Motherhood and management – the balancing act
For the third consecutive year, the Martinhal Cascais Family Hotel was the stage for its annual business conference The Martinhal Entrepreneurship Event. Organised by Martinhal Group CEO Chitra Stern, this year focused on the balancing act between being a woman and an entrepreneur
Text Chris Graeme
Asking many of the women speakers at The Martinhal Entrepreneurship Event what it takes to be a successful woman entrepreneur in the 21st century, the replies were varied.
Adjectives like organised, driven, ambitious, restlessness, ruthlessness, passionate, tenacious and persistence cropped up. But one characteristic common to all was the ability to multitask and delegate to a strong team. In fact, delegation was the key message from Czech businesswoman Petra Ondrušová from Erste Premier (Erste Group).“The key ability to survive is in achieving the right balance when things can so easily get mixed up,” she said.
Ondrušová spent her life in finance and insurance and, for the past two years, has been head of Erste where she manages up to 200 people who serve 35,000 clients in a €5 billion business.
“I went back to work when my daughter was nine months old. I am passionate about my job and asked my mother to help and my husband to support me. I couldn’t have done it without the help of two of the three most important people in my life,” she stressed.
Believing in themselves was another key element the women entrepreneurs at the one-day conference in Cascais had in common.
German businesswoman Birte Gall from Asgaro GmbH, who talked about “leading in times of digital transformation”, has certainly walked the mile in achieving her goal – she has crossed the Alps on foot in the summer.
“I go to companies and help them with their digital transformation process and get them to understand they need to change the system and their leadership style,” she said.
Gall explained that keeping an existing system going while preparing for the new one was not unlike motherhood and teaching a child. First, the child has to balance, then stand before it can be taught to walk.
“In companies, you have to allow time for development and, if necessary, allow projects to fail. You have to manage both systems at the same time, learn to delegate, to trust and foster people. In managing the new world, communication is key,” she stressed adding that “in Germany, we are not good at communicating in conflict settings and so conflict management is vital”.
Feeling happy inside
But it doesn’t matter how effective and successful you are at your job, if you don’t feel happy within. That is key for Thaya Marcondes who says her restless spirit and low boredom threshold drove her on to great and exciting things.
Marcondes, a successful luxury consultant who manages LBN Inteligência Comunicação and LuxuryLab, said that whenever she felt comfortable in her job, she would throw it in, despite the money, to push the boundaries of her comfort zone.
Joking that her funny fact was three failed marriages, she admitted that previous husbands couldn’t stomach her drive and success, while her mother despaired at her wanderlust which took her from São Paulo in Brazil to Milan in Italy, Mexico City and now Cascais.
“You might be successful, but do you feel happy inside?” she asked. “It’s not actually about the money or time. You have to feel happy inside.”
“When I threw in a perfectly good job on a high salary in Brazil, people asked me how I could just do that. I got it into my head that I wanted to go to Italy, so I packed my things and went to Milan. I had the time of my life and the experience made me a better woman and person,” she said.
No age limit for success
Film director Ang Lee, author J.K. Rowling and wedding dress designer Vera Wang all have one thing in common: they went from anonymity to world famous later in life.
The experience was echoed by French natural makeup entrepreneur Sarina Lavagne, who manages Prescription Lab and who argued that “the late bloomer is the new entrepreneur” as “past experience meant a greater chance of success”.
Money was also part of the creative equation. Mother of a transgender child and four others and US LGBT activist Latham Thomas insisted that difference is creative. “It is important to show our differences and only when we see these differences as important can we reach our potential.”
Latham Thomas agreed that “money was important and a powerful tool but a cruel master”. She also pointed out that the lines between what men do and women do at home were “more fluid” today.
Charlie Rosier of Cuckooz Nest, a business run for mothers by mothers, talked about her journey setting up a successful London nannying agency. She admitted that “not feeling good enough” had driven her forward.
Jodie Patterson of Doobop Beauty said: “You don’t have to be a numbers person to succeed in business.”
No difference between men and women
But what did the men think of these women entrepreneurs who successfully managed being executives and being mothers?
Stephan Morais of venture capital firm Indico Capital Partners said he had always been “very fortunate to have been surrounded by successful career women”, starting with his mother who was a partner in a law firm and his innovative wine entrepreneur wife. Morais also pointed out that one of his partners at Indico is the highly successful entrepreneur Cristina Fonseca of Talkdesk and Galp board director.
“For me there is no difference between successful men and women entrepreneurs. We are blind to gender at Indico because what we tend to look for are teams which are very technical and know what they’re talking about; people with engineering backgrounds – men or women – and Portugal has a high percentage of women in life sciences (70%).
“We’re looking for talented people who can grow companies from nothing to multimillion-euro entities in 10 years, so you need people who are ambitious and helpful. They cannot be arrogant. These are the characteristics we look for. It’s hard for us to tell if men are more driven or if women are more detail-orientated because they can be both.”