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The Path to Becoming a Country Manager – Heike Huber Shares Her Personal Story

Heike Huber, Country Manager Beiersdorf Switzerland

Achieving Beiersdorf’s ambitious business goals depends on each and every one of us. That is why it is important to support employees at Beiersdorf in growing their skills and competences, and to provide them with opportunities to gain diverse work experiences. There is, however, no standard road map for this. The development opportunities and directions that individuals can pursue are diverse and can also deviate from a straightforward path.

We see this in the recent and inspiring example of Heike Huber. She has been Beiersdorf’s Country Manager for Switzerland since February this year, making her the first Business Unit Head from the Derma/Health Care division to be promoted to such a position. In the following interview, she talks about her personal path to becoming Country Manager and what has been particularly important to her during her career.

Heike, you have evolved from marketing to becoming a Country Manager. Can you tell us where exactly your career started?

With pleasure! In fact, my entire career has taken place at Beiersdorf. I joined the company 17 years ago straight after university. I quickly realized that Beiersdorf’s values matched my own and became passionate about our brands, the business, and the people. That’s why I stayed! That might sound a bit one-sided at first – but that wasn’t the case at all. I was always given the chance to prove myself in different areas and to develop further in various fields.

What kind of different areas are you talking about?

I started out in classic marketing as a Junior Brand Manager at NIVEA, working both locally and, at times, at a global level. After this experience, I took a courageous step and switched to Sales. For me, that also meant starting all over again. In marketing, we developed great products and concept stories. But in order for consumers to buy them, these products first have to be put on the shelves – with the highest possible visibility. This was a new perspective for me. I learned a different set of skills, gained insight into financial aspects, designed retail concepts, and much more. Afterwards, I spent over two and a half years in Shopper and Customer Marketing. These lateral moves were incredibly important to me and my further development.

So, your career hasn’t always been straightforward. Would you also recommend others to look left and right for development opportunities more often?

Of course, you can follow a straight career path – then you often experience a faster upward development at the beginning. Later on, however, it becomes more difficult to move to other fields. For me personally, it was right to diversify early on, so that I could benefit in the long term and become more agile towards change.

Have you gained any other experience that you can pass on to others as career advice?

In addition to my broad positioning, my two periods abroad definitely played an important role in my career. Again, I had to leave my comfort zone during this time – and once again, it was definitely worth it. Both steps were clearly initiated by me. I wanted a change of perspective and Beiersdorf supported me in my wish. So I spent three and a half years at the headquarters in Hamburg and another three years in China, where I was responsible for the reentry of Eucerin into the market. In a team of two, we worked very closely and intensively on this launch and I was able to gain my first experience of holistic responsibility for a business. You rarely get an opportunity like this – it was made possible for me as a result of the switch from the mass market to the pharmacy business. Smaller businesses are often characterized by flatter hierarchies and you get the chance to take on a high level of responsibility at an earlier stage. This was especially the case in China, as there was no other business there yet. In the meantime, China has become an absolute development market for Eucerin. In my subsequent role as Business Unit Head for Eucerin, back in Switzerland, it was great to see the fruits of the seeds we sowed back then.

And now it’s back from pharmacy to the mass market. Does that make any difference to you?

When you move on, you always leave a “family” behind. But the high level of passion I have for all our businesses and brands means my own drivers and values are equally matched on both sides. And when it comes to business, you need the same skills in both areas. Starting in a new position, you anyways have to do your homework. You must know your target group and market peculiarities. But these points can differ from country to country, even with the same brand. And in my opinion, they should always be questioned and evaluated, even if you already have the general knowledge. So, I personally think there is no need for completely different expertise; you just need to possess the desire and openness to learn new things.

And what challenges did you expect from your position as Country Manager?

Before working as a Country Manager, I was still partly involved in the operational business. My teams were small and familiar, with close exchanges and characterized by a passion for a single brand. As Country Manager, I have a broader role and can no longer look at every little detail. Pulling myself out of the operational level and still staying close to the business and all the team members was something that I expected to be a potential challenge of the introduction period. But I was well prepared and made use of everything that my previous experiences have taught me: identifying with Beiersdorf’s values, the broad base of knowledge I have gained from my many different stations at NIVEA, and the team and winning spirit that were shaped in particular while working in small teams with a high level of responsibility at Eucerin. I want to drive growth with ambition, with the goal in mind – not my own standing. I’m convinced that this put me in the best possible position for my current role, and I look forward to tackling all the challenges ahead, with my personal motto: take ownership, be brave, be passionate, never worry about detours, and walk the path ahead together as one team!

Ready for the challenge?

Then apply now! One last tip: if the right opening isn’t available right now, simply activate our JOB ALERT. It will keep you informed and let you know as soon as there is a new opening in your desired area.
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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.