S8E11: Bringing specific vision to a business, with Silke Zschweigert (CEO, Jonckers)

An episode of The Impact Multiplier CEO Podcast

S8E11: Bringing specific vision to a business, with Silke Zschweigert (CEO, Jonckers)

Silke Zschweigert (CEO of Jonckers, a leading translation solutions provider) speaks with Xquadrant's Founder Richard Medcalf.

We are continuing our season "The CEO Learning Curve". Interesting and inspiring CEOs reflect on what got them the top job, what they've learned over the first few quarters in the role, and what lies ahead.

In this conversation, you’ll discover:

  • Silke's "Madonna moment" that led her to leave a corporate job she loved.
  • The three biggest factors that helped Silke secure the CEO role.
  • The biggest surprise about being CEO - and how that weighs on the leader.

"It always seems impossible until it's done."

Click to Tweet

"Remember to sign up for our free email series on the CEO Learning Curve"

Watch

More of a video person? No problem.

You can watch this episode and discover more videos on strategy, leadership and purpose over on the Xquadrant YouTube channel.

Transcript

Richard Medcalf
Silke Zschweigert is the CEO of Jonckers, which is a leading translation services provider. She took over the CEO role about 18 months ago and she came with a really clear vision, she saw that they had an artificial intelligence platform, which they were using internally and she could see the potential of absolutely transforming the business, if she was to take that platform and expose it externally. So she comes with very clear vision to the business and we have a great conversation, she's very fascinating lady brings a lot of wisdom and she talks about how she moves from her corporate role where she was really enjoying herself and yet she decided to reinvent herself, and take on the CEO role in the smaller high growth company. She talks about how she secured that role. The three factors you need to bear in mind if you want to grab the CEO seat. She talks about the surprises of that journey. What was it that surprised that she was already a highly experienced executive and yet, there was still some aspects of the CEO role, which were which were, which were new to her, which she didn't quite realize the weight that that would put on her shoulders. So she's really great conversation with Silca. I do hope you enjoy it. Welcome to the world of Jonckers and artificial intelligence in the translation world.

Hi Silke and welcome to the show.

Silke Zschweigert
Hi Richard, nice to meet you and thank you for the invitation.

Richard Medcalf
Now, I'm really looking forward to this year, the CEO of Jonckers, which looks like it's really pioneering artificial intelligence based translation service and platform and I know you've moved into that just over the last year or so. So that's two years. So I really looking forward to understanding a bit about that learning curve, right? What how how's it been, from going in from perhaps the corporate world where you had kind of very high level roles, you know, into taking the full ownership, if you like, of this fast growing business? So let's just start by Patrick, give me a bit of your background? What was what was the story of, you know, your brief story up to that CEO role? And then tell us a bit about Jonckers? What interested you in that company?

Silke Zschweigert
Yeah, absolutely. So obviously, I'm a CEO of Jonckers at the moment. Originally, I'm from Belgium, even though I have a German name but I've been living in Germany for the past 20 years. My mother is German, my husband is German, hence, also the German last name and I moved to Germany over 20 years ago, and I from my education, I have a master's degree in in translation for Dutch, English, German, and Chinese.

Richard Medcalf
Well, that's because I only in Belgium, but then you slipped in the Chinese. So that's yeah.

Silke Zschweigert
So I always wanted to work in an international environment, not as a translator, but the international environment was really important to me. So in 99, I joined a company called alkane, if at the time as a project manager and so my career has really started in that customer service. Before that, I was also I was a travel guide in China. So already working with with customers. So the project management step was kind of more into that direction customer service. Very soon after that, I became a team lead and then around 2003, when our company got acquired by another company called STL, I became the management Managing Director of Germany. So that was my first like, real management experience of being the managing director of one country within a global organization at that time, I was 27 and then since then, I had several international roles on anemia level first, both commercial but also operational and then, in 2016, I became the chief delivery officer where I was responsible in STL for two and a half 1000 employees in 38 countries. So really exciting times and in 2018, I decided to close that chapter and my friends told me it was my midlife crisis, how can you leave a job that you actually love?

Richard Medcalf
Well, I want to just add into this. I mean, I think it's productive of you, right? Sometimes people wait until they get into this phase of stagnation and even defensiveness because they feel oh, perhaps I'm a bit too old in this role. I'm a bit too long on a bit too expensive, but I'm going to hang on in there and I think actually, when you're still, when it's still good, it's a fantastic moment to reinvent yourself. I like to say to my clients, with a bit of my tongue in cheek as I'm wanting to do, I'll say, you know, you need a Madonna moment and it was on a moment is that moment when she like, reinvented yourself and came out with a, you know, with a new look, or whatever and it's like, every moment, almost every major rock or pop artists are either they gotta go for this for the nostalgia thing, like they never change but pretty much like all the ones who really innovated they, they reinvent themselves and perhaps they, they create that period of uncertainty, but then they managed to bring their old self into their new self and I think that that starts the game. I think that's exponential.

Silke Zschweigert
Yeah, I like to start using that I had my Madonna moments. That's really good. Yeah. And after the Madonna moment, it was really like, Okay, what do I want from here? I went into consulting a little bit, worked a lot with, with private equity firms who wanted to explore the language markets and then I bumped into Jonckers as a company, where I got really excited about their technology platform and it was kind of been moving from, as you mentioned before, from that big corporate environment, at least in our space to a much smaller company, but where I just saw a lot of potential in really making the platform that they already have, like the global platform for continuous localization and so if you say, what is it that Jonckers does? That's exactly what we do. So basically, Younkers is a tech enabled language company that provides enterprises like Amazon or Microsoft with solutions to make sure that they can bring their products to the global market. So we help them to go faster, more cost effective, and obviously at a high quality. So that's in a nutshell, what we do at Jonckers.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, perfect and of interest. What What attracted you to that? What what in that got you excited and made you want to jump in?

Silke Zschweigert
It's a very good question. So I kind of made a list for myself at the time, what is it that you really want to get out of your new your next job, your next position, and I came up with three criteria that were really important to me. One was that I wanted to stay in a technology driven environment. The other one was that it definitely had to be an international company, because that's my DNA. That's where I came from. That's what I love but the third factor, I realized was really important to me and it's I wanted to have fun and because I think, you know, work hard play hard, has always been my motto. And everyone who has worked with me in the past 20 odd years knows that. Just want to work with nice people who can have a bit of fun, and obviously work hard as well. But that was those were my three points.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, perfect and then within the kind of the actual opportunity within Jonckers, what was it that kind of made you go? Yep, it's it's tech. It's International. It's fun and it's actually got potential, right, what's the potential that you saw?

Silke Zschweigert
Potential for me was really the platform and when I started talking to the people who actually develop the platform, I remember saying, Okay, I've been in the language industry for more than 20 years, I worked within the top three, within a company within the top three. I've never heard of words online, which is the platform. How come a secret exactly why Why doesn't anyone else know about it and it turned out that they had developed this magnificent platform, but they had used it only internally for efficiency purposes and that's where I just saw the big opportunity saying, Okay, it's not fair to only use it for your biggest clients, for their continuous localization, we need to bring this to market and make sure that other companies can also benefit of this and so that's really, the journey that we've taken to to really go, on the one hand is move ourselves from being a pure language service provider to really become the language platform for enterprises who go global.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, that's great. So I love it so good, because you're bringing out this kind of guiding vision, right? The kind of the one shift that you could perhaps see need to make is as a as a CEO. So let me ask you before you were had a lot of, you know, thought of in project management, you said you became a chief delivery officer. So very heavy operational focus by the sound of it and looking back, what were the biggest factors that helped you secure the CEO role, which obviously is a broader, broader remit? How do you kind of expand your game?

Silke Zschweigert
I think it's three, three main components. It's kind of vision, experience and credibility. And let me just explain what I mean by that. So obviously, you know, the vision that I just explained to you that I think that's what I want is clear is to transform youngsters from being that typical language service provider into becoming the global platform. I think that really was exciting for the shareholders, to get someone who really wanted to do that. I mean, we use this REO platform, and our managed community to really break down or remove language barriers. And I think that's key in today's world that is so global. So having that vision was definitely an important part of decision. The fact that I had the experience in the sense that I had already worked in the language industry for 20 years, I had filled several commercial and operational roles. And one of the top three players, I'm sure that played an important role. Also, the fact that I had experience in the tech space, that I had gone through several acquisitions, and was partly responsible for the integration of those. And so those are kind of in the had managed global teams. So this is the pure experience part, that was definitely a key factor. And then the third part is credibility, which obviously goes hand in hand with experience. But I didn't mention, I mean, obviously, I didn't mention the fact that I'm a female CEO. As a female CEO, you kind of have to double prove your credibility. Like, how do you deal with male managers? How do you deal with male customers? How do you deal with being a mother and a CEO? It's kind of all these questions that no one really there's to ask. But everyone's anyway. Right, exactly. So the fact that I had proven all these points throughout my career, I'm sure has also played an important role. So it's really those three things. It's vision, experience, and credibility, I would say,

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, no, that's really helpful, really clear. So you got into the role. In I think, July 2020, I think he said, So, to kind of 18 months ago, what's been the biggest surprise, you probably had some expectations about what it would mean to be CEO, you know, how did the reality surprise you?

Silke Zschweigert
Well, I always thought once I'd be a CEO, I would come into my beautiful office, I would put my feet on the desk, take my newspaper, and that would be it. Right? That wasn't the case..

Richard Medcalf
That wasn't quite the case.

Silke Zschweigert
No, seriously, um, it's not really a surprise, but more of a realization that that I had, and it's the impact that you constantly have on people as a CEO and this impact goes very much hand in hand with responsibility. So I mean, the fact that every decision you make has an impact on someone it has, it can have a positive, it can be positive or negative, but it can have an impact on your people and their families can have an impact on your suppliers and their families or potentially their companies can have an impact on customers. So in this regard, always finding that balance between taking decisions for the wellness of the company and on the other hand, making sure that you take the right decisions for the long term well being of the people that you're working with. I think that was my biggest realization kind of in this role.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, cuz I guess a CEO you have all these different sometimes conflicting stakeholder interests right? And there's no easy answer as to where you know where you are how you balance those, right?

Silke Zschweigert
Exactly.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, yeah. So I think I can, yeah, I can understand. It's interesting talk about decisions. And one of my co clients who were having discussion around decision making a way to put its focus and just say, actually, really, really clear about what decisions are actually yours as CEO to take, because it's easy to, there's also things you can pretty much decide on anything. But every time you make a decision, you probably stepping on somebody else's toes, you know, either because it's their functional responsibility to decide or because to function should be getting together and figuring out what they want to do together.

Silke Zschweigert
No one else blame, right? So when you're in another position to company, you always have the CEO to blame for whatever is happening. doesn't happen anymore.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, it's a great point. I mean, CEO is about taking ultimate responsibility, in a sense, right? There is nowhere else at that point, you have to exactly cut. Yeah, you have to take it. For me. That's almost the definition of CEO, I think it's when you have that ultimate responsibility and that's why I see as well, my CEO clients are spending their time saying, How do I get everybody else to take this high level of personal responsibility and ownership? Right, because that's the CEO mindset that you want to kind of replicate? Yeah. So. Okay, so yeah, well, what else? Did you what other surprises came along? Anything else to that? That's tricky.

Silke Zschweigert
Not really surprises and I mean, obviously, there's they daily surprises, but those are what I would say is more tactical, I guess, because I had already been in senior roles before, the kind of the responsibility, the team management, the decision making, etc. Was not that you for me, it was really that realization of impact that that was again, not a surprise, but kind of a wall. Okay, this is...

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. Really landed.

Silke Zschweigert
Yeah.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. Perfect. So you've been over this, this is 18 months as a CEO. Yeah. What advice would you now give for other new CEOs, if they were coming on board to a new company, taking the reins? What would your tips be for them?

Silke Zschweigert
Ah, definitely, I think this is a typical answer, but it is important, have a clear vision for what you're going to be doing over the next couple of years. Make sure that it's clear. But also make sure that you share it with the team, make sure that people in the organization know about the vision that they understand the vision, which is different to saying that they agree to the vision that's a next step, but kind of make sure that it's clear, so that you can ensure that everyone runs in the same direction. I just said, it's not the same as that everyone agrees, I think this is also a very good and important opportunity to give to the people who don't agree with your vision to start looking for an alternative. Because it is important that everyone stands behind the company vision. So I would say that's my, my number one, make sure that you have a clear vision and you can you talk about it. That the second one is ask questions. Almost like some some people or some senior people think they need to know everything. Yes. So it's not it's not okay to ask questions, because I should probably know this. I definitely do not agree with that. I think you have to ask questions. And it will actually build trust with the people and it goes so creates credibility because it means you have personal interest in what the people are doing. And it actually gives you a valuable input to put in your transformation plan if you if that's the the objective that you have and crucial.

Richard Medcalf
Why it's interesting. One of my clients found out that the person he felt was asking the different difficult questions was actually the most engaged even though initially he thought, oh, this person is not on board with my plan. Because he's asking all these difficult questions. He doesn't believe it's gonna work, but actually was the most engaged executive he had on his team.

Silke Zschweigert
So that's, that's actually my third point. So, first one is to have a clear Vision. The second one is ask questions. But the third one is communicate. Because if you communicate, you, you also encourage people to ask questions. And so you will actually get to know your team. And you'll you'll always have those people you just mentioned, you know, who asked lots of difficult questions or, or people who are very silent, but communication both inwards, I would say it's very important to interpose employees, etc. But also outwards, make sure you're in touch with customers very quickly with your suppliers. Really make sure you understand kind of how is you? How's your company seen by the rest of the world? What are the positives? What are the things that you could improve as a company? I found that really useful during that early on? Because again, you're the one who can ask silly questions also, towards the customer. Because you're new. Yes. So yeah, right, be valuable.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, that's a great point actually make the most of being new, right? Don't see it as a negative, but actually use it as hey, I'm new. I'm fresh, you know, let me ask the stupid questions. And I think as a consultant, I've made most of my career out of asking stupid questions, right. And actually, I think to say, you talked about asking questions and not being afraid to ask questions. One thing I noticed, because I've coached executive, many different levels, and I find that my CEO, coaching clients are the ones who have to slow down the most. When I asked him something, because they feel they always need to have a response, because it's become second nature, because everyone's always asking them things all the time. And it's very easy to ask them quite a challenging question, potentially. But they're immediately on to saying something. And I have to kind of go slow down a bit. You don't need to prove anything in this moment. What you're, you know, what's actually going on? And to get into this process a bit more, because, as I said, the operational reality of many CEOs is they have to have answers all the time, just to kind of get through all the multiples on their time. Yeah. And so I think also relates into not not always having have to have the answers a bit of that space where you don't quite know, okay,

Silke Zschweigert
I think it's fine to say, well, I don't know.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, you can just actually surprising people that can not matter their own habits as well. Right? If employees expect you to know all the time, then you know, that wakes them up, as well, and it could interrupt. Okay, so be helpful. So share the vision, ask questions, and then communicate inwards and outwards and ask those silly questions as well, to kind of make the most of that done. Eunice. I think there's a there's a great tips. And let's gonna move into a little quickfire questions here. And it's always good to, to ask about favorites and things that have shaped you as a person and as a leader. So what's, what's the favorite quote, or motto that you like to live by? Or lead by?

Silke Zschweigert
I like it's, it always seems impossible until it's done from Nelson Mandela. I think it's a very good quote. Yeah. And it's just one of the things that in a change management process, you know, it's very useful to have that one. Because I think we all know, it's the standard answer. If you want to change something, it's like, no, that's not possible. He's always done it that way.

Richard Medcalf
Absolutely. What about a favorite app? Is there some app on your phone that, you know, really adds value to you in a surprising way? Or go just go to?

Silke Zschweigert
I'll give you a really surprising answer. Because it's not a not a high level, cultural app or anything like that. But Whatsapp and Facebook really add value to my personal life, because for me, it's the medium I stay in touch with my friends around the world. And so without having to pick up the phone to everyone, every time, I can kind of make sure that people are aware what I'm doing, and I'm aware what they're doing, which I think is absolutely fantastic. So a non non business answer there. But you know, I would say the most used apps on my phone.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, absolutely.

Silke Zschweigert
Besides, that's not a favorite.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, it's funny, you know, these apps, like, they add value, but we also want to get out of them a lot. And it's a it's a love hate relationship,

Silke Zschweigert
I think, yeah. You don't want your life in them. That's for sure.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. Yeah. So what a book, is it a book that's really influenced you on your journey?

Silke Zschweigert
There is a book like I mean, it's a it's a small book, but I read it quite early on in my career, and I must say it had a big impact on me and it's Who Moved My Cheese from Spencer Johnson. Oh, yes. And at the time, my manager actually gave it to me because we were in the middle of a change management process. And so it really kind of opened my eyes that I don't know whether you've read it, but it's about mice who, who need who are who are in a hurry. God, what's the English word now? Like a labyrinth?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, like, yeah. Yeah.

Silke Zschweigert
And they kind of need, they always do the same thing and they can't find it anymore. And so it's like, well, how do you change your way of thinking? So you actually get to where you want to go. Right? Right. And it's for me, it's a very simple but very valuable book.

Richard Medcalf
Okay, yeah, I've seen it. I've never read it. So perhaps I should dig it out one of these days.

Silke Zschweigert
It's very thin. So you'll have it done within an hour.

Richard Medcalf
Okay, so what advice would you give your 20 year old self?

Silke Zschweigert
Oh, god, that's a difficult one. Interestingly enough, I wouldn't change anything. So I think the advice would just be, you can do whatever you want, if you really want it and I think that would be that would be the advice.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. Last one, last question is, it's just really around, who inspires you are many of our Bescot many of our best guests on the show come from referrals? Right. So I'm always keen to know, you know, who's an impactful CEO, you know, who's perhaps impacted your career in some way, you know, somebody that could be another great guest for the show? Has anybody come to mind?

Silke Zschweigert
And there's, I'm sure there's lots of people, but if I really think of, you know, inspiration, and where I think, wow, this guy just keeps amazing me I wouldn't need to reach out to someone like Elon Musk, you know, I just find it. Unbelievable how visionary this guy is, and almost crazy at times but really trying to create vision and creating value for the world. That's really amazing. So if you can get him on your interview show that?

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. Sure. How hard can it be? How can it be? A challenge? Yeah, well, it's really interesting. I was writing an email today, for my newsletter, explaining how to how to get an invitation with Bill Gates, how to get a meeting with Bill Gates, and he actually happened in I went to a meeting there 100 people in the room. And and the host said, Has anyone got a big ask for this community? So we put the hand up, I said, like an intro to Bill Gates, please. Five people put their hands up. Because it made it we made a better asked and I just made, that was his ask. But he gave the rationale. He explained why it was important. And people got what he's up to. And there were a few people there who could actually get him closer to that inner circle. So it's amazing, because the conference organizers said to me afterwards, I've completely wanted to die when the guy said, because it was like, this is gonna destroy my whole point. This is to audacious too big a goal. So I'll just put it out there, right. If anybody on this, any listener, knows how we can get Elon Musk on the show, that'd be great. Yeah, why not? Yeah, look forward going. Hey, so this has been great. Let me ask about the future as we kind of wrap up. Because no matter where, what, how much have achieved, there's always a next level to get to. And as you know, that's what kind of excites me. So where do you go here as a business? What's next for Jonckers?

Silke Zschweigert
Well, watch this space, I would say. I mean, as a business, we will definitely expand enormously over the next couple of years, we want to become the platform for continuous localization. And so any company that brings their products and their content to global markets, in many languages quickly, they will, they will work with us. So that's where we, where we are going.

Richard Medcalf
Fantastic. Yeah, it's great and I say you've already let's set out that vision of really making the platform front and center. Let me ask you, how's your own leadership going to need to change you know, what's your, what's your stretch, you know, what's what's gonna take you out of your comfort zone, as you lead the company to these new heights?

Silke Zschweigert
What's my stretch kind of have stretches every day, I think that's what what keeps me going is that I keep learning every day, there's something new, something I haven't done. So it's kind of like a continuous learning process there. My current stretch that would definitely have a big impact on my time, is I desperately need to start really looking for a CFO to help me to bring the company to the next level. So that's my current challenge but um, you know, it's like, this is a continuous probe process every day. There's new challenges, new structures but for me, that's a process that is ongoing, and that's what keeps me going as well.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah, yeah. I love that. Yeah, it's a continuous journey, as we said, reinventing ourselves from time to time, and pushing, you know, pushing ourselves not because we have to, but because we want to actually and because we want to Absolutely. That's okay. It's been great to talk to you. It's been really fascinating to get a glimpse into Younkers into this view of this platform for artificial intelligence for for, for localization and, yeah, for just some of the show. Thank you for sharing just, honestly some of those, some of those learnings from your first month as CEO.

Silke Zschweigert
You're very welcome. It was lovely to speak to you and yeah, I look forward to that interview with Elon Musk.

Richard Medcalf
Speak soon. Bye bye.

**Note: This transcript is automatically generated.
Please excuse any errors.

Beyond the podcast...

Once you've subscribed to the podcast, why not go deeper and subscribe to the Xquadrant Insider?

This is our complementary email newsletter that focuses on multiplying value and impact at the intersection of leadership, strategy and purpose.  Originally designed for our private clients, we've made this available to a wider audience of high-achieving and purpose-driven leaders.


More from The Impact Multiplier CEO Podcast...

S8E15: A hub that attracts top tech talent, with Jason Wojahn (CEO, Thirdera)

S8E15: A hub that attracts top tech talent, with Jason Wojahn (CEO, Thirdera)

S8E14: Maintaining agility in a 6000-person business, with Cahê Kuczera Toporowicz (EVP, Amaris Consulting)

S8E14: Maintaining agility in a 6000-person business, with Cahê Kuczera Toporowicz (EVP, Amaris Consulting)

S8E13: Inspiring the team as you scale into 30 markets, with Timo Buetefisch (CEO, Cooltra)

S8E13: Inspiring the team as you scale into 30 markets, with Timo Buetefisch (CEO, Cooltra)

S8E12: Becoming co-CEO, with Matthias Berlit (CEO, Inform GmbH)

S8E12: Becoming co-CEO, with Matthias Berlit (CEO, Inform GmbH)

S8E11: Bringing specific vision to a business, with Silke Zschweigert (CEO, Jonckers)

S8E11: Bringing specific vision to a business, with Silke Zschweigert (CEO, Jonckers)

S4E21: Finding what’s next, with Evan Sohn (CEO, Recruiter.com)

S4E21: Finding what’s next, with Evan Sohn (CEO, Recruiter.com)
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
>