“I must admit, I hadn’t planned on living here!” she says. “My first visit to the country was only in 2013 and I didn’t speak German at all. But I was approached by a recruiting agency via LinkedIn to attend a Female Networking and Recruiting event in Bonn that had been organized by Sabine Mueller, DHL Consulting’s CEO. I went along, had an interview and was offered a job! While I was very content in Russia and wasn’t actively looking for another role, I did want more international experience and a new challenge. So I thought: ‘Why not try consulting in Germany?’ It was a great opportunity, which I’m so glad I took.”
After all, the diverse, international make-up of the DHLC team was a big enticement. “We have colleagues from India, China, Korea, Hungary, Portugal and Spain — from everywhere,” says Alena. “I find it so inspiring that people from many different mindsets, cultures and backgrounds come together to find common solutions to clients’ problems.”
Alena believes that the flexibility at DHL Consulting — such as working from home or from different locations depending on the project setup — is a sign of the company’s adaptable culture. “I always feel that I’m supported to achieve my goals with advice, tools and training,” she says. “I have open conversations about how my career can develop – I started as Project Manager and have progressed to be an Associate Partner. I also know that if I want to take things in a different direction I’d be encouraged to do so.”
When Did You Decide to Pursue a Career in Consulting?
When I was studying for my masters in strategic management at Emlyon Business School in Lyon, France, I did a course on how to succeed in professional consulting, which involved listening to representatives from consulting companies talking about their work. When you don’t have any preference for a specific business — and I still don’t, actually — it seemed like an interesting direction to take.
When You Were Offered the Role at DHLC, Were You Concerned About Giving up Your Job in Russia and Moving to a New Life in Germany?
Usually, when people are looking to make a change it’s because they aren’t satisfied with something in their lives. That wasn’t the case for me; so I suppose it was a brave move in that sense. On the other hand, I had a very good feeling about the culture and values of DHL Consulting from my interactions with the partners, and my expectations were high! My boss in Moscow at the time who was an ex-consultant also encouraged me to try it out and stay for at least a couple of years to fully assimilate and figure out if it was the right fit for me If it wasn’t, I was welcome to return to my previous job which of course made me feel very secure. I also wasn’t straight out of university, I’d already studied abroad and had been working for around seven years by that point, both in an external consultancy and in industry, so I had quite a clear understanding of what fits me and makes me happy job-wise.
What Do You Like About Being an Associate Partner?
I like the freedom and the ownership I have as an Associate Partner. I totally own what I do in terms of decision-making; plus I’m exposed to senior management at a high level and am able to influence the decisions they take. I like the idea of connecting the dots for clients, getting things done and being able to shape them same time. I have a ‘finisher’ mentality. It motivates me when I can make an impact.
What’s the Teamwork Culture like at DHL Consulting?
Oh, I really enjoy that. There are a lot of young smart people who come to work here and I like being able to shape their knowledge and help with their development. Because I’ve worked in different work environments I bring a certain knowledge and experience to the table. I think the junior members of the team appreciate that and are able to learn and develop.
What Kind of Projects Do You Work on at DHL Consulting?
They’re all very different and obviously what you do changes depending on what level you’re at. So what I do now as an Associate Partner is different from what I did as a Project Manager. I recently finished a project on an IT security topic; but before that I was mainly working in the area of IT architecture, data management and process automation. Now I’m involved in a compliance topic. One reason the variety of projects is so wide is because part of what we do is adding value for DPDHL, which is a huge company with lots of different business units.
How does DHL Consulting Empower its Female Colleagues?
The most important thing it does is create awareness about the problems and biases women are typically exposed to. If I’m honest, when I first came here I was a little surprised by the amount of attention DHLC paid to this topic because, for me, it was never a problem in Russia. Or at least I didn’t think it was. But of course, just because no-one spoke about it doesn’t mean the problem didn’t exist! So creating an awareness of these issues, particularly with male colleagues, is a big first step.
Can Having Female Leadership Make a Difference to a Company?
Of course. It brings diversity, empathy and the ability to challenge the status quo. Also, only a female leader knows what it feels like to manage or participate in a meeting with 10 senior managers who are all male. Whatever one may say – there is a difference, and it is great to learn from the experience of our Management. Hearing their stories and getting tips about how women can overcome their insecurities in these circumstances can really help, especially for the colleagues from highly hierarchical cultures, like Russia or China.
You’re a member of a Lean In Circle. How does this help you?
Lean In is an external organization with communities in different cities that are dedicated to helping women achieve their ambitions. It organizes different workshops and events, where members can discuss hot topics regarding women in the workplace. It helps to talk to people with similar mindsets and interests to find different solutions to difficult problems.
You’re Keen on Travel. Where’s Next on Your Travel List?
I have a whole list of locations! I’d love to go to Greenland, for example. I’d also like to explore more of Russia. I would love to hike in Caucasus or Altay and enjoy the mountains and lakes there. I like hiking and the landscape is fantastic.
Does the Flexibility of Your Role Make It Easier for You to Pursue Your Hobbies and Interests?
It does… although, obviously, it’s not that easy to incorporate travel and hobbies into daily life, my job is still quite time-consuming. But two months of sabbatical certainly helped to balance things out. Taking a sabbatical isn’t really something that people do in Russia. Here, though, due to the nature of the work and the mindset of our management, it’s super fine. It helped me to detach, unwind and come back refreshed.