"ACCEPT, CHANGE OR LEAVE!" A CONVERSATION WITH ILZE GRASE-ĶIBILDE

"Three words that help me decide how best to act – accept, change or leave!" says Moller Baltic Import Managing Director Ilze Grase-Ķibilde in an interview. She is one of the supporters of the Novatore Impact Summit. This international forum will take place on 22 to 23 September in Riga. Its main aim is to encourage and motivate women to aim for the highest goals in their careers by realising their full potential.


 


You once said in an interview that “This is a man’s world! and I still feel it’s where I belong”. What is your personal career story? Did you build your career purposefully or were there events that drove your career?


Happy are the people, including me, who do not need a vacation from their work. Who can work in an area and environment in which they are happy to spend their working time, and sometimes stay after working hours, without counting down minutes to finish the work day.


One of my principal conditions is to work in a place where I can devote my energy fully and be honest with myself and others, and it is true.


Speaking about women in business, I would like to mention the global ambition to achieve diversity in business and leadership. Working with the Audi and Volkswagen brands, I can say that this German company still remains very conservative and grey-haired German gentlemen are still holding high-level positions. And it is a big challenge for such a company to transform and change, but one of our current goals is to lead by example in terms of diversity globally.


Diversity is not only about men and women. I believe that diversity is often associated only with gender but, in fact, there are a lot of other dimensions of diversity.


About your question as to whether my career was built purposefully ... In my case, many things happened unexpectedly at the very beginning, but subsequent steps were still a conscious choice. We are consciously striving for development, assuming more responsibilities, thus increasing our visibility and credibility by management. It is a mutual process of cooperation.


It is usual practice that sales staff progress into management positions on their career paths because a manager’s function is also associated with selling. Selling in a good sense – that the employee has a sense of belonging in the workplace, instilling a belief that targets we set are challenging but still achievable, inspiring and showing that the company really cares about what its employees do and how they feel.


That is why it makes absolute sense to agree that accessing management positions is extremely hard without selling, or effectively caring for employees.


What are your life experiences or lessons about what should practically be done by a woman who sees her potential for a management role?


I would not draw a line between women and men in this case, but I have the feeling that everything we do is not just happenstance. These are pretty much our conscious moves, and we are able to determine how we progress further.


I like the philosophical view that excellence is not just a coincidence, but a series of deliberate choices and actions.


We should focus on the level at which we act, because carelessness is the greatest scourge – if we are lax, this can be concealed in the short term, but it will become obvious later.


I often think – what would I do if I had no fear? For example, I would learn something new or go to my boss and say that I am ready for something more.


In an interview with the 'Ir Nauda' magazine, you said that you agree with Madeleine Albright: "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women". Why is it important for you to support the Novatore Impact Summit?


I am extremely happy that this year the Novatore project has made great strides in the Baltics because I see it as evidence that we are thinking progressively, and we are the nation which brought this matter to the foreground.


It may, at first glance, seem that we have many female leaders but, in fact, the number of women at the level of management boards or supervisory councils is still relatively minimal. That is why I believe that this project is contributing greatly to raising awareness in our society.


In 2021 you were ranked by 'Forbes' among 100 most powerful female business leaders. What do recognition, visibility, and influence in society mean to you?


Results are attained through joint efforts. It is not that important for me how much the achievements are recognised later, but rather that the team feel they have accomplished something valuable; that it is not my success, but it is our success. Speaking about publicity, I am happy if our story can inspire someone, but certainly it is not an end in itself.


Indeed, it is very much dependent on ourselves how we celebrate and rejoice about our successes, and how we share them with others. I believe it is important to celebrate wins, as we devote too much time and attention to failures.


At times of high tension, a good leader is characterised by psychological resilience and the ability to bounce back from stress and distress rather than professional skills. What about you?


I am lucky to work in an industry that I still find interesting after 20 years, because the automotive industry has so many different processes going on.


In stressful situations, I try to change myself, not others.


What we can change is our own attitude, our own knowledge, our own feelings in a particular situation. Before addressing any matter, first I like to understand what I can influence in this situation. And this circle of influence is something I try to set my focus on.


How do you balance your professional and personal life? Does a woman need to sacrifice her personal life to build a successful career?


When I had my first child, it was very hard for me to take full leave. I kept my job but there was an inner fear, and it was not about losing my position, but rather about being sort of left out. After I had taken my leave and then come back to work, I realised how important this time was for me and my family. And with my second child, I no longer reproached myself, although I had just been offered a promotion.

As an employer, I believe that a company’s manager must support employees also in their daily lives.


It can improve productivity over the long term. We are taking part in the 'Great Place to Work' research and this survey shows how it is important to create an environment where people feel safe, where communication is open about growth and situations of particular pressure, a place where people can speak out freely even when they do not agree.


But overall finding balance in life with everything I want to do is my objective, which will never be fully attained.


It is no secret that music is a key part of your life – 'Verona Opera Festival', as well as popular music. You also play the violin! Do you think hobbies are important to build a successful leader’s career?


Yes, music has been my love since childhood. Both listening and playing. Interests outside of work are like a mental menu, from which we can choose what we want and what we like. It nurtures our inner world. And then we are much more effective in our everyday life.


It is with good reason that big corporations often invite speakers from completely different areas, because it has been scientifically proven that our brain needs to receive different information so that we could remain strong in stressful situations, open for discussions.


I believe that “workaholism”, when you can never find time for something else, is a short-term solution.


What type of car would best suit a female leader?


The best car for us is the one in which we feel safe, for which we have chosen the best design, colour, power and size.



This interview has been prepared in cooperation with the international top executive search firm Pedersen & Partners. Interviewer Ieva Riekstiņa, Consultant at Pedersen & Partners.
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