17 and a Half Questions with Katherina Reiche

In collaboration with Generation CEO, we present you 17 and a half questions to inspiring female leaders. In the final installment of the series, we have Katherina Reiche, CEO of Westenergie. She has always been passionate about the future of green energy and exciting projects like the German-Australian hydrogen bridge motivate her to work even harder

by Natascha Zeljko | 31 May, 2022
Katharina Reiche on Why the Future is Green

1.  What excites me about my job…

Definitely the team. I have around 10,000 colleagues with different skills, different backgrounds and different perspectives. Getting to know them and learning more about myself in the process has been really exciting.

The outstanding commitment of our team is particularly clear to me when it comes to crunch time, for example during the severe flood disaster in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate in the summer of 2021. Within a very short time, we succeeded in rebuilding our badly damaged infrastructure and supplying people with electricity and gas again. We were a partner in disaster response for local authorities, other companies, and above all the people on the ground. Colleagues voluntarily ended their vacations and traveled from all over Germany to help. That was really impressive and touched me deeply.

2.  What frustrates me sometimes…

I think everyone knows that there are days when everything goes smoothly and others when it doesn't, but I am always proud of our company and my colleagues. Working every day to ensure a sustainable energy supply for our society is huge motivation. If there's one thing that's really difficult, though, it's the fact that the importance of power grids and green gas networks is still underestimated in politics. This is true for infrastructure of all kinds.

3.  My secret dream job

This isn’t so much a secret alternative job as it is already my most important job: I am a mother of three children. It is very important for me to spend time with my family. For me, it's an escape where I can gather strength, whether that’s breakfast together in the morning or a bike ride at the weekend.

4.  My top strategy for surviving a really bad day at the office

Putting the focus on the "why". Why are we actually doing this? And why is this level of effort and every new idea necessary? The answer is clear: To improve energy transition and the future of our society. If that's not motivation to keep going, I don’t know what is!

5.  How I get into the flow

When I notice partnerships growing out of initial conversations, and when, thanks to these partnerships, we reach important milestones en route to a greener future. Let's take hydrogen as an example: In March, we entered into a historic partnership. Our parent company E.ON signed an agreement with the Australian company Fortescue Future Industries to build a hydrogen bridge between Australia and Europe. Across the borders of countries and even continents, we have built a German-Australian "hydrogen bridge" to supply hydrogen to medium-sized companies and municipalities in Germany and Europe. In this way, we are emphasizing the goal of driving forward the decarbonization of Germany and Europe and strengthening the security of our supply with green energy.

6.  Biggest success so far

To limit myself to one highlight here would be impossible. However, the issue of equal opportunity is particularly close to my heart. One project to which I have invested a great deal of energy is our FEMpower Academy. With FEMpower, we offer female colleagues at Westenergie a platform for professional development and preparation for management roles. The response to our initiative was huge right from the start. There are now 150 female participants, and that number is still rising.

7.  My greatest defeat

First things first, failure is okay. That’s how we learn and grow. The only important thing is that we get up again afterwards and do better. What mistakes have I made at work? It would be a huge mistake if my colleagues didn’t dare talk about their mistakes. I attach great importance to an open culture. It's okay to make mistakes, but they have to be communicated clearly so that they don't happen again. That applies to business processes, but especially to occupational safety.

8.  Worst buzzword

In the past two years, lots of new terms and buzzwords have emerged around the Corona pandemic that I don't like. The pandemic has changed our world. People have lost relatives and friends, and companies, in part, their very existences. I would prefer to see more sensitivity and compassion around these topics.

9.  The best reward after a hard week at work… 

Time with my family, in my home state of Brandenburg. It’s where I was born and where my family lives. It’s where I go to recharge my batteries. But after work, playing sport, reading or listening to music also help me clear my head to make room for new ideas and projects. And when time permits, I love going to the mountains. Hikes through the mountains and valleys give me new energy.

10.  Home office or in-house?  

Both. I like being in the office, working face to face with my colleagues. That applies to my office in Essen, but also to our sites throughout the supply region in North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony, and Rhineland-Palatinate. Today, of course, we can also stay connected from home. I'm glad this option is available too.

11. The most important quality a colleague/business partner can have 

Passion and creativity. From my perspective, it's important to have passion for a topic and commitment to a project. I love working with colleagues or partners who are passionate about a topic. That motivates me even more. Another important quality is courage. It always takes a bit of courage to try out new ideas, to leave familiar paths, and possibly fail in the process.

12. My creative hack

A conversation with my children and their friends. Young people today are growing up in a different world. In a faster, more digital world. This means they also have a different view of issues and a different understanding. Digitization, the energy transition and security of supply have a different status in the lives of young people today. I often take away new ideas and ways of thinking from these conversations.

13. The first website I check in the morning 

nzz.ch (Neue Züricher Zeitung). Especially in the current geopolitical situation, it's important to follow what's happening in Germany, Europe, and the world.

14. My favorite digital tool 

WhatsApp. It keeps me in contact with my family no matter where we are.

15. The book or series from which I have learned the most for my (work) life

A book I enthusiastically read last year was The Art of Good Leadership by Thomas de Maizière, former head of the Chancellor's Office and German Defense Minister, and Karl-Ludwig Kley, Chairman of E.ON SE’s supervisory board.

We are living in a time in which many things are becoming more confusing and uncertain for citizens and employees alike. Russia's brutal war against Ukraine, climate change, and the Corona pandemic are fundamentally changing our world. More than ever, decision-makers in politics and business need to provide orientation and security. That is why we have made this book available to all managers at Westenergie.

16. Which series, book, or podcast I would generally recommend...

Speed & Scale by John Doerr. The bestselling author talks about the biggest challenge of our time: climate change. And, in the process, presents ideas and solutions on how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. His impetus? One particular quote from his daughter: "Dad, your generation created this problem. You better solve it." We have to face this responsibility now. We must create a future worth living. For our children and all generations to come.

17. Most prominent follower on social media? 

I am most happy about the many successful and influential women in my network. From Sigrid Evelyn Nikutta of Deutsche Bahn to lawyer Anahita Thoms and entrepreneur Verena Pausder. All three women have already been guests at our FEMpower initiative. I’ve also had valuable exchanges with inspiring women in the excellent managers' network Generation CEO e.V., of which I have been a member since last year. I really value this network. We need more strong women today to become role models by leading the way. They encourage other women to realize their professional ideas.

17 and a half: What has always... 

…inspired me is natural sciences and technology, innovation, and technological leaps, the increasing synthesis of biology and digitalization, and the dynamics of the hydrogen economy that we are currently experiencing.

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