Portrait photos of the alumni in a collage.

Pictures: Magdalena Jooß/TUM (Bartels, Fürst, Tomic), Roland Niepaul (Peterwerth).

Alumni and challenges
How do You do this?
Four alumni tell us about extraordinary situations in their lives and how they dealt with them.
25. Apr 2022  |  
Reading time Min.
Leading the family business out of an economic crisis, balancing a management role and family, finding one’s way back into life after a blow of fate, and persevering on an adventurous journey: Some people accomplish things that leave us in awe and may seem impossible to ourselves at first.
Wife, Mother, Top Manager

Dr. Katharina Peterwerth

I am convinced that the desire to have children and the ambition to make a difference professionally are not mutually exclusive. Of course, this is not always easy. It often requires courage.

Above all, it requires the right partners, both professionally and in your private life. This is why I have always chosen companies that offer this opportunity. At McKinsey, I worked my way up to Associate Partner on a part-time basis and had three children during that time. As the head of the Organization Development department at Volkswagen, I also had enough room to do justice to both the demands of top management and my family. Of course, I also had to actively claim this freedom. On some evenings, I even have to work longer hours.

I’m not alone – quite the opposite: we have wonderful childcare and an equally great domestic helper. And, crucially, my husband and I have a relationship at eye level. We hardly have any traditional role distributions: We share the everyday tasks, as well as the mental workload.
I also balance this by paying attention to things that fascinate and excite me – both professionally and in my private life. For me, there is no strict separation here. Why should there be? I am one and the same person: I enjoy going out to dinner with inspiring colleagues just as much as going for a gin and tonic with a friend. What matters to me is that I share good conversations and beautiful moments. That feeds me with positive energy and makes me successful in what I do – regardless of any perceived role. Because I only exist as a complete package: as a wife, mother and top manager.

Portrait photograph of TUM alumna Dr. Katharina Peterwerth.

Picture: Roland Niepaul.

Dr. Katharina Peterwerth

Diploma Electrical and Computer Engineering 2004, Doctorate 2008

Dr. Katharina Peterwerth studied Electrical and Computer Engineering at TUM and then completed her doctorate in an industry-related program with Volkswagen, academically supervised by TUM. After a successful defense of her dissertation, she joined McKinsey, focusing on strategy consulting, organizational development and product development. Ten years later, she returned to Wolfsburg at the end of 2018 to take over heading the Organizational Development of the group and thus assuming a key role in the corporation. In April 2022, she moved to family-owned company Haniel as Chief People and Strategy Officer. Katharina Peterwerth is a mother of three, is involved as a mentor in the TUM Mentoring Program for Students by Alumni and has shared her experience with TUM students and doctoral students on several occasions as a speaker at career events.

Family Business and an Economic Crisis

Dr. Daniel Tomic

After my apprenticeship, I quickly had the opportunity to assume management responsibility in our family-owned business. Right away, the challenges were immense, because when I joined in 2009, the effects of the global economic and financial crisis also hit our company. A certain amount of uncertainty was felt everywhere, both among customers and our own employees. But because, as a family business, we had always taken a long-term approach and never lost sight of our focus on both customers and employees, we have so far been able to overcome every crisis. Hopefully, this also applies to the current corona pandemic and the looming Ukraine crisis, both of which will have severe consequences for the German and global economy.

Both my studies and my doctorate were very technology-oriented. As a corporate manager, however, many decisions also involve key performance indicators such as return on sales, equity ratio, cash flow and liquidity. I still had to learn that. After a few years in operations, I decided to add an Executive MBA program from TUM to my career. This enabled me to engage with classic business administration issues on a more fundamental level.

The decisive factor in managing crises is leadership and employee motivation. I only realized that through practical experience. If you have responsibility as a manager, as I had early on, you need strong communication skills, you have to be able to listen well and have the ability to detect the moods, needs and problems of your employees. You have to be able to engage people and convince them of your vision – that’s the key to success.

Portrait photo of TUM alumnus Daniel Tomic

Picture: Magdalena Jooß/TUM.

Dr. Daniel Tomic

Diploma Mechanical Engineering 2003, Doctorate 2009, MBA 2014

Dr. Daniel Tomic graduated in Mechanical Engineering from TUM in 2003. He then worked as a research assistant at TUM’s Institute of Machine Elements and received his doctorate in 2009 in the field of Vehicle Transmission Optimization. Immediately after completing his doctorate, he joined his father’s company as Managing Director, which was not what he had initially planned. In 2012, Daniel Tomic decided to pursue a Master of Business Administration, Leadership and Communication at TUM in order to develop his business skills. Daniel Tomic attributes some of the family business’ success to his education at TUM and in gratitude, he wants to give something back and support young people. He has been a committed benefactor of the TUM University Foundation since 2016 and a member of the Board of Trustees of Bund der Freunde der TUM since 2017. Daniel Tomic, himself a father of 2 children, is proud to have taken over his own father’s company and to have the privilege of carrying it into the next generation. His father Franjo Tomic came to Germany from former Yugoslavia in 1971 and, as a non-academic, developed what is now a medium-sized company for industrial plant engineering from a small craftsman’s business, primarily through diligence and good entrepreneurial instincts.

Competitive Sports in a Wheelchair

Laura Fürst

I love sports. During a school exchange in the US, I had a snowmobile accident and have been partially paraplegic ever since. Back in Germany, I spent almost five months in a trauma clinic. This is where I got to know wheelchair basketball, got into competitive sports and later even took part in the Paralympics, twice. In the process, I met many people with similar life stories who live life to the fullest.

Combining my studies in Mechanical Engineering with competitive sports was possible because I was able to make my own schedule and I had only a few attendance requirements. But it was still pretty intense. My fellow students provided me with study material and I tried to work a lot while I was on the road. In the summer of 2016 and last year, I was even able to participate in the Paralympics. That does indeed require a lot of ambition and commitment. Meanwhile, I have a full-time job at BMW and have quit my international career. But I am still playing in the federal division.

I like putting myself in the service of a team where everyone has their role. In wheelchair basketball, people from different nations, women and men, wheelchair users and walking people, play together as a team and together compete for victory. On the court you measure yourself against each other, here everyone is equal. Afterwards, one person gets out of their wheelchair and walks into the locker room, and someone else takes their wheelchair into the locker room. And that is more or less unique to this sport. I have also learned to deal with defeats and have developed a high tolerance for frustration. When we lost the finals in Rio 2016, it initially got to me, but the joy of winning the silver medal quickly outweighed it and I still get goosebumps when I think about it.

Portrait shot of Laura Fürst.

Picture: Magdalena Jooß/TUM.

Laura Fürst

Bachelor Mechanical Engineering 2015, Master 2018

Laura Fürst was born in Gräfelfing in Greater Munich. She studied Energy and Process Engineering at TUM and also holds a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. After her graduation, she joined BMW as a Development Engineer for high-voltage storage systems. Following an accident in 2008, Laura Fürst became partially paraplegic. While at the Murnau Trauma Clinic, she first began to play wheelchair basketball. Since then, she has played for the Bundesliga club RBB Munich. With the German national team, she won the silver medal at the 2014 World Championships and gold at the European Championships in 2015. Twice she has participated in the Paralympics, winning the silver medal with her team in Rio 2016. She recently retired from her international sports career.

From Tokyo to Munich by Land

Michael Bartels

After studying abroad in Japan, I traveled overland from Japan to Germany for the first time in 2004. I wanted to experience the change of landscapes, people and cultures instead of just flying home in 14 hours. At that time, the route was from Japan to China by boat, via Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine, and Slovakia back to Germany.

In 2015, I finally managed to make my dream of making the overland journey from Japan again a reality as part of a sabbatical. With this trip, I wanted to catapult myself into the unknown, to consciously engage with constantly changing circumstances. In my job, I need a lot of creativity, but I am part of an office routine that has a certain regularity. On a trip like this there is no such thing .
The trip started in Tokyo and went via China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan along the Afghan border, Uzbekistan, Iran, Turkey and back to Munich. Even though I had set some target points, there was a lot of room for improvisation: How do I get from A to B? Where do I sleep? Is there still something to eat? Or will a few cookies and a sugary soda be enough for this day on the bus or train? I learned a lot in the process, not least a sense of basic trust.

The daily encounters with people on the street became very important and were the essence of the journey. Initially I stayed in business hotels. These were clean and impersonal. There was little room for spontaneous encounters with other travelers. So I started to look for simple hostels to stay in. Here I met interesting people, local and foreign travelers. For me it was all about feeling the individual places and myself. To choose only a few destinations and to experience them. Decisions seem much more immediate here. Just sitting in one place. Watching and observing. And often after five minutes someone sat down with me and a conversation started.

Portrait shot by Michael Bartels.

Picture: Magdalena Jooß/TUM.

Michael Bartels

Diploma Architecture 2006

Im the TUM International Center, he was at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan in 2003 and 2004. In 2006, he successfully completed his studies and began working for the Munich-based medical technology company Brainlab. His wanderlust, however, still hadn’t been quenched. With the postgraduate program ‘Language and Practice’ of the German Academic Exchange Service, he went to Japan for another two years. At the Naganuma School (Tokyo School of Japanese Language), he consolidated his language skills, and at the Japanese branch of Brainlab, he gained international work experience. In 2009, Michael Bartels returned to his hometown Munich, where he worked at Brainlab for another ten years. In 2013, he finally completed his MBA at the University of St. Gallen. Since May 2020, he has been holding the position as Pricing Manager at Keller & Kalmbach. Michael Bartels likes to spend his free time with his family and loves visual arts. He exhibits his work, such as photos and videos, online. In 2005, he was awarded the Münchner Jugendfilmpreis (Munich Youth Film Award) for his documentary film ‘Tokio München – auf dem Landweg’ (Tokyo Munich – by Land).