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Julia Brüne & Silke Klapdor – Shaping the future of the steel industry in tandem

Julia Brüne and Silke Klapdor

Two energy experts show how joint leadership can work.

Julia Brüne and Silke Klapdor work together as team leaders at thyssenkrupp Steel, shaping the future of the energy industry and CO2 management.

Coming from different professional backgrounds - mechanical engineering and economics at RWTH Aachen University - they decided to take on a management position as a tandem after many years in our company. In the following interview, they reflect on their special professional journey, the benefits and challenges of this new form of leadership, which makes them representative of #nextgenerationsteel.

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thyssenkrupp Steel Europe AG

Kaiser-Wilhelm-Strasse 100

47166 Duisburg, Germany

+49 (0)203 52-0

Can you each briefly describe your chosen professional background?

Julia Brüne: I originally studied mechanical engineering at RWTH Aachen University and did an internship in the automotive industry during this time. This was my first contact with steel as a material and I quickly recognized its importance. After my studies, I joined thyssenkrupp Steel as a trainee in 2008, initially in sales/engineering for body parts. You quickly realize what a fascinating material steel is, but also that an enormous amount of energy is required to produce it. I found the entire energy supply and distribution sector very exciting and when the opportunity arose, I decided to switch to the energy industry. In this position, I worked intensively on the smelter's energy network. Later, I also had the chance to get to know the company from a strategic perspective as an assistant to the Executive Board. However, I have always remained loyal to the topic of energy and eventually switched to the Energy Management and CO2 Management team, which I have headed up together with Silke since January 2022.

Silke Klapdor: I initially trained as an insurance saleswoman, but I quickly realized that I wanted to develop further. Studying economics, also at RWTH Aachen University, was the logical next step. After graduating, I joined thyssenkrupp Steel in 2007 as a trainee in the Metallurgy Controlling department, where I was already responsible for energy issues from a controlling perspective. When the opportunity arose to switch directly to the energy industry, I jumped at the chance. Initially, I took care of the billing side of energy. After my parental leave, my focus was increasingly on regulatory issues and contractual matters. Two years ago, Julia and I decided that we could also very well imagine ourselves in a management position.

What was the main reason for taking on a management position together instead of individually and how did it go?

Julia Brüne: Our manager at the time left the company and there were a lot of discussions about how to proceed. This led us to the conclusion: "Why don't we just do it ourselves?"

Silke Klapdor: Before we submitted the actual application, we first asked various people in the company whether they could imagine such an innovative and new job model. After all, such a tandem model had not yet been implemented at thyssenkrupp Steel.

Julia Brüne: Working part-time as a team leader is a great challenge. At first, it seemed impossible to manage this task in 20 or 25 hours. But then we came up with the idea of taking on the position together. Alone, I would probably have quickly rejected this fixed idea. But as a couple, we recognized the possibility: "Why not?" In the course of our discussions, we developed the idea further. In the end, we decided to give it a go and apply together. As we each had our own story, we each created our own application documents, but wrote a joint cover letter. In this cover letter, we made it clear why we could imagine taking on the team leader position together. The application process proceeded as usual, including individual interviews in which we described from our respective perspectives how we envisioned the tandem model.

What is your team responsible for?

Silke Klapdor: On the one hand, our team deals with the whole area of the energy industry and the associated regulatory issues that play a key role in our company. This also includes a wide variety of energy and media contracts. Another important area is CO2 management, which includes complex CO2 reporting within the framework of European and national emissions trading. One focus here is the development of a company-wide CO2 management system. The team is also responsible for supporting the optimization of the energy network during the transformation of our company. We are concentrating on how the energy flows will change in the course of the extensive restructuring and how we can make them efficient and sustainable. These focal points are crucial to making our company fit for the future and environmentally conscious.

Do you divide up the responsibilities and areas of work among yourselves? Are there also specific strengths that each of you brings to the tandem?

Julia Brüne: We have always had many interfaces in our work and therefore knew how each other works, what quirks they have, but also what strengths they have. We complement each other well and that had already been tried and tested. I think that's an important key to our tandem. It doesn't work to simply throw two people with matching CVs together and hope it works out. You need common ground, shared values and the trust that the other person will make decisions that you stand behind. You need to know each other for a while. We made it clear from the start that we didn't want to share the position in the traditional way, with each person only looking after certain tasks or employees. That wouldn't be a real tandem, but a divided team.

Silke Klapdor:

Exactly, we discussed it in advance and agreed that a split team was out of the question for us. It wouldn't make sense for everyone to only lead half a team.

Julia Brüne: It's important to us that we both always know what the other is doing. Of course, we each have our strengths. Silke takes a closer look at the controlling discussion than I do, while I tend to deal with technical issues. But we are organized in such a way that we are always informed about each other's tasks. We deliberately do a lot of things together, especially important tasks such as job interviews and appraisals. This requires more coordination, but we have learned to organize it well.

Julia Brüne and Silke Klapdor

How do you organize communication to ensure that you are both on the same page?

Silke Klapdor: We talk to each other every day. If Julia was in a meeting at 8 a.m., we inform each other afterwards. Or if I was still in a meeting at 4 p.m., I call Julia in the evening to bring her up to date. We don't have a fixed daily appointment, but work on an ad hoc basis, depending on topics and deadlines. Of course, we use digital media to coordinate our work.

Julia Brüne: We note down key points online that the others can read up on. This helps us to quickly understand what the other person means, as we know each other well. Our documentation is now organized efficiently. No matter which tool we use, it works well.

Silke Klapdor: We have set it up so that we both have access to each other's notes. If Julia is in a meeting, I can read her notes later and am therefore always informed. That way, we can also take on parallel tasks.

What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

Silke Klapdor: Of course there was skepticism at the beginning, not everyone is quick to accept something new and the concept was completely new. You have to be self-confident and trust in your qualifications - we have the professional experience and the necessary know-how.

Julia Brüne: There was some skepticism before we took the job, but we've since established ourselves and have received a lot of approval from our colleagues.

What advantages do you see in tandem leadership compared to traditional individual leadership?

Silke Klapdor: One big advantage is that you are never alone. You always have someone you can consult with. By leading in tandem, you have a kind of sparring partner who helps you to check your own thoughts and ensure that you are on the right track.

Julia Brüne: In addition, the other person often brings a new perspective, which helps us to move things forward more quickly. That makes our collaboration more effective. We come from different disciplines - engineering and business administration. Even though you might think that our perspectives have converged over the years, there is always a difference. This complements each other perfectly because we point out aspects to each other that the other may have overlooked.

How does tandem leadership influence your personal and professional development?

Silke Klapdor: I would say that I am sometimes impulsive and direct, while Julia is more balanced and takes longer to think things through. This balance helps us to look at decisions from different angles and ensure that we consider all relevant aspects.

Julia Brüne: Our different professional and character traits complement each other perfectly. Sometimes Silke comes up with ideas that I wouldn't have considered myself, and vice versa. It is important that we are aware of this dynamic and use it as a strength.

Julia Brüne and Silke Klapdor

How do you evaluate the success of your joint leadership?

Julia Brüne: At the beginning, we worked intensively on how we structure our meetings and how we discuss important topics. One example of this is the use of a shared e-mail address, which we use to share relevant information. This has proved successful, as it allows us to ensure that we are both always up to date.

Silke Klapdor: We have also found that it is helpful to think about a process and organization so that the tandem partner is quickly informed about important points in order to set priorities. This makes it easier for us to work together and ensures that we can coordinate efficiently.

Julia Brüne: Over the last two years, we have optimized our way of working, both in terms of organization and time. As a result, we have more room for exchange and can manage our tasks more effectively.

What makes you representative of #nextgenerationsteel?

Julia Brüne: We are an example of how leadership can also be successful in alternative models.

Silke Klapdor: ...away from traditional hierarchies.

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