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Connecting generations, living values: Irène Kilubi on her mission in the modern working world
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Connecting generations, living values: Irène Kilubi on her mission in the modern working world

Kinga Bartczak
Irène Kilubi in the interview article picture

1 Irène, could you tell our readers how your career began and what key experiences led you to your current position?

First of all, I studied technical business administration in Germany, specializing in production management, logistics, foreign trade and human resources management. Then I did my Master’s in Supply Chain Logistics Management in England, specializing in purchasing. After graduating, I did a graduate internship at Amazon in the media department, specifically in the books department. During this time, I had a lot of contact with publishers and worked in Key Account Management Business Development. I then worked at BMW for five years in the Supply Chain Management Purchasing department.

Back in my BMW days, I was already side hustling, as they say in start-up-speak, and always had side projects. I got my first teaching assignment in the MBA program when I was still under 30. Then I got more and more involved in the start-up scene and managed projects in the empowerment scene on the side. I have also completed two coaching courses – as a systemic trainer and consultant and as a trainer for adult education. After my time at BMW, I worked at Siemens in Inhouse Consulting, where I rolled out global programs together with colleagues, for example the Negotiation Excellence Program or Procurement Excellence Program. At the end of my career as an employee, I was at Deloitte. There I was able to get to know other sectors such as finance and banking. Before that, I tended to work in the automotive sector or mechanical engineering.

One of the key experiences was actually during my first coaching training. I will never forget that. At the beginning, we were told that the coaching was value-oriented, that we would work with our values and practice all the examples on ourselves. At first I thought “Holy shit, I don’t feel like doing this right now. I’m actually here to learn methods and tools to coach others.” But that was really the best thing that could have happened to me. I have understood how important values are for us and that everything that triggers us or makes us happy always has to do with the fulfillment or violation of values.

One of my greatest values used to be recognition. But then I learned that this value is very much controlled from the outside and that you are therefore dependent on others. It is better to focus on values that you can influence yourself and that are not so dependent on the outside world. That was a crucial realization for me. After my time at Deloitte, I started my own business and have now been with the company for five years. I am now an entrepreneur and currently have two companies, one is the marketing agency “brandPreneurs & brandFluencers”, where we have focused on the topic of corporate influencers and community building. This means that we brand people, i.e. turn people into personal brands, primarily employees of companies, who we turn into brand and value ambassadors for the company. I launched the JOINT GENERATIONS initiative almost three years ago. Our aim here is to build bridges between different generations in order to ensure healthy and successful cooperation between generations in the long term.

2. you have worked for many well-known companies such as BMW, Deloitte, Siemens and Amazon. To what extent have these experiences influenced you in your current work as a management consultant?

If you consult yourself and have an agency, you understand what makes such groups and companies tick. They speak their language and, above all, understand the company policy. You can then also communicate at eye level because you have already worked in this context yourself. And, of course, you then know everything about interpersonal relationships, as well as methods and tools and how to work with suppliers, other colleagues, interface partners and customers. It was an absolutely valuable experience for me to work in a global context. This background is definitely a USP (Unique Selling Point) if you are self-employed or entrepreneurial.

3. which challenges do you think companies will have to address in particular in the future?

If I relate the question to our topics, I definitely see the problem of demographic change and the shortage of skilled workers. When we look at the topic of JOINT GENERATIONS, age diversity and generational diversity in companies, there are clearly two major challenges. On the one hand, companies need to consider how they can make themselves attractive to young talent in the long term. And on the other hand, they need to ask themselves how they can secure the knowledge and skills of experienced employees so that this is not lost.

Marketing and sales are becoming increasingly competitive when it comes to corporate influencers. And it is a very good and innovative approach for companies to involve their own employees in the marketing strategy. This is the most authentic way for a company to present itself, because employees from its own ranks are simply much more credible.

The questions that companies should ask themselves could therefore be: How do I get hold of top talent? How can I retain my employees in the long term so that they stay with me longer and with pleasure? And of course the comprehensive topic of lead generation and customer acquisition is also relevant, because social media and how to position and make yourself visible is becoming increasingly important. I think we are doing quite well with our topics and offers in these areas.

4. you are also an Expert Advisor for the European Innovation Council Accelerator of the European Commission. What exactly are you working on as part of this task?

That sounds much sexier in English. In German, I’m actually something of an expert witness. They have various programs such as Horizon, for which start-ups or scale-ups can apply for funding programs and receive large sums of funding. They have to fulfill a lot of criteria, fill out a lot of documents, present their idea in a concept, present the strategies and the current key figures. My job is to look through these documents according to predefined criteria and then give my decision or my expert opinion as to whether they are worthy of support or not. The submissions I receive for evaluation are predominantly in the HR-Tech or Edu-Tech sector.

5. if you could make a wish here with regard to political actors and institutions, what would it be?

It always depends on which aspect I’m looking at. In principle, I am always an advocate of education being accessible to everyone. But if we now take a look at the start-up scene, we should of course improve the framework conditions, i.e. create more funding and financing opportunities. I would like Germany to be more willing to take risks and also support start-ups that are in the early stages and may not yet have any successes to show. You should also stand behind them if there is an idea and you believe that it could become something bigger.

I can also criticize the system. Of course, it would be nice if people who have worked for years also had provisions and security in old age. And our generation doesn’t even know whether we will really get a pension later on. So that would be my wish. In addition, funding programs offered by the EU should be more accessible to people, because the path with all the forms and applications is usually quite complicated. Regulations and framework conditions should be found that make it easier for people in Germany to become self-employed or set up a company.

6 I can imagine that with the many tasks you dedicate yourself to every day, one or the other reader’s head is spinning. How can we imagine your day-to-day work here?

No two days are the same for me. I have a mountain of e-mails to answer every day. Then there are also a lot of customer meetings, where we naturally spend a lot of time on acquisition. This means that we talk to the customers who approach us and are generally interested in the service or offer. We develop concepts and strategies with the active customers from whom we have been commissioned. We do a lot of workshops that we have to prepare and run. All the measures we take have to be tracked again and again and we have to take a look: How is the performance going? Are we on track? Is everything working as we imagined?

Then I’m also an advisory board member and occasionally have advisory board meetings and preparations. I am also a mentor. That’s why I also have appointments with my mentees and provide them with advice and support. Teaching assignments are also part of my everyday life and these also need to be prepared. I also answer questions from my students. I’m also a moderator and have to coordinate with the customers and prepare everything with the people involved. If it’s a panel discussion, for example, then I have to prepare for it. Of course, I also have to coordinate my daily routine, travel schedule and appointments and make sure that everything fits together. I also write a lot of content, as I am very active on social media or I write articles for specialist magazines. I recently wrote a book, which I have now finished.

So I never get bored. My day-to-day work is very varied and is characterized by many meetings and conversations on all kinds of platforms. There is also a lot of strategic, conceptual and analytical work that we do together with clients and a lot of journalistic activities.

7 Our focus topics are female empowerment and diversity. Are there or have there ever been challenges in these areas that have arisen for you and if so, how did you deal with them?

There were a lot of challenging situations. I have worked in very male-dominated areas. It all started with a large automotive group. And as a young woman with a migrant background, you always have to prove yourself, assert yourself and stand your ground. You also learn to deal with it. It always depends on the context and the situation. There is no general solution, but in principle you always have to stand up for yourself and speak up when you realize that something is wrong or something doesn’t fit. And of course you always have to do your work very well so that nobody can say anything. So don’t let it be said that you don’t perform. I’m a person who convinces through performance, because that always silences the biggest critics anyway. Otherwise, it is important to be confident and to simply demand certain things in some situations, not to let things get you down and to address things openly.

8. do you perhaps have a specific tip for all women who are not starting from the “hetero-normative white social starting line” and don’t know how they can compensate for the unfortunately still existing unequal starting conditions?

That’s a very difficult question, because I didn’t have an easy start either. First and foremost, you have to find something for yourself where you can live out your strengths. Because you can’t make it if you work in an area that doesn’t suit you at all and you have to fight any battles. So first of all, you need the basis. Where do I want to go? What do I want to achieve? What are my strengths? Where is my passion?

I’ve already found the right place for me and my motto is to go where I can identify with the corporate culture. Above all, a company where I can contribute my strengths and create added value. It can also help if you get mentors or have people who are behind you. I also think that you have a lot more options these days than in the past. There are so many networks where you can get support. You can educate yourself online, network and get in touch with others to feel that you are not alone.

It’s also a bit of trial and error. So you should also take risks and try things out. If something doesn’t work, don’t always insist on your comfort zone and don’t keep repeating the same strategy ten thousand times that doesn’t work. But perhaps also take other paths. It’s always easier said than done. But if you don’t believe in yourself, who will? And it’s best not to be irritated by supposed hurdles or stumbling blocks, but simply go your own way.

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9. your entrepreneurial focus is currently on JOINT GENERATIONS, community building and corporate influencer strategies. What excites you most about these topics and how will they develop over the next few years?

So the topic of corporate influencers and community building definitely appeals to me because I find the topic of marketing very exciting anyway. And I find the idea of involving employees in the marketing strategy very valuable. Why? This also has a lot to do with the corporate culture. I trust my employees per se and give them a free hand, so to speak, so that they can be active on social media.

This has something to do with appreciation, that everyone in the company feels seen and heard, i.e. that the voices of your own employees are heard. And I think that’s more than just somehow using employees to sell production output. It’s more about really becoming a brand and value ambassador for the company.

It is also important to convey that you are part of this corporate culture and can make a difference. We are a company that stands for certain values and through our employees we have the opportunity to communicate this side of the company to the outside world.

The topic of community building is also very relevant both economically and socially. The aim here is to strengthen cohesion between companies and employees and, above all, to break down silo mentality and action boundaries so that employees can exchange ideas, network and cooperate with each other.

I also find the topic of joint generations very exciting. I work in the diversity environment anyway, but I find the age dimension very interesting, especially with regard to demographic change. We also deal with the issue of age discrimination, which can go both ways. Both older people and young people can be discriminated against. And that is the paradox. Age affects us all, but we are taking a stand in this area. It affects all areas of our lives, i.e. at an economic, political, media and social level. With regard to the new world of work, it is also extremely important that the needs and expectations of all generations in every age group are taken into account. I am convinced that we can only create a much healthier and more sustainable future for all of us through intergenerational cohesion if we really focus on what we have in common.

10 We look forward to hearing and reading more from you in the future. Is there a passion or a format that you would like to dedicate yourself to in the future?

I have just written a book and would like to work towards establishing a culture of debate in this area and talking about it much more. The topic is based on three pillars. In the first pillar, people create awareness that the topic is relevant and important. Then comes the second phase, in which everyone starts talking about it. We are currently in this phase. But of course there could be much more. And then comes the final phase. How do we get companies and organizations to step up their implementation efforts? How is the topic of diversity also taken into account in your environment?

We now have seven dimensions and the focus should not only be on gender or social background, but also on age diversity. And it should become part of the digitalization strategy and also part of the New Work approach. I would now like to focus more on this in the future. Above all, I am always learning new things. What are the challenges? What do companies need? What could such solutions look like to support companies? I am firmly convinced that 2024 will be the year of generational diversity.

Dear Irène, thank you very much for this great interview.

About the author

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Kinga Bartczak advises, coaches and writes on female empowerment, new work culture, organizational development, systemic coaching and personal branding. She is also the managing director of UnternehmerRebellen GmbH and publisher of the FemalExperts magazine .

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