Here is the first interview in the series “Everday Women” and their views on work, motivation and leadership.
Name Elin Mann
Works as Commercial Director at Côté Mas London (a subsidiary of Domaines
Paul Mas in the Languedoc, France)
Elin grew up in a “normal suburban home” outside of Stockholm, Sweden. She describes herself as the normal, fairly well-behaved girl who was interested in school and liked learning new things. Still, she liked to do things just a little bit differently from the rest, like choosing a high school in the city centre, when her siblings had all attended the local suburban high school close to their home. Growing up, she also enjoyed having a diverse social life, and being around a diverse group of people remains one of her main drivers today.
After high school, Elin did not want to continue on the “regular path” which would have meant pursuing her studies in Stockholm, so she decided to apply to a bachelor’s degree course in marketing, at Deakin University in Australia. It was an ideal way to combine travelling and adventure with something useful. It was not so much the destination itself, she says, as the thought of adventure that made her go abroad. After two years in Australia, she finished her degree by correspondence, sitting final exams at the Australian embassy in Stockholm.
She set out looking for a job in an industry that “really interested” her, rather than just looking for “any job”, and got a marketing position with a Swedish wine importer. Two years later, she decided to move to London. Partly, she says, because she wanted to see something else, and partly because she decided to go after the man who is now her husband, whom she had first met during her studies in Australia. In London Elin continued to work in the wine business, and was recruited by Paul Mas after first having worked with an agent importing their wines into the UK. Initially she was the export manager for the UK and Ireland, and was soon entrusted responsibility for further countries in the Paul Mas portfolio – USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Scandinavia for which she is now the Commercial Director, managing an international team.
Herring & Crisp Bread: What has been the biggest challenge for you in terms of work/career? How did you deal with it?
Elin Mann: There are three things I can think of: Language, work/life balance, and business relations.
I am the one of the few non-French in the company in general (which employs 140 people in France), and in a management position in particular. And I don’t speak French. This was my first comment when the owner of the company asked if I wanted to work with him three years ago, but he assured me it would not be a problem. He is very out of the box, and sees the industry in a less traditional way than other people I have met in the wine business – I think this is part of his success as well. He will for example impose English around the table during work dinners just because I am there and don’t speak the language; this is not typically French. I work directly with two French women in London, and a French guy in the US, and more indirectly with people in France. Although we all speak English together, one of the most challenging things is to not be able to communicate in their language to follow the everyday chitchat, and not to understand French work culture through their own language.
I am passionate about my job, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to deliver. It sounds great, and it is, but it takes a lot of time. In my job you can’t do 8am to 7pm; you put in 15-hour days, you travel a lot, you do a lot of representation – getting picked up at the hotel at nine in the morning and getting back after dinner at midnight. It’s almost like a lifestyle, rather than just a job. So you have to be able to adapt to this and manage your relationships outside of work.
About the business relations: The wine industry is particular in the sense that you spend a lot of time with your business partners and you tend to get to know them very well over the years. When you have to break a business relationship with an importer because of bad performance for example, you know that they will lose money and this may take a serious toll on their business. It can really have drastic consequences for a small company. In the end, the wine industry is not a place where you make tons of money. It may sound glamorous, but we often joke and say that “You don’t become a millionaire working in the wine industry but you can live like one”. I think it depends on how you are as a person, but it is always demanding emotionally. You must be able to remain professional and prioritize your own company’s interests, and at the same time preserve a good relationship with the entity you have in front of you.
H&CB: What is important to you in your work, what makes you motivated, what makes you unmotivated?
EM: Being surrounded by inspiring people is a huge motivation to me. One of the reasons I like the wine industry so much is that people are there because they WANT to be there, it’s not about the money, as I said before. I think few businesses are like this; people are really passionate about the product, and you meet people from everywhere. With ten people at dinner, you will have ten nationalities around the table. You are in contact with many cultures, but everyone has the same passion, and working is really mixing lifestyle and commercial interests.
H&CB: So what about the less motivating things?
EM: I really don’t like it when people complain and grumble. One of my biggest challenges to work for a French company was, and still is, to understand the French work culture. I sometimes feel French people always need to defend themselves against things, it can be a change, or a comment that something is not as good as it should be. It’s not their fault, it’s just in their culture (here is a link back to a previous post on French work culture). For me it’s not about whose fault it is, I just want the problem to be solved; I think it is a very Swedish attitude. Again, it is possible that if I spoke French it would be easier for me to understand some of these attitudes better.
H&CB: What is typical for a good manager, in your view? Can you give any examples from your own experience (as a manager, or of managers you’ve had)?
EM: A good manager, for me at least, is clear about what the expectations are, as I am pretty goal oriented when I work. As a manager you are also there to exchange ideas with the team members, and to allow people to develop. A manager has more experience, and should help to lead those reporting to him or her in the right direction, to allow them to make the right decisions themselves. Having this type of managers really helped me in my early career.
I am responsible for sales and marketing for all our English speaking market, it is an important role. I have been given a lot of responsibility, it comes with the position and it is always challenging. It’s important to be able to continue to grow and exchange ideas with your own manager, even if you have reached a certain level in the organization and have shown proof of leadership yourself.
My ambition is to provide what I value myself to my team members. It is not easy when you have a hundred other things to do, but I really try to do my best. You win in the long run to have good and motivated team members. And I have been lucky, I have a good team that is dedicated and delivers.
H&CB: How has your outlook on work been shaped over the years, by whom, what etc?
EM: My husband often tells me: “your job is your hobby”. Many people might see this as an issue, but I don’t. If you really love your job you don’t feel as if you actually work all the time even if you do. My job contains a lot more than just regular “office work”, and I do it because it’s fun. People who have worked in other industries before have other perspectives, and it is really important to bring them in to share those perspectives. When they start with us, they all say it changes very much from the type of work they are used to.
Work/life balance is about many things, but I think the sense of the term can really be questioned. If you really love your job, it’s not a burden that you have to balance with your private life, it is more a question of how to fit all the fun (work and private) into one day. If you spend 80% of your time at work, you really have to like it. You can’t just go to work because it is a job. I think the work/life balance becomes less of an issue the more you like your job, and having a job that I love has made me very positive about working.
H&CB: What tops your list of things that create a good work environment?
EM: Different people working together, in a positive atmosphere. It only works out if everyone works toward the same goals; you can’t do everything yourself, you depend on the people around you, especially positive people.
H&CB: From your experience and perspective, how do you look at the subject of women and leadership in the area of paid work? What comes to mind when you hear these words?
EM: A few years ago, I would have said leadership style depends largely on whether you are a woman or a man, but with different experiences over time, I now really think it’s more a question of personality. I have seen many men being “weak”, and “bitchy”, and I have seen many strong women. I am very pro-women, and I want them to be motivated and get out and do great things. But I have met just as many men to whom I have wanted to say: “Shape up, get a bit tougher here”!
However, from personal experience, I have also seen that women can sometimes be more motivated and driven. Although it has to do with personality, I think some women have an advantage as leaders because they see things differently; they can be more open to different perspectives and understand how people think and feel, and not be only performance focused.
Men are sometimes more set in their plans and don’t want to change – because they are the leader and that’s how it is – while women sometimes are more flexible in their leadership and therefore are open to suggestions from others. It’s not a question of who is a better leader, but there is a difference in how it works in terms of understanding your team members, even if understanding doesn’t take away the targets you have as a manager.
H&CB: How do you think the industry you work/have worked/ in deals with
a) diversity (gender and in general) and b) leadership, at the workplace, and why do you think it is the way it is?
EM: The wine business has really changed since I started twelve years ago. It used to be extremely traditional, full of older men drinking wine together. I was always the youngest, and the only woman, around the table. During the past ten years many women have come in, and it has become more equal and diverse.
Leadership it is really what you make of it. Again, it depends on companies, and it depends on people. It is not necessarily bound to a single industry.
H&CB: How do you see your future, and how do you see the future for women in leading roles in “your” industry?
EM: Ooooh, hehe. I have another challenge coming up this year: I am pregnant. So I will take on another role in addition to work. My ambition is to make this work. I don’t want to sit at home as a housewife for a year, I like my job too much. You never know what feelings you may have once the change is here, but having no connection to work sounds terrible. I have the support of my boss, who reacted really positively to my pregnancy. Now we’ll see how it all goes.
For women in general, I think the future looks bright. As I said before, the landscape has really changed during the past ten years. I think the wine industry is becoming less traditional (male dominated) and more diverse as time goes by.