I embarked on an international business career in 1981. That decision greatly enriched my life. This is the first in my series of interviews with executive women working in international business. These power women work in companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 conglomerates. If you are thinking of pursuing a job in international business, you should be able to gain perspective and helpful tips from any of these successful women. Some work in overseas subsidiaries. Some are based at headquarters but responsible for world-wide locations with extensive travel required.
What is your current position?
I am the Co-founder and CMO of trip.me. Trip.me is a travel website that connects travelers and local expert guides to enhance travelers’ experiences and improve local economies.
We see that you traveled a great deal before you founded a company overseas. How did that travel help prepare you for an international business career?
I’m originally from Arequipa, Peru, and when you come from a country in South America it can sometimes be hard to travel due to the visa restrictions of other countries around the world. There is also sometimes the challenge of having enough funds to really travel the world, and so not many people from where I’m from get the chance to do so. Challenges motivate me and I decided to make what seemed like an impossible chance possible – to see the world. When I was 19 I decided to go to Germany, to learn German and to study in an international environment. I really wanted to experience a whole new culture and continent, and find out how similar or how different people could be, and wanted these experiences to enrich my professional life as well. I found many more similarities than differences amongst people, and this inspired me to travel even more. I also realized that it is very important to be multilingual in order to work internationally. By traveling, I was able to improve my language skills.
I also had the chance to travel throughout my own country, and become familiar with the different regions while working in the travel industry. This work made me realize that I needed English for any career in international business. So I went to Australia for some time. In Australia I worked a number of different international businesses, and got to improve my English while meeting people from all over Australia, Asia, and Europe, who were doing similar things there.
All of these experiences have been so enriching, both for myself and professionally. I found that one of the most important things to develop personally is tolerance, and to always remember where people are coming from. These international working experiences also taught me to value a person’s origins, and their personal expertise in interacting with their own cultures. When you’re living and working abroad, it’s important to keep in mind that these cultural differences do exist, and there are different working styles that every individual brings with them. Now, after all of my interactions with different and diverse cultures, I am able to easily find the positives of working with an international team, and focus on the strengths that everyone can bring to the company. People from different backgrounds can always enrich your life and your business: from the working atmosphere to meeting your business goals.
Why did you choose to work overseas rather than seek an international business position in your native country of Peru?
I had two different motives when deciding to leave Peru more permanently. The first was that when I came to Germany for the first time, the country really inspired me. I felt very comfortable and happy to be in this international atmosphere, and loved the cosmopolitan feeling of Berlin. The opportunities to work in an international environment exist more here in Berlin than they do in my home country, and there are good possibilities for women to advance their careers here. Secondly, being in a city in the center of Europe, the things you are doing tend to impact the whole world. That opportunity is harder to find in Peru, and the connections you can develop in a city like Berlin are incomparable to Lima. But I always try to go back to South America at least once a year and share my new knowledge with my friends, family, and the business contacts I have there. I really enjoy being able to give back to my community in Lima, and I love sharing my knowledge with the people there. Keeping this connection to Peru is also one of the reasons I chose to work in the travel industry; it lets me easily keep a strong connection with South America while still being based internationally.
Why did you choose Berlin?
I chose Berlin because it is a diverse city full of new ideas. People come here from so many different backgrounds, to work and live together, and everyone seems to share a common outlook on life. Berlin reminds me of the times when I was traveling, in that it seems to be a microcosm of so many different cultures and people. There are so many unique things here enriching the city, like the special connection between the past and the future, and there is so much space for creativity and understanding. And of course it’s beautiful in the summer time.
What is the atmosphere for female executives in Berlin?
In Berlin I have met some other female executives, and compared to South America and Australia where I have spent time before, I notice that women in Berlin are getting more and more attention, especially in the start-up sector. I feel that in general, over the last 20 years, women have begun to be taken more seriously, both nationally and internationally. Now there are even organizations working to create networking opportunities exclusively amongst women in Berlin. Within my work life here, I feel I have the same opportunities as most men in the city. I also feel that I am on the same level as my co-founders (who are all men), and I can only see the future for women in the city as improving. One interesting thing about Berlin is that its business sector has really boomed in the last 10 years. Bloomberg Businessweek and Thomson Reuters found that 103 Internet startups in Germany received funding in 2011, third only after China and the United States, and that a total of 500 tech startups were founded in Berlin alone in 2011.
What advice do you have for young women considering a career in international business?
I would tell them to always keep in mind both their short term and long term goals. It’s also so important to not let any one discourage you. If you believe in your goals, then there is nothing to stop you from reaching them, except yourself. If your will is strong enough, there is always a way for you to succeed. You should feel confident about what you can do, and stay up to date in the fields that are important to you work, especially when working in international business. Finally, in the international business environment it’s key to remember that there are different ideas and cultures coming together, which can really only benefit your company when utilized correctly.
What is the most challenging about your current position?
The most challenging thing about my current position is the need to sometimes abruptly change strategies in order to get the best results. It’s always important to recognize mistakes as soon as possible, and act quickly to correct them. It’s also challenging to build the perfect team. This is my first experience in building a team from the ground up, and so making sure we have the right person in the right place is sometimes difficult.
What do you love about your current position?
I love the opportunity to build a company from the ground up, from nothing to something that works, along with my co-founders. I love that I am able to decide from the beginning how the company will achieve its goals, and be able to influence that direction. It’s so rewarding to see success coming from the first ideas we decided, and to have the opportunity to see the process from start to fruition. We’re always striving to make our company the best, and of course I love it when I can see it all coming together.
Do you have any questions or comments for Yngrid Arnold?