Mirjam Thieme is the CEO of MB it-Consulting China. Here, she talks to Judith Mwai about the pros and cons of being an entrepreneur during Covid-19 and her career journey
Five years ago, after a management buy-out I became the owner and CEO of MB it-Consulting China, a company that specialises in business consulting and sales and implementation services of human capital management cloud technology software. Prior to that, I mainly worked in a corporate environment.
There are pros and cons to being an entrepreneur. My main job is working with companies as a business consultant, and I really enjoy the flexibility and different areas of business I can work in, however being in the consulting business is not always so stable and being fully responsible for a team of consultants and projects especially during the past year has sometimes be a challenge.
I’ve been in China since 1991 and of course seen many changes, in terms of the business environment, social environment and of course our natural environment. I think it’s this ever-changing environment that has provided me with so many great opportunities to learn and grow professionally and personally. Change is definitely a constant in our lives here, and even after 30 years this still challenges as well as motivates me.
I’ve always been positively influenced by many women in my family; strong hardworking women that pursue their dreams, travel, work hard and take care of their family at the same time. I believe that if you don’t stretch yourself you’re contracting, both in body and mind. Keep pushing limits, keep on learning, work hard, go out and explore, and step out of that comfort zone.
I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few very good leaders, who have taught me valuable functional and practical lessons such as how to lead a team, how to communicate with customers, how to close a difficult sales deal, how to balance work and life, even how to dress for success. It’s from those mentors that I’ve learned to evaluate people’s personal style, behaviour and communication preferences and to align that to my own style to enhance effective communication and cooperation.
I’ve mainly worked in male-dominated industries, but I don’t think being a woman has been a disadvantage. Especially in China which has a large female working population, I think if you know your industry or professional field, people respect you and want to work with you because of your knowledge and not necessarily because you’re a man or a woman.
Diversity in general is very important to any organisation. Different groups of people bring different value to the business and it’s proven that diverse teams deliver better results. This applies to the board of an organisation, a company’s management team as well as functional teams, and should preferably be reflected in all layers of the organisation. Having said that, I’m not necessarily a firm believer in a diversity quota or percentage. I think organisations should hire the best person for the job (taking the team and business needs into consideration), regardless of age, gender, or nationality. “Don’t hire me because I’m a woman, hire me because I’ll bring the most value to your organisation.”
I’m an active member of the ‘women in business’ community in Beijing, but one of the most rewarding experiences is my volunteer work as China Coordinator for Magic Hospital. This not-for-profit organisation aims to bring play and laughter to hospitalised and disadvantaged children, to those who are temporarily or permanently deprived of a carefree childhood. In 2003 we started the clinic clowns programme in China’s largest children hospital and grew our activities from there. However as we are now restricted by Covid regulations, we’re constantly searching for other opportunities to bring some joy and compassion to those who need it so much.
I have always found it’s important to network, within the organisation as well as outside. Search for and build good relationships with the person or people that you can learn from and who can support you in your career progression. Don’t only look upwards, also embrace opportunities that may arise in other functional areas, it will broaden your experience and skills. Pursue further education and training – doing an MBA for example is not only an investment in knowledge but also will expand your network and relationships.