Overcoming challenges with openness and honesty
At home, Emilia Soppa-Sánchez (38) is the first one up in the morning and the last to go to bed in the evening. Because she is not just a loving mother of two children, she’s also a true power woman: As a manager at damper specialists thyssenkrupp Bilstein Emilia is responsible for marketing OE replacement parts. Her family and friends were convinced she didn’t stand a chance when she applied to Bilstein. How wrong they were.
Emilia is a very honest person – sometimes perhaps too honest. “For me, honesty and openness are very important. That may have occasionally blocked my path. But I’m convinced that in that case it just wasn’t the right path for me. Looking back I can see that other doors then opened for me.” As was the case with thyssenkrupp Bilstein in 2017.
Emilia, a Polish native, had applied for a job as Key Account Manager for Eastern Europe at thyssenkrupp Bilstein. During the interview she told the then head of marketing that she had children and that there might be times when she had to look after them if they were ill. “I also told him up front that I’d had cancer and needed regular checkups,” remembers Emilia. The answer: That’s all fine. “I said: I don’t think you understood. I had pancreatic cancer, and it could come back at any time and then I’d have to go back into treatment. He just said: No, I understood you perfectly.”
For Emilia’s friends and family the outcome was clear: “They dismissed the whole thing, they were convinced I’d done everything I could to ensure I didn’t get the job.” But that’s not how it turned out: “The very next morning I got a call telling me they wanted to take me on. An hour later the employment contract was there,” says Emilia with a smile. “I’ll always be grateful to thyssenkrupp Bilstein for that.”
Challenges are a common thread running through Emilia’s life
On that spring day in 2017 at thyssenkrupp Bilstein she did everything right. Her colleague Ruzica Duvnjak is full of praise: “Emilia is someone that just radiates a positive and infectious energy whatever she’s doing. She’s a great mentor, colleague and friend. Always willing to learn, to share what she knows and accept new challenges.”
In fact new challenges are a common thread running through Emilia’s life. After studying in Poland, Emilia moved with her husband to his home country of Mexico. “After a year we decided we definitely wanted to gather some international experience,” Emilia says. Because she comes from Silesia, her dual citizenship gave the young couple the opportunity to move to Germany. Emilia: “We packed our bags and moved to Germany without a job or anywhere to live.” All in.
And it worked: They both quickly found jobs in North Rhine-Westphalia, settled down and had two children. During her second period of parental leave – and with two small children at home – Emilia completed a master’s degree in marketing and communications at the FOM University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf. Yet another challenge in the life of Emilia Soppa-Sánchez: “It meant plenty of late nights for me, partly because of the language barrier,” she remembers.
Reconciling job and family
But the biggest challenge in Emilia’s life is reconciling her professional and family life. All the more so since she was promoted to Head of Marketing OE Replacement in summer 2020 and now also has management responsibility. But the corporate culture at thyssenkrupp makes it possible. Emilia refers to the slogan engineering.tomorrow.together. “The word together is very important to me,” she says. “Despite my role as a mother and my migrant background, our CFO Timo Krutoff gave me his full backing when I was chosen as Head of Marketing OE Replacement. My current boss Christoph Henkel allows me a great deal of flexibility in my working day and makes sure not to schedule anything after 4 p.m. so that I can get home early for my family. My team accepted me immediately as line manager even though my German is still not perfect and I was previously just a normal colleague.” So Emilia is in no doubt: “If it wasn’t for all that, despite all my efforts I would have had no chance to do what I’m doing today.”
Nonetheless, balancing family and job remains a challenge. “At the end of the day it’s important to accept that you can’t be perfect,” admits Emilia. “Even if I’m not the perfect mother who takes home-made cakes to all her children’s school events, I give my best for my family every day. I really love my job, but my children always come first.”
There are only 24 hours in a day
But Emilia still manages to create space for herself. “There are only 24 hours in a day. So I listen to audio books in between times or while I’m out running to make the most of every minute. They are mainly books about marketing or management. I also use online formats to educate myself further. Mostly around 9 in the evening after the children have gone to bed.”
Although still young, Emilia has already overcome enough challenges to fill at least two normal lifetimes. She faced them all with confidence and a clear focus. “I’ve learned that you have to work hard to realize your dreams. Lifelong learning is not just an expression, it’s a lifestyle.”