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Bad scenarios steal your energy: focus on opportunities

What has been the professional journey of foreign top female managers to their current positions in Prague? How to gain the trust of cross-border subordinates? And what else is involved in being a leader outside the home country? These were not the only topic of the pilot to the new podcast series Women Leaders beyond Borders. Sylwia Szymula, Chief Retail Officer and Board Member of Uniqa Czech Republic and Slovakia and Anna Rejer, Head of Life & Health Department at VIG Re were guests of the opening episode.

You can watch the episode on YOUTUBE or listen to the episode on SPOTIFY and APPLE PODCAST.

Sylwia Szymula, Chief Retail Officer and Board Member of Uniqa Czech Republic and Slovakia and Anna Rejer, Head of Life & Health Department at VIG Re
Women Leaders Beyond Borders: Sylwia Szymula, Chief Retail Officer and Board Member of Uniqa Czech Republic and Slovakia and Anna Rejer, Head of Life & Health Department at VIG Re

Both managers come from Poland and both hold senior positions in companies with international operations. However, the journey to Prague, where they hold their positions, was different in both cases. Anna Rejer moved to the Czech capital in 2020 when she felt the need for a change after 15 years with her previous employer in Poland. „It was a really good company, I had a good team, good boss, everything was fine, but I needed challenges and a chance for something new in my life. The opportunity was some kind of a dream. I was curious about the country, people and language,“ she says. She did not mind that the move to Prague meant taking a lower position.

In Sylwia Szymula's case, the road from Poland to the Czech Republic was much more circuitous than the map would suggest. „I´ve been very lucky to have opportunities to work in so many countries. The driver was a mix of my curiosity and openness,“ she explains what led her to work in the ING Group jersey in various roles in Warsaw, Bangkok, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. After this „world tour“, she landed in Prague as she saw the opportunity to make an impact and work in a related team and in a culturally close environment.

World touring was not an automatic choice for Sylvia. „I worked in Poland for more than ten years, so it was never, I would say a goal in itself to go beyond borders. It was more the opportunities that life put in front of me,“ she suggests. In Anna Rejer's case, on the other hand, moving to a foreign country to work was in line with her nature, which craves new impulses.

Even men have emotional intelligence

When a manager works abroad, she has to overcome not only geographical boundaries, but also psychological ones. Anna Rejer´s team is very international but there is still much to learn in this discipline, as she herself admits. „I´m learning every day and not only regarding to my team. I am learning every day how to cooperate with people, how to understand people.“ Rejer puts this need for cooperative learning in the context of her studies of mathematics and astronomy, fields that she says concentrate exclusively introverted natures, among which she counts herself.

Sylwia Szymula is also an introvert. In the end, however, curiosity about how others do it, what interests them, what motivates them, what is important to them, always won out over closed-mindedness. This curiosity must be preserved even in a high management level, and although it is not in the powers of the individual to know the inner life of every employee, it is good to keep in touch. „You can try to connect people you meet in business meetings as well as in the elevator and have a short conversation with them. You can get a lot of energy from it and also you get to know what the mood is across the teams.“  

Both ladies agree that this capacity for a certain empathy or emotional intelligence is not necessarily an automatic advantage for female managers. „I don´t like that kind of stereotyping like this is typical for men or this for women,“ Rejer says and Szymula agrees: „I´m sitting here because lots of managers had enough insight into me to give me energy to try out and develop myself and the majority of them were men.“ 

Focus on the periphery

The upcoming generation is more interested in the purpose, meaning, and goal of their work than previous generations. How have the two guests resolved this question for themselves? „I would say I'm trying to make the company resilient towards future developments. Uniqa is a very healthy and well performing company. However, the environment around us is changing extremely fast and the methods that brought us here will not be a guaranteed recipe for future success,“ worries Sylwia Szymula. That's why she strives for a broader perspective on the business, employee engagement, and working with clients to keep the company in shape. But that doesn't mean bringing black scenarios to meetings. „Bad scenarios would only drain energy out of everyone. I always look for opportunities,“ she suggests. Opportunities seen in this way that are on the fringes can suddenly look very promising after stepping aside or looking from the other side.

From Anna Rejer's point of view, the purpose of her involvement in the reinsurance world is to be able to participate in the development of a still very young company (VIG Re in Prague was founded in 2008). After some twenty years in the insurance industry, she felt that the transition to reinsurance was a natural step in her further development, and she believes that her colleagues share a similar view.

More on the borders

Both ladies live in Prague, but only Sylwia feels at home in the Czech capital, building on her previous experience in other metropolises. For Anna Rejer it is harder. „I spent 25 years in Warsaw and four years in Prague. So, my heart is in Warsaw, but I can switch my mind and it is not difficult to come back to Prague,“ Anna says.  

Since the leitmotif of the conversation is the crossing of borders, the general meaning of this phrase could not be overlooked. So do ladies feel that they sometimes have to cross boundaries? „I would say on a daily basis,“ Sylwia says. „Questioning the status quo is the best example of it. When it comes to crossing my personal borders, I would say the most vivid example is I'm a passionate diver. If you go underwater only with the diving gear, you cannot be in a more unnatural environment,“ she adds. 

Introvert Anna Rejer followed up with an honest statement: „A good example of crossing my personal borders is  participation in this podcast,“ she concluded with a laugh. 

More information about the podcast can be found on the website HERE or on the podcast's LinkedIn profile HERE.


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