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9/16/2021

Tobias Schulze about his development path to leadership level

Tobias Schulze (36), VP Supply Chain North America, has had a varied career at a young age. In this interview, he talks about the relevance of flexibility in one’s development, breaking down silos and the importance of networking in professional life.

Tobias Schulze, VP Supply Chain North America

Tobias, about six months ago you took on the role of Vice President Supply Chain for Beiersdorf North America. Was this position a set goal that you had been working towards for a long time?

To be honest: No, it wasn’t. I have always been more driven by curiosity and my thirst for action, rather than following a detailed plan with all the steps mapped out in advance. I think it’s more important to see opportunities and seize them as they arise. For me, there was never this one straight path of checking off positions and qualifications like items on a to-do list. This included giving up original plans when they no longer suited me. But always taking new paths never meant that the previous experiences were worth less. On the contrary – I was able to learn something important for my future from each phase of my life.

I assume, you didn’t go straight from school to a management position at Beiersdorf. How exactly did you start your career?

At the very beginning, I studied mechanical engineering. I come from a very down-to-earth family with no academic background. Financial independence and security were therefore very important to me when I took this step, which is why I chose a dual study program. This also allowed me to directly gain broad experience in the field of production processes in factories. After completing my studies, however, I did not see any longer-term development opportunities and decided at the age of 23 to change companies. This gave me a position as deputy department manager. However, after my boss at the time dropped out right at the beginning, it felt like the “deputy” was quickly cancelled.

A management position at 23 seems to be challenging. Did it work out well for you right from the beginning?

You should probably know that most of the employees I suddenly had to manage myself were much older than me. At the time, I thought that a suit and tie would help me make an assertive impression at the plant, despite my age. But that wasn’t me and didn’t fit into the team at all. I quickly realized that I was better off being myself. I ditched the tie and embraced the real me instead. I asked questions, showed my genuine interest, and didn’t repeat back to anyone what he or she wanted to hear. And it worked. Authenticity still earns you the most respect in the end.

That sounds like an all’s well that ends well. But a lot more has happened since then, right?

That’s right. As described, I’ve always been on the lookout for new opportunities that catch my interest. So, I was able to take responsibility for my own plants and later a position in England to gain experience abroad. Then I heard from a former colleague who was now working at Beiersdorf. He described the family-like corporate culture. For me, people have always been the focus of the work. Simply pushing through key performing indicators without seeing the employees behind them will never lead to success in the long term. I therefore had the feeling that the mentality and work culture of Beiersdorf and I would be a good match. I got in touch and found a suitable job, where my positive gut feeling was quickly confirmed. I also realized that there are always many opportunities and room for development in a large company, which was perfect for me.

What developments have you experienced during your seven years at Beiersdorf?

I started as Operations Manager and was able to start a part-time MBA thanks to Beiersdorf’s support. Through my studies, I came to Shanghai, among other places, and networked with local Beiersdorf colleagues. This gave me the opportunity to take on a regional management role and I spent three years in China. I also traveled a lot for work during this time and finished my master’s thesis in Australia, for example. Additionally, I was able to learn a lot about different perspectives. I have always followed a holistic approach because it is important to understand the overall business and the different perspectives of all parties involved. To be able to expand on my previous overview, after my local and regional experience, I wanted to gain insight into global business while getting another change of perspective: From the production side to the distribution of products. That’s what my next role as Global Supply Chain Director, first for Health Care and then additionally for our Derma brands, allowed me to do.

How did you experience this change in perspective?

I initially thought that a role at headquarters would be much more bureaucratic and involve long approval processes. But that wasn’t the case. My teams within the Derma and Health Care divisions are global, but relatively small. Hierarchies are correspondingly flatter and processes shorter. This allowed me a lot of agility and, above all, the opportunity to simply try things out and to pursue new approaches. Also, on a smaller scale, you can get an even better overall view of the business. So, I’ve been able to take my holistic mindset even further. This way I achieved exactly what I was hoping for and this time prepared me very well for my current position.

You have already had an impressive career at a young age. What advice can you give to people who are still at the beginning of their career?

First, you should remain flexible. If you have a too detailed plan, you may become too rigid and not take advantage of new opportunities. And such opportunities often arise through good networks, as my career has clearly shown. So, I can only recommend connecting with many people, to stay curious, to learn from others, and to build networks. This can also help you foster your own holistic mindset and break free from silos – a very important aspect for me personally. Especially experiences abroad can support an additional change of perspective and an inclusive mindset. Of course, ambition and a strong will also play an important role. But you shouldn’t always go straight for it. A healthy amount of reflection is crucial. On the one hand, you should closely observe and evaluate the tasks of colleagues and management positions. On the other hand, you should also reflect on yourself: What are my strengths and where do I have room to improve? The answers to these questions provide a good basis for pushing yourself and developing further. And my final and most important piece of advice: Have fun in what you do. It may sound cliché. But I am a firm believer that this is the only way to develop your full potential. And then success will follow.

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Carolin Schreyer

About the editor: Carolin Schreyer

Carolin is responsible for our Pharmacy and Selective Brands within the Corporate Communications team. In this way she takes care of international communication projects of brands like Eucerin, Aquaphor, Hansaplast and La Prairie.