Managing Director, Corrugated Solutions, Central Europe
“A career is not a sprint; it’s a marathon!”
Michaela Wurm works in Corrugated Packaging and leads our Central European network of five Corrugated Solutions plants. In this interview, Michaela shares her thoughts on the journey to this role, the experience of getting lost in her work and why she thinks we have a multitude of successes – and challenges – ahead as part of our growth journey.
Before I joined in 2016, I didn’t know Mondi.
My career began in mining. I studied geology and mining engineering and then joined one of the few open pit mines in Austria. I went through a few positions, from young geologist on the ground to exploration manager in Australia, and then several positions at Rio Tinto including Managing Director of an underground mine and milling plant in Italy.
I fell in love with Western Australia – and discovered I wasn’t just a geologist.
It was an amazing experience, completely different and really breathtaking. I got a new chance to get to know myself. I discovered, “Oh, leading people is really interesting… I don’t need to stay just ‘the expert’ and talk to my rocks all day – I can actually talk to people!” I got curious… and interested in people leadership, steering and operations. So when I came back to Austria, I began an MBA, which broadened my perspective even more. When I joined the Italian operation as Managing Director, it was honestly one of the best times in my life; being responsible for a big team, driving it through a difficult situation economically, and also celebrating successes together and developing people who had just started. It took me 10 years from being an expert to being an MD and actually to realise that I liked it!
My mentor told me I didn’t need to impress anyone.
The person who recruited me to that first job also became my mentor. We had a connection right from the start – he believed in my potential, even when I was less sure. He said, “Let’s give her the chance, but let’s also challenge her.” After a few years, he could see that I was diving into work too much. He said, “I am concerned you are working too much – I’m seeing your emails late at night and early morning. I’m paying you for 40 hours, and I think you’re working 70… and I will not give you a pay rise. So either you work more efficiently, or we need to have a different conversation.” He was worried I was burning myself out. He said, “You don’t need to impress anybody. Do your work and set yourself some limits.” It took another year before I understood what he meant. And now I think you need to go through the late nights, diving full in and running through the heavy workload, to figure out – how much is too much? Now 20 years later I find myself giving the same advice to young people who work with me.
When I joined Mondi, I wanted balance.
I made a deal with myself; I don’t want to have the lifestyle I had before. I started running as a bet between friends – let’s do a 10km run – and two years later I did 2 marathons. My coach asked if I wanted to buy a bike and give triathlon a go. So my triathlon career started in 2019 and now I’m doing half ironman, at least 2 per year and overall about 10 of the shorter distances. So now I have something that tells me, “You better stop working because you have another 2 hours of training scheduled, go home!” And to be honest, this keeps me in balance.
Mondi Vienna was anonymous at first.
I have this operational background and I had a better connection to the plants than I had with headquarters. I started in 2016 our in-house consulting team, project managing operational excellence, and had quickly the chance to get outside to operations. I had many different projects throughout the business segments and was able to build up a good network. In January 2020, when a role came up leading the Digital Excellence team, I’d already been thinking that something new would be great – so I applied for the job and got it.
I didn’t know much about digitalisation.
On day one I was standing in front of fifteen young people, all of them wanting direction. Do I have any idea about digitalization? Zero. Data science? Zero! I said, “Guys, I cannot challenge you from a content point of view, but I can open doors for you. I can be there to develop you in Mondi. Let's build up a reputation. You are clearly a high-potential group. We just need to bring all your skills onto the shop floor and run.” And this is what happened over the last two years. I took people development into my hands and we created career paths for them… and now three of my previous people have made the jump from a group function to the business unit. I’m super happy about that.
Now I’m a Regional MD in Central Europe for Corrugated Solutions.
I can actually deliver real, monetary value to the business. When I started, I said to my MDs, “Look, I'm not an expert in corrugated solutions – but you’ve got the experts, you don’t need another one.” So I’m here to make this region solid, to get everyone interacting, to make it stronger. Half the day I’m talking to people trying to find solutions together, and that’s exciting. The investments in our plants, which were finalised before I came – have put us now in a really good position; it has increased our capacity so we can be much more competitive.
Our customers push us hard on sustainability – and they’re right.
We hear it clearly from the market. Our customers want to be CO2-neutral in a couple of years. If we can’t help them with a CO2-neutral box, we won’t be the preferred supplier any longer. The only way to become CO2-neutral ourselves is by investing in clean, neutral energy sources. We need to take it into our hands and do it.
We have some exciting product developments in Corrugated Packaging.
eCommerce obviously is a critical market for us and our EnvelopeMailer product is one of our key success stories. In FMCG, our Twin Box is something we want to get out deeper into the market and there is huge potential. And then the high-strength heavy-duty cardboard for the automotive industry, for spare parts, which our Ansbach plant specialises in. These are all exciting areas where we want to stay strong and get even stronger.
I can see that the way colleagues interact in Mondi has changed a lot.
Over the years we have become much more empathetic; it’s the people who are at the forefront and that has been a conscious decision. We talk a lot about diversity and inclusion, but I think now people understand that just talking about it will not make the change. I have the feeling that we're now getting more momentum and seeing real actions.
Corrugated Packaging has an amazing variety of characters, cultures and challenges.
I’m dealing with so many characters in my region. We have amazing-performing plants and we have plants that have a challenge, and my role is to bring people together to support each other. I can talk to people directly on the shop floor and see projects through from start to finish – and finally harvest the improvements. So there’s a multitude of challenges and successes at the same time that you can achieve and share with people. And I am learning on a daily basis – this is a really exciting place to be in Mondi Group!