Get to know Claudia Müller, Simon-Kucher’s Chief Human Resources Officer! Claudia joined the company in September 2021. Almost a year later, we caught up with her to find out more about her new role, her challenges and achievements, and what you should bring to the table when striving for a career in HR.
Claudia, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. Firstly, could you give us an insight into your role at Simon-Kucher & Partners?
My role at Simon-Kucher is the Chief Human Resources Officer. As the Global CHRO I lead the Global HR team to provide guidance and policy on firm-wide activities, HR systems, and processes. Together with our local HR teams we provide the strategic and operational HR support for our company in 27 countries.
In my role I operate and manage a lot of areas, including Marketing, our Legal Counsel, our Management Committees, and the Partnership. As a CHRO I represent, present, and consult. What’s more, I’m responsible for delivering and setting up a strategic HR department for our fast-growing company.
That’s a lot of work! How did you get to where you are now? Can you reveal a bit more about your background?
I was born in Germany and grew up in different cities across the Rhine-Main Metropolitan Region around Frankfurt. I studied HR, Labor Law, and Marketing before I moved to Frankfurt. Here I started working at Arthur Andersen while pursuing my university degree.
I am a huge advocate for continuous learning and have been developing my own coaching and leadership skills for many years. I actively seek out networking opportunities and enjoy keeping abreast of current HR practices and trends.
What excites you most about joining Simon-Kucher & Partners?
What excites me most is probably Simon-Kucher’s history and journey. I feel that our success and growth story are authentic and relatable.
I like that Simon-Kucher’s growth isn’t being achieved through mergers and acquisitions. I appreciate that the company’s reputation and pride are based on the quality of its people, and I see a true “best-in-class” mindset with the ambition to develop this even further.
Through my own recruitment and onboarding process I also found that cultural fit is a top priority. This is why I think this is something we should absolutely focus on and maintain throughout our growth journey.
What do you feel are the most important attributes of successful leaders today?
I think there’s not one single stand-out trait. I believe a leader needs to be able to take several roles at once. To my mind, “contingent flexibility” is key – the overall attitude towards people is vitally important as it lays the foundation for everything else.
I believe strong leadership competencies and your own attitude nurture trust and create an environment where employees can thrive and develop. I am convinced that modern leadership doesn’t work without personal commitment to self-leadership. A leader’s ability to continually adapt and evolve is essential.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
What repeatedly proves to be true: Trust in yourself, the rest will follow.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career?
I’d say working across multiple industries has been a challenge for me, particularly when I had to learn and adapt almost overnight – but this also gave me the chance to grow.
I believe HR needs to have a deep understanding of the company’s business model so it can be a true partner to the business. As you can imagine, people strategies vary widely in different industries. They’re not the same in, say, a regulated banking environment, to investment management, consulting, and commercial real estate.
I’m fortunate that my leaders had faith in me and my abilities, and that I had access to the tools and support I needed to succeed. It wasn’t always easy but I quickly learned that – while skills and technical knowledge are resources you can leverage – the right attitude, the relationship to the team, and stakeholder management skills are essential.
What is your proudest professional achievement?
I feel like there should be many when I think back to all the projects I’ve worked on and successfully delivered despite time pressure, ad hoc scope changes, lack of resources or budget, and more. But for me it is actually about working with and for people and seeing cohesive teams develop.
Like many leaders, I’ve managed, contributed, facilitated, and built teams in international environments that span across borders and cultures. It takes time, patience (more patience) plus a combined vision and support of the entire leadership team. But seeing the team evolve and emerge as successful and productive with a true “trusted team culture” makes me beyond proud.
What motivates you?
I love overcoming challenges and tackling something that seems impossible at first glance. There are always opportunities and new ways to achieve a goal, usually involving many different perspectives and new approaches. I think a “no” deserves to be challenged but also needs to be accepted if all options have been investigated.
As you might have guessed, the people I work with also motivate me. I believe leaders, peers, and teams within a company need to work on a foundation of trust and reliability in all kinds of situations. From my experience, this is the cultural glue. It leads to celebrating shared success and recognizing failures with the same pride and strength. A high performing team is based on trust.
If you could have dinner with any person in history, dead or alive, who would you choose and why?
It’s actually two people: The pioneering aviation brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright. I had the chance to visit the museum in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in the Outer Banks (USA) where I learned about their incredible story of ambition, determination, and success.
From starting with nothing – possessing only an “impossible” dream. To being pioneers, never giving up, failing, and failing again, and finally achieving unbelievable success. That deeply impresses me.
What are your hobbies and passions outside of work?
I really enjoy painting, usually with acrylics and more recently with watercolors. I’ve also started exploring brush pen lettering and Zentangle – I love to try new art techniques. Colleagues who have worked with me know that my desk is often full of colored pens, and that I like to draw and sketch while explaining or developing new ideas.
I also love to go on long beach walks. Therefore, vacation spots for me and my husband tend to be near a coastline with long wide beaches.
Can you please finish the sentence “You should get into HR if you…”
…want to be involved in constant change. If you are a successful planner. If you like data and are adaptive to technology. And if your thinking is employee centred.
You should get into HR if you understand the business and how to lead organisations in advancing corporate objectives and strategies, while at the same time develop new corporate policies that enable employees to enjoy their careers. Finally, you should get into HR if you can change perspectives and be inclusive in the way you operate and manage HR topics.