People in Lighting: Constanze von Mühlenfels

Constanze von Mühlenfels - Managing Director - Schréder GmbH
Constanze von Mühlenfels
Managing Director - Schréder GmbH

Companies are defined by the people who work for them: for over a century, Schréder has been at the forefront of lighting thanks to its employees worldwide. Throughout 2021 we’ll be focusing on the people who make Schréder what it is, including their career path, landmark projects and their thoughts on where lighting is headed next.

Constanze von Mühlenfels is Managing Director at Schréder GmbH, based in Stuttgart, Germany (although, like many colleagues, she’s mainly working from home at the moment, close to Hamburg). Constanze joined the internal sales department at Schréder in 2014 before becoming MD of the German business in 2016, making her one of the first female country directors, as well as the youngest in the Schréder Group. She’s overseen projects across Germany, as well as leading a change in the corporate culture.

 

The electrical industry is a fantastic industry...

I have a background in economics and communication, and started working in a company that did outdoor furniture, including lighting. Then I switched to a company that did electrical engineering, which was also in line with my interests. We were dealing with smart home projects. Then I got a call from Schréder, and lighting really did bring all of my interests together. I find the electrical industry fantastic. Product cycles get shorter and shorter, technological inventions come faster and faster. There is so much dynamic in it. It’s just great.


I had the opportunity to experience different roles at Schréder…

I started as Head of Internal Sales, then became Regional Sales Director and finally Managing Director of the German entity. Over the last 7 ½ years, I gained a profound understanding of the products and the lighting business, which is the key to being successful in this industry. I stepped into a steep learning curve. Due to the different roles and various projects that I was involved in over the years, I was able to build a strong network within the Schréder Group as well as in the market. This is of course helpful but also important. No matter how great the job is, if you don't work with the right people, it won't last. I am thankful Schréder had confidence in me. 


We brought to life a Can-Do culture...

When I took over as Managing Director, it was about managing a company in very disruptive commercial times. We were undergoing some big internal changes and faced a dynamic market environment. 
There were a lot of issues that we had to tackle. In addition to increasing market share, developing new products and implementing optimised procedures and streamlined workflows, we brought to life a new mentality that puts a common goal, an effective team spirit and a can-do culture at the heart of what we do. This takes some time and is an everyday project. Looking back, I can say that the right culture with the right team is a real game-changer. That got us through successfully!
 

I don’t believe in micro-managing...

My leadership style focuses on three key expectations for my team: First, trust. Second, integrity. And third, ownership and personal responsibility for what he/she does. This gives everyone a lot of freedom to manage their own work. It motivates them and in parallel it makes us faster and more agile. 
 

We’re proud to be a part of the Mittelstand...

Here in Germany, we’re perceived as a strong part of the Mittelstand with the background of a strong international headquarters and production sites. We have the flexibility of a small company, with the strength of an international company on economies of scale, R&D and production. It’s a strong set-up.  
Besides that, we do a lot to make Schréder an attractive place to work. Our German headquarters is located in Stuttgart. As you can imagine, there is a lot of competition for the so called “war of talent”. With big attractive companies in our neighbourhood, we need to make efforts to keep up with them. Looking at our latest employee satisfaction survey, I am confident that we are going in the right direction. Employee retention is an important topic for the Mittelstand. 


German cities are great customers....

Germans are highly demanding but also very loyal customers once they have trust in a brand. Environmental awareness is common among German customers. They expect quality, longevity and great customer service. 
Customer care and integrity are part of our core values. We go the extra mile to satisfy our customer’s expectations and requests. It is great to see how we can support cities and municipalities in making their urban environments more sustainable, more attractive and more future proof for their inhabitants with our solutions. Together with our customers we create cities people love to live in. This is my little contribution to making our world a better place.

The SHUFFLE in Heilbronn is a great example of smart lighting in German cities


My favourite projects…

One of the shining stars among our recent projects was certainly the Bundesgartenschau, in Heilbronn. We installed more than 250 SHUFFLE smart poles with light, WiFi, charging for electric vehicles… The Bundesgartenschau was an event, but this whole area was transformed into a new district afterwards where people live, work and spend their free time. It's a whole new area of the city and it’s really nice to see how our luminaires support the quality of life there. It changed the atmosphere, we enhanced the capabilities for what people can do, so there’s a lot in this project which makes it stand out for me. But the team has done so many more, really nice projects in Germany. Just to name a few: Berlin, Stuttgart, Überlingen, Heidelberg, Grevenbroich, Köln, Münster, Holzminden, Bad Hersfeld, Bad Oldesloe and Lüneburg.


I think the electrical industry is a brilliant industry for women…

If you’re really passionate about technology. You have to know what you’re talking about and you need to walk the talk. This is of course true for both women and men. I’ve never experienced any discrimination or harrassment. To encourage even more women to join this industry, companies need to make sure that they provide a safe, challenging working environment, where women can take part in attractive new projects, and have opportunities to be visible for other women to follow.


What about the compatibility of family life and work...

It’s still a matter of fact that young women often have a big question mark about their family plans, especially when they want a managerial position. I recently became a mother, and I can say from experience, that it can be managed well but you need to consider some aspects. I think it comes down to three things. Firstly, make sure you have the right people in your management team so that they are ready to steer the ship independently for the period of time that you’ll be out. In my case, it was my maternity leave.
Next, make sure you can organise your private life, so you have a support network in place. Finally, be honest and transparent. It’s all about teamwork. Communicate clearly and bring your staff on the journey with you. It is important to stay true to yourself. Being a mother with a young child doesn’t undermine my professional capabilities. When we are ourselves, we show that a family and career is compatible.

Lighting Berlin was a proud moment for the Schréder team in Germany explains Constanze von Mühlenfels


For me, it was never a question of not having a family…

Saying yes to becoming MD in 2016 was one of the best decisions I ever made. Being successful in a team, being successful as a young woman in a male-dominated industry and being successful as a young mother is a good thing.  


It’s important to keep women in the workforce…

Women need to be represented at every level of the workforce, in management too. Diversity in all areas will keep making us better. Failure to do so means loss of potential. Here in Germany, more and more employers recognise the benefits of a family-conscious staff policy. Faced with a skilled-labour shortage, companies are asking how they can support women better and what are the best family-oriented services to help them contribute their potential to the world of work? 
Also measures should be put in place to allow men to take over more family-related tasks in addition to their professional duties. In the end, perfect doesn’t exist. The right balance is different from one person to another. Take your time to define your work-life balance and start taking the steps to make it a reality. One day or day one, you decide. 

Connect with Constanze on LinkedIn.