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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Medela Global CEO Inspires Women Leaders with CEIBS Master Class

July 17, 2019. Shanghai – In an experiment carried out at Columbia Business School in 2003, two groups of students were given two similar case studies – one about a venture capitalist named Heidi and the other about a venture capitalist named Howard. Although the two cases were, in fact, identical (other than the names of the subjects), most of the students, including both males and females, said they liked Howard and disliked Heidi.

The ‘Heidi and Howard’ case was just one of a number of stories shared during this evening’s CEIBS Master Class by Medela Global CEO Annette Brüls, which she used to demonstrate how gender biases are still deeply rooted in a world where only 5 percent of CEOs in S&P 500 companies are women. As both a senior executive and a mother of two, Brüls has throughout her career used her personal experience to show how women can push back against these biases, become empowered, and excel in leadership roles of a global company, and how they can work together to break through the glass ceiling.

“Women are supposed to take care, not take charge,” she said. “To overcome this stereotype women need to reach out, lean in, and help each other to create a critical mass.”

During her talk, Brüls also shared the history of Medela, including some of the challenges it has faced along the way. A global leader in breastfeeding products and medical vacuum technology, Medela has grown from what was a small, family-owned Swiss company in 1961 into what is now a global consumer brand with 20 subsidiaries worldwide and products sold in over 100 countries. In 2017 and 2018, however, it suffered from rapidly declining revenue and profits due to a number of reasons, including a global shift to online retail, increased competition, and a large number of internal projects which served to distract from the company’s overall objectives. After Brüls took over as CEO in 2018, she took steps to address many of the company’s problems, such as regaining the trust of Medela’s board, drastically reducing costs, and committing to clear, short-term deliverables, successfully saving the company from a continued downward spiral.

During the event, Brüls also shared valuable insight into her personal leadership style, which she summed up with the word “PURPLE” (People, United, Results, Passion, Listen and Example). The first three words, she said, are what she thinks are the key elements of leadership. Out of these, she added, “People” is the most important aspect and she attaches a special importance to the diversity of people in a company. The latter three words, Brüls explained, are what she believes makes her successful. For example, being able to “Listen,” she said, has contributed to her success because “leaders who do not listen end up with people who have nothing to say.” Finally, Brüls emphasised that she encourages all women leaders to define and stick to their own personal brand.

CEIBS Vice President and Co-Dean Zhang Weijiong offered opening remarks prior to the lecture and presented Brüls with a certificate honouring her as a member of the CEIBS International Advisory Board (IAB). The board provides consulting advice for the CEIBS Management Committee on school strategy, talent development, academic research and community service.

Following the lecture, Russell Reynolds Associates Executive Director Peter Zhang; Lean In Shanghai Senior Mentor and KaiOS Vice President for Business Development Asia/Pacific Joyce Wang; and, Lean In China Special Mentor and Future Wellness Executive Vice President Helen Yang participated in a panel chaired by CEIBS Professor of Management Jean Lee. During the panel, they discussed a range of topics, including how to achieve a balance between career and family and how women can overcome challenges in the workplace.

Today’s Master Class is part of the on-going CEIBS 25th Anniversary Celebration spanning the school’s 5 campuses on 3 continents. For details on upcoming Master Classes, visit our events page here. For more news and events related to the CEIBS 25thAnniversary Celebration – including the CEIBS Insights 2019 Forum series – visit our special CEIBS 25 page here.

Lilly Zhang
Michael D. Thede