When you first meet Friderike, what strikes you is her poise, height, her bright blond hair and big smile. She seems to be one of those rare people who radiate both professionalism and personal warmth at the same time. I met Friderike at a Vienna Business Association breakfast and was a little in awe of the way she commanded the room when it was her turn to introduce herself. She was so good at presenting herself and her business that it became my goal to be able to finesse my “elevator pitch” just as well.
As I got to know Friderike, I learned that she is just as tuned into others’ businesses as she is her own. In fact, that is her passion and her business. Butler Communication partners with business owners, executives, emerging leaders in transitions and professionals who want to activate their full potential in their businesses. Leadership development and executive coaching is a field I didn’t know much about but when I started my series on women business owners and entrepreneurs who are changing their lives as they help change others’ lives, I knew I wanted her to be one of my first subjects. Luckily, she needed headshots as well.
We began our headshot session in a corporate setting since the majority of her business is in this atmosphere. But I knew I also wanted to take some images of this entrepreneur in her home office setting, where she and I had a very comfortable consultation when I went to her to discuss the goals of my own business – and where a golden retriever or two may or may not come in and lay down at our feet during a session (her dog Eduardo, thinks he’s a therapy dog and plays that self-assigned role well) and where Friderike leads our Small Business Mastermind group on a monthly basis.
Since my interactions and observations of Friderike have always been focused on helping others, I decided to learn more about her with some interview questions. Wow, I learned a lot! I never knew she had a prior career in the cruise industry and that she would describe herself as an introvert!
Here we go:
M: I know you haven’t always been a business coach, but like many of us women, have had one (or more) “previous lives.” What is yours and what guided you to this business?
F: I arrived in the U.S. in 1991 with two very large suitcases in my hands and a million grand ideas in my head. A German-US exchange program for young professionals sponsored my work papers and everything else was up to me to organize. I lived in a group house in Washington DC and worked as the operations manager for a cruise ship charter company for a year earning $1000 per month. After the first truly successful and grueling year, my boss offered to sponsor my green card and soon after I met my husband Scott on a blind date set up by one of my roommates.
After three years of cruises from Alexandria, I landed my dream job working for a German luxury river cruise line. I had the honor of opening their first U.S. sales office and enjoyed building a fabulous team. I got to talk about beautiful places in Europe, we designed fantastic trips and gave thousands of American travelers wonderful vacation memories. As much as I loved the work, I did not want to spend 60+ hours away from home when my husband Scott and I were ready to add kids to our lives. I left that job in 1999 a month before our first son Lukas was born.
After our second son Max was born, Scott and I worked together to turn his one-person consulting company into a software development firm that had 20 employees and contractors at its peak. When the global recession hit in 2008, we lost our biggest client, and I experienced first-hand what it feels like to get caught in a downward spiral and to spin into a frightening, reactive survival mode driven by fear and perceived scarcity.
Scott and I had a very different outlook on the situation and different decision making approaches and after many discussions and heartache, I decided to step out of the business. Instead, I built a translation business from the ground up. It took a couple of years until I assembled a trusted group of translators and together we were able to tackle large projects in technology, manufacturing documentation and real estate portfolio translations. As long as the boys were young, it was the perfect job since I was able to work from home and set my own hours and was available for them when they came home from school. I was able to shuttle them between their various activities and to be actively involved in their lives. However, my work life was lonely at times and was rather uninspiring to transform somebody else’s ideas from one language to another without much creative input. I started to get restless and was looking for an outlet for my creativity and business drive.
In 2013, I completed my degree work for Cross-cultural Management and Communication studies at George Mason University. My personal leadership development focus and feedback from colleagues and clients led me to enroll in the highly-acclaimed Leadership Coaching certificate program at Georgetown University’s School of Transformational Leadership in 2015. What I learned and experienced in this program was life-changing.
M: You seem to have an innate sense of understanding people’s fears and trepidations in career moves – so there’s a level of psychology involved. Were you always the person that offered advice?
F: I have reinvented myself professionally multiple times and have been an active entrepreneur in new territories for most of my professional life – doing things for the first time is fun and scary, exhilarating and exhausting, risky and rewarding, soul-crushing and uplifting. I have experienced how depressing and heavy it feels to be unfulfilled at work and I also know what it is like to operate in my sweet spot when work feels like play and I truly enjoy what I do and who I work with. I have seen operations fail and others become successful beyond my wildest imagination.
Over time and through training, I have learned to spot unrealized potential in others and I know how to encourage people to be themselves and be brave in creating a professional life for themselves that they enjoy. I wish for everyone to be able to realize their dreams and to find the courage to step out and create businesses or places of work that inspire them and others.
M: How did you establish and build your business? I know you through the VBA (Vienna Business Association) and that seems to have been an important connection for you.
F: I am an introvert, who enjoys to think and work one-on-one or in small group settings. Building my executive and business coaching business meant stepping out of my comfort zone in a major way. I had to learn how to expand my network, meet new people, and go to events where I did not know anyone. The VBA has been a safe place for me to practice my message, to give presentations in front of people I have known for a long time, and I was able to practice and improve my networking skills. From there I ventured out to other chambers and was recently invited to serve on the board of HR Alliance DC, which brings me very close to my target audience, HR directors and decision makers.
I volunteer as the Chairperson on the Town/Business Liaison Committee for the Town of Vienna, as a volunteer coach with Leadership Fairfax and a student mentor for Jobs for Life at the Lamb Center in Fairfax. Giving back to the community is important to me and it keeps me grounded.
M: How has this last career change been most rewarding to you?
F: I feel I have found my calling in helping others finding their innate strengths and talents and putting those to good use. Whether I work with brilliant scientists at NASA, innovative program managers at the FDA or courageous small business owners, ultimately they are all human beings with unique life experiences, who are trying to make sense of the world around them. I walk with them through tough transitions and help them to connect with what they value and what they do best. When they start to make brave moves and turn their professional lives into something they enjoy and that gives them pride, it is just the best feeling in the world for me.
Essentially building 5 businesses from the ground up has taught me many valuable lessons that I love to pass on to others. I think my most valuable lesson has been that you cannot take anything for granted. Life is precious and deserves to be enjoyed in the moment as much as you can. Once I figured that out, I started to enjoy the journey rather than constantly pushing towards a particular destination.
Entrepreneurs often have a hard time to separate business matters from personal time. I am not sure if working from home is different in that respect from working outside of the home, perhaps the lines can be even more blurry. However, I enjoy the flexibility of having a home-based business. My office setup allows me to work with clients at my home office and I also visit clients at their places of work. I enjoy both. Having a home-based business definitely cuts down on overhead and I like that I can be there most of the time when Max comes home from school.
M: What is your vision for your future? Where do you hope Butler Communication will take you?
I have this crazy vision of flying business class coming home from an assignment at an exotic destination, a glass of champagne in my hand to celebrate success and looking out the window onto a sunset over the clouds. Until that happens, I continue to focus on coaching and teaching communication skills, team building, time management and helping other entrepreneurs turn their aspirations into reality.
It’s thanks to women like Friderike that I have been inspired and have persevered in running my own business at this stage of my life. And I think there are many other women out there that can relate. If you are interested in visually branding your business, contact me and we can have a conversation!