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Fascinating, exciting, diverse – A half year in South Africa

Elke Schnutenhaus.
Elke Schnutenhaus.

Exactly 28 years ago today, Elke Schnutenhaus, Senior CSI Manager, started working at Beiersdorf. Since then she has worked on diverse projects in various categories. Eager to take on new challenges and to gather international experience, in January 2018 Elke went to the Beiersdorf affiliate in South Africa where she was responsible for all local market research, bringing her expertise from the headquarters to the affiliate. Back in Hamburg, Elke shared her impressions with us and talked about what it was like for her to work for half a year on another continent.

Elke, how did you get the idea for a short-term assignment in South Africa?

After college and the institute – I started in traditional market research – I joined Beiersdorf in 1990. In all these years I had an excellent time and managed really great and diverse projects in various categories and functions. But it was always my dream to go abroad with Beiersdorf. As my two children grew older, I asked myself what options I had to move internally. When I heard that Beiersdorf was looking for someone in market research in South Africa for a five month period, I wanted to take this opportunity.

How did your friends, family and colleagues react when you told them about your plans of going to South Africa?

Of course I had already spoken about an international assignment with my husband, but when it actually became real, I still had to convince him and my children. My younger son who was 15 at the time, decided to accompany me to South Africa and to go to school there for half a year. I got thoroughly positive feedback and encouragement from friends and colleagues, too.

Elke and her team.
Elke and her team.

How did Beiersdorf support you with your plan to go abroad?

Beiersdorf supported me in planning my international assignment from the very beginning. This included covering the costs for the flight and my apartment. I am grateful to the company and my supervisors for making my stay in South Africa possible. But most of all, I am thankful for my team in South Africa, which is so international, great and unique. We were very warmly welcomed by everyone and my colleagues were really interested in personal exchange.

What were the biggest challenges?

An international assignment is always associated with diverse challenges. In addition to planning, getting used to the country and different ways of working, all the security aspects and of course, my son’s school were all challenging. But the struggles were quickly forgotten: the great team and all the experiences were all worth it and I didn’t regret my decision for a minute.

Visiting the “Thanda” program.
Visiting the “Thanda” program.

What was your biggest highlight?

There are so many highlights that I don’t even know what I should start with: the country is simply gorgeous and fascinating with all its natural wealth, such as its diversity of the flora and fauna and the “red earth”  – but what makes it so special are all the people I met, who were full of joy, humor and ease.

One experience that I’ll never forget was a visit to the early childhood program “Thanda” that NIVEA supports locally and at which we were able to work as a team for a day. When I was with the children at the facility, my heart opened immediately.

What did you learn personally?

Although I worked in international teams and on diverse projects for many years, this assignment also made me grow professionally. Through the operational work in an affiliate you get to know and understand the local challenges better – this experience is a great benefit for my job at the headquarters as well.

Having my son there with me was really great too – 52 isn’t 20 or 25 after all, so it’s not too bad to be able to do something like this at my age with my family – or at least, part of it.

Thanks so much for your insights into your time in South Africa!

About the editor: Ariadna Helena Blicharski

After various internships and working student positions at international companies, Ariadna recently joined our Corporate Communication team at Beiersdorf. Here she takes care of international NIVEA communications projects, develops PR packages for global brands communication and supports in other internal and external brand topics. 

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