Three Careers in One: Executive Coach, CEO and Gallery Owner
Daniel Wahrenberger has owned a gallery for more than 20 years, worked as CEO, Interim Manager and he has also had a coaching and consultancy company for 15 years. He has worked in more than 23 countries, in Europe, Americas and Asia.
Daniel, welcome to the heart of Europe. For two and half years you also have been supporting companies in Prague. How do you enjoy it?
Beforehand I have never worked in the Czech Republic – just knew it from vacation. I have been very positively surprised about the great business environment and infrastructure of this country. Easily reached by public transportation, quality of staff, security, standard and last but not least costs. I think the Czech Republic should invest much more effort in making this great market place more known – not just in Europe also in the US and especially in Asia. Many companies from other continents plan to expand into Europe – and why not founding the European representation or company in the Czech Republic or Slovakia. The package of advantages is huge and many metropolises would have difficulties to compete.
In Bratislava, I started to work over ten years ago. One of my clients was involved in a business service center in Bratislava and I was involved in the foundation and start-up.
Daniel, seeing you, your energy and passion, one can easily compare your career to a joyride…How would you describe it yourself?
Being Swiss, I will naturally use the example of downhill skiing, making also a link to the Czech Republic, as the Alpine Ski World Championship in St. Moritz took place recently. I believe many Czech people followed this event quite closely, as it was the last Championship for your excellent skier Šárka Strachová. So, I compare my career to the giant slalom. I have been enjoying various energetic bends, always having a clear goal in sight, parallel to the finishing line. I have never been attached to a particular position or a brand or a function. My priority was not to focus on “what am I doing” but instead on “how am I performing and achieving goals”.
Whenever a person loses an intrinsic motivation and enjoyment, the overall satisfaction is difficult to be attained. When that happens, you literally stand still in your professional and personal development.
Passion – no matter how much of a buzz word nowadays it may seem – passion has always been my real driver and the source of my energy. When passion and profession blend together, the outcome guarantees real fervour. And I put this very fervour into every mandate and every job; as an underwriter, a project manager, a head of IT or HR department, an executive coach and a gallery owner. Whenever I started to realize that my passion was decreasing, it was a signal to me that I have to change something. Immediately.
At the first sight, all the positions I have held seem to be too divergent. When you look closely, they have a common denominator. You have goals and you have a playing eld and that goes true for both gallery owner and solo- entrepreneur as well as head of HR and managing director responsible for more than 4000 colleagues.
You have been a coach for 15 years. What major developments have you seen in coaching as a discipline and how have your clients evolved?
Let me return to the domain of sport once again. Nowadays, it is hard to imagine that a top athlete competes successfully without a professional coach. This has also become the case for both leaders and management teams, since they have to bear responsibility that is disproportionately higher.
When a manager worked with a coach fifteen years ago, many people interpreted such co-operation as a sign of weakness. During the last decade, luckily such perception has completely shifted. Today, most of the successful executives work with experienced independent coaches. Working with a coach is not only a vehicle for personal development or the possibility to receive objective feedback but also a way to gain respect from clients and colleagues.
I was fortunate to coach more than 40 CEOs in Europe, the US, Asia and Africa. For me, it was interesting to observe that top managers in Asia were more open to coaching than their colleagues in the US, even that given Asian hierarchy culture orientation.
You have already mentioned that executive coaching is rather a new profession; how do you see its future development?
Until now, whenever you needed development, either for a person or for a company as such, at first you needed to carry out a costly assessment or an employment survey. But let’s be honest, is this process really inspiring? Is it motivating or rather frustrating for the beginning phase which is the most crucial one?
The answer is very simple: Personal development and market expansion can be only achieved if you are aware of your own values, your real strengths and your passion. Through assessments and surveys you normally receive average ratings. Abstract average ratings are worthless. Instead, you need feedback based on real facts and then tailor-made proposals for improvement.
As a result, “personal intelligent coaching” has become increasingly high in demand. I use the term “smart coaching” which has no intention to change the personality of a human being or the core values of a company. These are factors which cannot be changed radically. It is much more important to figure out the real strengths and talents of an individual, a team or a company. And on that positive base, further actions are to be defined.
Therefore, I am sure that coaching will very soon become an integral part of a corporate culture for the most successful companies.
You are the CEO of Veromont company, specializing on interim management. How do you see its perspectives?
Our motto claims “interim management bridges your challenging times with new ideas and a breath of fresh air”.
Using an interim management at times of high workload or in unforeseen exceptional situations enables these to be handled successfully and efficiently with a minimum of disruption. This means you buy-in knowledge and workforce for a specific task and timeframe. This brings two benefits – it is absolutely cost efficient and empowering at the same time.
Whether it is to manage a team or a department, provide temporary support to a management team or to lead a project, professional management support can be guaranteed at short notice, and as it is an agreed temporary deployment, these placements provide enrichment without permanent resources needed to be allocated.
More and more frequently, professional interim managers with long-term market experience and strong client connections are engaged to set up a profound market expansion based on experiences and as a door opener to expand into new markets. But just over a specific period of time.
In many traditional companies, they still use the classical division between managers and leaders… Is this notion still valid?
I definitely challenge such approach. Good leaders lead through their personality and not through their branding.
There is not “one size fits all” leadership style. Nobody should be a dogmatic or a dialectic leader. The art of inspiring leadership is like the art of playing a piano: You should use the right frequencies and registers at the right time. Your colleagues must bene t from the fact that you are in a leader’s position. This does not mean that you have to increase salaries, more vacations or benefits. It means having a favourable company culture in place, together with a realistic vision and strategy. A strong leader thinks ahead and must have alternative solutions embedded in the organisation before the moment of urgency comes. That’s the leader of the future.
You have an extensive experience in assignments abroad. With regards to intercultural communication, did cultural differences play a bigger or smaller role than in the past?
If you asked your colleagues “what are the values of an airline company” everybody would be able to tell the key descriptions immediately. Security, being on time, client focus, clear roles, etc. But what about an answer to this question: “What are the values of our company”? Then you find out that two people interpret the values differently, provided they are even capable of naming them at first.
That’s why the airline industries operate at the highest professional level across all cultures, languages, religions, politics, and countries The simple fact is that all employees want to follow these values because they make sense and guarantee successes across all borders.
Values cannot change every year – not for your company, your colleagues, your clients. Your values must be understandable and make sense to everybody.
Values are at the roots of a long-term success in intercultural affairs. What about discussing and agreeing on core values with a client? Such approach would save tons of contracts full of abstract wordings.
You have been a coach for 15 years, you have been an art gallery owner for 20 years. What are the parallels that you see?
There are many parallels. Passion comes first. Without passion and fascination with or for art you will never have success in this business.
Unfortunately, we still see many galleries disappearing after a short period of time. That shows to me that passion and art knowledge might not be enough. If you want to become a successful gallery owner, you have to understand how the entire environment works. Artists, clients, art critic – but also timing, investment and marketing. Everybody’s motivation and drivers. And finally, it has to fit with your own vision and artistic taste.
You cannot force an artist to paint, you cannot force a client to buy, or a journalist to write. The different elements must fit together like a Swiss clockwork. Key is sales leadership and integrity – just like in every other industry?
But the real parallels are fun! Both are very positive professions – even e.g. conflict management. They include a lot of soft factors which you cannot always define in words. They include emotions, moods and characters. I just love to work in these environments. I really enjoy all my different careers in one!
By Linda Štucbartová