported me when I was personally unwell. They have always stood by me and given me the opportunity to learn from my mistakes. However, I am aware that this is rare and does not necessarily happen often.

I could and can always rely 100% on my bosses at Pierburg. I am really lucky and I greatly appreciate this.

Please complete the following sentence: When it comes to their successes, women should...?

...talk about them when appropriate and be happy about them!

Women should learn to accept praise confidently, to be happy about it and simply accept that they have done something good!

Of course, that isn't always easy, it's something you have to learn! Women should make greater use of their successes to promote themselves when the opportunity arises.

As a matter of principle we do not do this enough, because we prefer to let actions speak for themselves rather than using words.

What opportunities do you see in the future for women in your professional field? What do you need to do to be successful in your field?

Show commitment, make use of professional opportunities

You have to be curious, open and show a certain amount of humility and respect for the tasks and the advanced knowledge of older colleagues at the beginning. This has always been the absolute recipe for success as far as I'm concerned.

Especially if you come from a business management background and therefore have to acquire a certain amount of specialist knowledge, you should have an enthusiasm and basic understanding of technology and you have to listen a lot, ask even more and never give up!

Women with families have the perfect prerequisites to be a good program manager because, just like a mother, they have to organise and coordinate the family, their team, communicate transparently and constantly deal with new situations and problems [smiles].

Furthermore, it always helps if you can enjoy your own tasks as the job is also very demanding and can be made easier by being enthusiastic about it.

I don't personally think that quotas for women are the way forward. Instead, I think that the person who has the right mixture of qualifications, the qualities of a good manager and the will to take on the leadership role should take over the position – completely regardless of gender! There is no point in promoting women just because they are women and elevating them to a leadership position. This would not constitute positive promotion of women and certainly wouldn't be in the interest of the company.