TUM Alumna Dr. Silke Maurer

Dr. Silke Maurer, Chief Operating Officer (COO) MTU Aero Engines; Alumna of Technical University of Munich (Picture: Astrid Eckert/TUM).

Alumni in leadership
Silke Maurer – Manager with heart and soul
“I’ve learned a great deal from my international teams”
14. Nov 2023  |  
Reading time Min.
TUM Alumna Silke Maurer puts her heart and soul into her managerial duties. She has shouldered considerable responsibility in roles at several major companies, from the automotive sector and the domestic appliance industry to an engine manufacturer.

In her career, she has developed a talent for putting the right people in the right positions and guiding processes towards success. Her experiences managing teams around the world, from Spain to China, have had a lasting impact on her view of leadership. At the same time, Silke Maurer believes in the importance of finding enjoyment in everything she does. She emboldens people to deliberately embrace challenges in order to broaden their horizons. Her own career is evidence that this approach can lead to a fulfilling, fascinating working life. 

Ms. Maurer, you are a top-level manager working in German industry. Was that always your career goal?

 

I didn’t have a career plan or anything like that. I never expressed a desire to be on management boards. However, I’ve always been interested in how people work and the conditions they need to work well together. I understood at a very early stage that I’m part of a greater whole and that, when people truly work together at eye level, one plus one can suddenly equal three. This mindset continues to shape my everyday work to this day.
What do you mean by that?
As a manager, I am a part of my team. I don’t stand above the team. Instead, I’m part of the network of people responsible for making sure a project or department achieves success. It’s also my duty to ensure that people in the team can work together effectively. Part of my formula for success, I think, is my ability to assemble teams strategically. I can identify relatively quickly who can do certain things well and what an effective team for a given project should look like.
How would you describe your management style?
I’ve always felt it was important to be accessible as a manager. Occasionally, this has met with a lack of understanding from my superiors in the past. In fact, one of my bosses once advised me to maintain a constructive distance from my team. I thought long and hard about it for three nights and then decided: “No. That’s not who I am. I can’t do that and I don’t want to, either.” A year later, he came to me and apologized for his advice. He thought my accessible management style would prevent me from making clear statements or implementing disciplinary measures. In reality, however, I was able to and did just that.
Your first management role was at BMW at the age of 29. Was it a challenge for you?
Absolutely. I was still very young and suddenly had to lead a team of 18 people from different disciplines. The people in the team ranged from 26 to 63 years old and were involved in every possible type of project. It was a very diverse situation. That time had a fundamental impact on me. I made mistakes, of course. I learned a lot about things that don’t work in management. However, I had a wonderful boss who advised and supported me well. Honestly, though, it was nothing compared to my time in Italy.
Three years later, you took on another role at BMW – or, to be precise, Husqvarna Motorcycles – in Italy.
When I started there, I rather naïvely thought: “It’s still BMW and it’s only 300 miles away, on the other side of the Alps.” But I soon realized just how different the working culture can be in another country.
How would you say that experience changed you as a manager?
I learned to examine things even more closely. To begin with, I did things similarly to how I had learned and tried them in Germany. In Italy, however, I had very different results. Initially, I felt confused, baffled – but then I decided to view the whole thing as an experiment. What had I done? What impact did it have? What variables can I change? Eventually, I got the hang of it. The crucial thing was that I didn’t say: “They’re stupid here because I’ve done this successfully elsewhere but it’s not working here.” Instead, I examined why certain things work differently there. I also accepted the answers, even when they didn’t fit in with my past experiences or align with my own values. In the course of my career, I’ve managed numerous teams all around the world: from Spain to China, from Turkey to Poland. I’ve always been able to learn a great deal from my international teams.
Can you give us some examples?
The German style of negotiation, which is very direct, doesn’t always lead to success. Interpersonal interactions in the workplace are hugely important. There is usually more than one potential solution that can deliver good results. In addition, many countries have a far higher proportion of women in management positions than we do in Germany. In Turkey, for example, I got the sense that women feel they are entitled to some career progress in return for all the time and energy they have invested in their studies.

Picture: Astrid Eckert/TUM

I’ve managed numerous teams all around the world: from Spain to China, from Turkey to Poland.
Why do you think the situation in Germany is so different?
Our role as mothers, and the part-time work trap, plays a major role in this. And, of course, we also need to rethink the requirements of management roles. That being said, I also think that many women in Germany spend too much time fretting about handling as much as they can on their own, so they end up choosing the obvious, widely accepted solution: part-time work. Of course, it’s absolutely fine for you to decide to pause your career or put it on the back burner. However, you should ensure you make that decision for yourself and not for anyone else. If you love your job, it’s entirely normal to want to take on more responsibility.
You have a teenage daughter. How did you make decisions about your career when she was younger?
I have – and have always had – a distinct need to help shape things, to play my part, to improve situations and contribute to development. For this reason – and with the aim of becoming financially independent – it has always been important for me to keep working. And, of course, my experience and expertise were sought after. At the same time, though, I’ve made sure that my workload is manageable for me and doesn’t come at the expense of my family life. For example, I’ve always communicated very clearly that I cannot make meetings before 8:30am. I only ever wanted to eat breakfast with my daughter; it was an important ritual for us. This rule has been very well accepted everywhere I’ve worked. It has sometimes been received with a stupid remark. That’s just the way it is. But when someone has told me that “working with children just doesn’t work”, I’ve thought to myself: “Those are your limits, not mine.”
Would you describe yourself as courageous?
I’ve always been the type of person who wouldn’t necessarily choose the easiest route. But that’s not because I’m hugely courageous; in truth, my comfort zone is relatively small. Instead, I’ve always felt it was important to broaden my horizons and explore new things. I get bored easily. I need change to keep a feeling of excitement in my life.
Do you deliberately look for challenges?
I believe it’s important to be able to take enjoyment in everything you do. I often ask myself what motivates me – why I get out of bed every day and enjoy going to work. I’ve always look for jobs where I think: “I don’t know anything about that. I don’t quite know how I’m supposed to do it. But it certainly sounds interesting!” (laughs)
As a young woman, why did you decide to study mechanical engineering at TUM?
You mean, back in the 90s when there were hardly any women in the field? (laughs) To be honest, I actually wanted to study biochemistry but leaving school with perfect grades seemed like an awful lot of work. So, I choose mechanical engineering at TUM with the intention of specializing in chemical engineering at a later point in time. However, I had such a good time during my undergraduate studies that I simply stayed on the same program. You were also a student representative during your time at TUM.
How did that come about?
I had been involved in the student council for mechanical engineering for a while when somebody asked me whether I wanted to put my name forward for the Senate elections. I seemed really exciting to me. As I said earlier: “I’m not sure, I don’t know anything about it, but it sounds interesting.” So, I put my name forward and was elected. That was at the time when Wolfgang A. Herrmann became the new TUM President. He was an ambitious man but always thoroughly decent. I always appreciated that about him.
What did you learn during that period?
How to review colossal mountains of documents very, very quickly and filter out the two or three sentences that actually matter. (laughs). And how to endure seemingly endless meetings. That’s something that qualifies me for a management job today. (laughs) I also learned the importance of having a good network. Who do I call if I need certain information? Who can I call for assistance in tricky situations? Who has experience that could help me?
You gave a fiery speech as the student representative at the Dies Academicus in 1995.
Really? I can’t even remember what exactly it was that I said! (laughs)
Your criticisms included the lack of exchange across disciplinary boundaries at TUM.
Well, I think we have to put this into context. Even then, we had a huge range of course options at TUM compared to other universities. That was simply due to the size of TUM and the fact we had so many high-quality professors. Nevertheless, it was also true that we had our electrical engineering lecture from the electrical engineering professor and our physics lecture from our physics professor. There was relatively little connection between the two. And, even back then, it was clear to us that we would be entering a different, increasingly networked world after graduation. We wanted to prepare for that. Today, TUM deals with this much better: the new School-based reform implemented by President Thomas F. Hofmann has set the course for a more extensive, wide-ranging exchange between different subject areas, increasing the interdisciplinarity of education at TUM. I also think it’s great that there are more international students at TUM today than in the past. That will help young people to see the bigger picture, also at an early stage in their studies. It’s hugely enriching for a university to have such diversity.
Did you spend time abroad during your studies?
Unfortunately not. And if there’s one thing I regret, it’s not spending a semester abroad. Today, I would thoroughly recommend it to every student. You learn to get by in a place where everything is different to back home. It bolsters you for life. And, ultimately, you learn to appreciate what you have at home even more.
Dr. Silke Maurer

Dr. Silke Maurer, alumna of the Technical University of Munich (Picture: Astrid Eckert/TUM).

Dr. Silke Maurer

Master’s in Mechanical Engineering, 1997

 

Silke Maurer is Chief Operating Officer and a Member of the Executive Board at Bavarian engine manufacturer MTU Aero Engines. She studied mechanical engineering at TUM in the 1990s, graduating with a Master’s degree in 1997.

During her time at university, she also served as student representative in the Senate. Her first professional position was at BMW, where she later held various management roles, including spending two years at Husqvarna Motorcycles in Italy. Silke Maurer studied alongside her work to earn her doctorate from Cranfield University in the United Kingdom.

Following her final role in the BMW Group at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, she joined the BSH Home Appliances Group in February 2017, where she was responsible for dealing with company locations around the world and finally held the position of Chief Operating Officer. She left the company to take up the role of Chief Operating Officer at Webasto. In February 2023, she joined MTU Aero Engines.

Shaping the World Together

This article is part of issue 1/2023 of the TUM Alumni Magazine KontakTUM.

Get the English version as a PDF here>

Hier lesen Sie weitere Artikel aus dem Alumni-Magazin>