Stefan Pesic & Maria Böcker

Maria: “I really like the culture of being on first-name terms”

Stefan: “It’s a sign of fundamental trust”

Short introduction: Maria +++ 59 years young +++ has been a training manager for 16 years +++ still owns a real alarm clock and loves to share her wealth of experience.

Short introduction: Stefan +++ 21 years old +++ in year two of his training as an industrial clerk +++ Young Talent Councillor +++ already wanted to be a year older at 17.

WE: What music do you think your opposite likes to be woken up by?

Stefan: I reckon Maria would like something quiet, maybe classical music.

Maria: Stefan probably needs modern music: not techno, but something upbeat.

And your answers, please, starting with Maria.

Maria: No music. I have a classic alarm clock that ticks and beeps. I’m fairly old school in that sense, I want as little radiation as possible around me. But if music, then it would be classical, definitely something quiet.

WE: Stefan?

Stefan: To begin with, soft music or a gentle alarm, but the second or third song can be more lively, maybe hip-hop or rap.

Off the cuff, name one thing that you really like at WE.

Maria: I really like the culture of being on first-name terms. [Editor’s note: at some sites, many employees are on first-name terms across hierarchies.] We work at eye-level, the focus is on people, you feel seen, it reduces distances and creates a sense of closeness.

Stefan: I fully agree with you. The hierarchies are still always clear to me, but when I go to a new department, it transmits a sign of fundamental trust right from the beginning. This is then carried over to any project work I am given, where I can work very independently. It completely dispels fear.

WE: What does age mean to you? When have you ever wanted to be older or younger?

Stefan: When I was 17, I really wanted to be a year older.

Maria: At 16, I wanted to be 18 to avoid the question of what time I had to be home. If my father was in a good mood, it was midnight, if not, the deadline was 10 pm.

WE: How can you each benefit from one another?

Maria: The following example comes to mind: every year we design a creative corporate presentation. At first I provided a lot of specifications, but then I gave our Young Talents free rein – and experienced a real change of perspective. I really liked the idea of setting up the presentation like a court hearing, but the Talents preferred a “Dragons’ Den”-type scenario. At that point, I decided to hold back and let them get on with it.

Even the way they communicate with each other, settle conflicts, etc. is different. They take a different approach. And I like listening to the way they speak, the language they use.

WE: New word creations?

Maria: Yes! The first time someone said: “Chill, Maria”, I wondered what exactly I was expected to chill. What they were saying was: “Calm down, Maria”. It’s great to hear such new phrases.

Stefan: I also think that we Young Talents bring in more perspectives. If I start on a project and have complete freedom, I can be creative to the max. But if I get stuck, it’s good to have a basic framework to fall back on. I can then make the necessary adjustments, but with a solid structure as a basis to achieve the best synergies.

Maria: I think a basic framework provides a good sense of security, and accessing the tried-and-trusted experience of others can be helpful. There’s no reason not to exploit the experience of us ‘old hands’.

WE: Maria, what does a Young Talent have to bring along, what characteristics?

Maria: A lot of curiosity about what lies ahead, and a real interest in the company. In Stefan’s case, his interview was word perfect. He was well prepared and very convincing about why he wanted to train at our company.

WE: Maria, how do trainees change in the course of their traineeship?

Maria: They gain self-confidence with every passing month. The learning objectives plan is designed to guide these young people into becoming more mature, structured individuals, capable of developing their potential, right from the beginning.

Stefan: I’d like to add that I’ve never felt under pressure, but motivated to realize my own potential. In our corporate culture, we are accepted as the person we are and how we tick.

Maria: That makes sense. At the end of the traineeship we will have found the right tasks and the right department for everyone, and will give each person the job in which they can best be effective for the company. Ultimately, it all leads to sales results.

WE: Stefan, as a Young Talent you will work in every department at some point. When do you feel in good hands in a department?

Stefan: You are introduced to every team member, you go from desk to desk and greet everyone personally, that helps to make you feel at ease right away. There hasn’t been a single department where I was worried about approaching someone; there has always been a friendly atmosphere.

WE: Stefan, you are a member of the Young Talent Council, which doesn’t exist at all the WE sites. What exactly is it?

Stefan: It is the company's youth and trainee representative group, consisting of four persons, and you have to be elected into it. We work in close cooperation with the Young Talent Board. We are a kind of mouthpiece for the others, as well as having various other responsibilities, such as organizing the Christmas charity appeals, etc. In the election campaign, candidates have to give a short speech presenting their own ideas.

WE: Which of your ideas have you already been able to realize?

Stefan: We established WEstudy, a small learning platform on the Intranet for trainees and students. I was really keen to set up something new and push it ahead.

WE: Maria, how do you work with the Young Talents?

Maria: They really help us with a lot of non-standard daily work. But on a totally different level. For instance, if someone has questions about vocational college, or if they are annoyed about one of the teachers, or simply want to share their feelings about the Covid situation. Being closer in age, Stefan can probably identify with them more, even though our trainees have superb tutors. But talking to another Young Talent can often be more effective on account of the age structure. If things get more complicated, they then come to us.

WE: If the company was to say: “Maria, Stefan, you each have a day’s time to show the other person something they really should experience”, where would you go?

Maria: I would take Stefan on an alpine mountain hike above 2000 meters. Stefan, you really have to reach that cross at the top, so close to heaven. It is unbelievably beautiful!

Stefan: Count me in! Maria, I would take you to a Serbian restaurant in Stuttgart, with a live band playing.

Maria: Oh, I would love that. I’ve also heard of an African restaurant there. Let’s do it all. Once Covid is over. It’ll be fun!