Women in Business Need a Mindset Change
HHL Success Story about Women in Business: Interview with Conny Wuppermann, CFO palero capital GmbH
This interview was first published in October 2020.
Conny Wuppermann is the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of palero capital, a private equity fund she co-founded 10 years ago. Since graduating from HHL she has remained in close contact with the Chair of Financial Management and is one of the first supporters of the Center for Corporate Transactions & Private Equity (CCTPE). Together they recently awarded the Palero Captial award to the best master thesis in private equity (read the full blog post here).
“Be courageous and just do it.“
In this interview, we spoke to her about her professional journey since leaving HHL and why she believes women in business, in particular, need a mindset change. As a mother and successful business owner, she has experienced the challenge of wanting to “do it all” and talks about her personal approach to this challenge.
This conversation is especially inspiring to all women who feel like they are holding themselves back. Conny offers guidance and motivation to all young women in business navigating their way through the early years of employment. “Of course you can fail along the way”, she points out. “But that’s where being flexible is extremely helpful. You look at the experience and realize that that approach didn’t work out. Then you reassess and move on.”
I would advise female graduates to be open to learning, listen to what others say and try to understand what they really want to tell you, but also to speak your mind and share your ideas. Ask for feedback and use the first years to find out, what you really want to do
You strongly believe women can achieve pretty much anything they put their minds to. What helped shape this belief and why is it important for women in business to believe in it?
My parents raised my sister and me with the mindset that everything is possible as long as you are willing to work for it. We were encouraged to try out all sorts of things while we were young, take risks and we were given responsibility for our actions early on. My parents never made a gender difference with anything, and always encouraged us to just give everything a try.
There is a saying that in the worst case you gain an experience, which I think is very true. If you remain flexible in your thinking and are able to reflect on situations and your environment you will be able to adapt to new developments and be successful. And you have to have the courage to try out new things even though others might not believe in them. It’s essential that you believe in yourself and your abilities. And if you discover that you went into the wrong direction just turn around and go down a different path.
“My parents never made a gender difference with anything, and always encouraged us to just give everything a try.”
Let’s go back in time. Why did you choose to study at HHL in Leipzig?
I grew up in Leipzig and it was when I was still in high school a friend who already studied at university handed me a brochure one day with the words “I think this is a school for you.” I took a closer look at HHL and found the concept intriguing. While many of my friends planned for a career as a medical doctor, lawyer, or teacher during the last two years at high school, I was less interested in a special field of work or industry rather than a task.
“During the time at HHL I mostly valued discussing with professors, staff and fellow students.”
I wanted to lead people and solve complex problems in businesses. At school, not many understood what I was up to and some only smiled at my thinking, but I was convinced that I will be able to achieve this. And with the idea behind HHL and its school of leadership, I felt I was on the right way. Today not every problem is super complex and you often need people skills much more than knowledge, but in the end I am able to lead and enable others to solve problems in businesses.
You remain very connected to HHL. What has been particularly valuable in this exchange over the past years?
My time at HHL has contributed significantly to who I am today. During my time at HHL, I mostly valued discussing with professors, staff, and fellow students. It was more than just a process of knowledge spillover. We developed knowledge together, we formed views and I felt that everyone was an equal contributor to this. This is exactly what I still value in my continuous exchange with HHL. It does not matter who said something, we discuss ideas independent of its source in order to make the most of it. It is a very inspiring environment.
You just celebrated the tenth anniversary of your company palero capital GmbH. What makes private equity the perfect fit for you and what are you looking forward to as your career progresses?
I personally really enjoy the variety of events that I get to experience every day. With every potential transaction that I do I am gaining new insights on an industry or sector, I discover new business models, I get to know a new management team and their visions for their company. With every portfolio company, I am taking entrepreneurial decisions and get to see them evolve. I take on responsibility and have immediate feedback on my actions. For me, that makes it a challenging but also very rewarding job. It is exactly what I want to do, even though I cannot say that everything I have to do is pure fun, but the sum of all of it is just right.
“You have to have the courage to try out new things even though others might not believe in them.”
Some women in business feel they need to do it all: a successful career, happy family, loving wife, a great friend. How have you navigated this debate for yourself?
I very much agree that the pressure is high – not only on women but also young men – to find the perfect work-life balance, to be successful in business and yet have a happy family life with lots of quality time and still pursue your hobbies and see your friends all the time.
For me, it only works with external help. Since our closer family does not live just around the corner, we have a nanny supporting us with the kids and a household help supporting us with the household. This way, I can pursue my job and even go on overnight business travel without having a bad conscience because I know my kids are happy and I will not come back to complete chaos. But this is obviously not a solution for everyone. In the end, it is a very personal decision that every family has to make on its own. And every decision you make is ok – no matter what others tell you – as long as your family is happy with it.
For my husband and me, our jobs are rewarding and very fulfilling, which makes us better parents for our children as we strongly value the time we spend together. But I also have close friends that have chosen a different path with one parent staying at home and that is the perfect way for them. So there is no right or wrong way on how to deal with this challenge but many different ways to live your life.
“For my husband and me our jobs are rewarding and very fulfilling, which makes us better parents for our children as we strongly value the time we spend together.”
Looking back at your career, what advice would you like to share with female graduates entering the job market?
I would advise them to be open to learning, listen to what others say, and try to understand what they really want to tell you, but also to speak your mind and share your ideas. Ask for feedback and use the first years to find out, what you really want to do. You should remain flexible and open to new opportunities. Try out things even if you did not consider them beforehand.
When I look at how my children develop, I often ask myself when we stopped being so open-minded and curious. They can be very determined on something and a minute later walk in the direct opposite direction. They are completely flexible and therefore able to adapt to nearly every situation. And they do not worry too much about what others say yet. There is quite a bit we can learn from them.