The image features a 2 separate photos of Sharon Ehrlich and Patricia Neumann. Both woman are looking at the camera and smiling slightly. The text reads: Sharon Ehrlich in conversation with Patricia Neumann, Episode 49, Balancing Tech with Purpose: Insights from Siemens Austria's CEO,


Welcome everybody to the living while leading podcast. My name is Sharon Ehrlich and I’m an executive coach and founder of Living While Leading an executive coaching practice which supports women IT executives to gain more control over their careers and their lives and work with purpose and on their own terms.

This is a show where I invite executives and thought leaders to discuss a leadership topic with me and also topics that relate to the advancement of women’s careers.

I’m so pleased and delighted to have with us today Patricia Neumann the CEO of Siemens, Austria. Patricia, thank you for being here with us. Would you mind introducing yourself to our listeners?


Thank you very much, Sharon, for having me. And thanks for the opportunity here to talk to you about many important things. I grew up in Vienna, and that’s where I currently live. But I’ve worked many, years outside of the country, Austria for the IT industry.

As you said, since a year now I’m the head of Siemens in Austria, which is a very exciting role. I have my family with me in Vienna — my husband, two daughters, and for three years now we have a little dog and there’s a lot of fun in the family


That’s lovely. Patricia, if it’s okay with you, I’d like to dive right into the discussion. The first question I have for you is what are the biggest challenges you face in leading a major tech company in today’s global market? And how do you address them?


Yeah, a very important and broad question. So, first of all, tech is one of my passions. That was always part of my career. When I started at IBM many years ago, and now with Siemens, there is like one common theme that drives me. And that’s technology and the purpose that technology brings with it, what it means for us as a society, for us as companies or for us as a country for example.

I’m a big fan of what technology can bring for us humans. And when working in the technology environment or now being in the leading position, I think that is one of the most important cornerstones to understand why technology matters, and why we as leaders or we as people that also using technology can benefit from it.

And I think that is somehow the foundation and the basis when you work in the environment. And then when it comes to leadership, I think what is very helpful is also to understand a bit about technology. And as I said, the purpose and what you can achieve when applying technology. I think that is somehow the guiding principle that helps us to become also good leaders in that environment.


You mentioned that you had a very long career at IBM. I’d like to ask you how you continue to grow and evolve as a leader, you’ve reached the pinnacle of success, but I would imagine that there is opportunity for some additional growth. So how do you manage that?


Yeah, so I think there’s always opportunity for additional growth and when I look back probably often the plan the way life went on and the professional career developed there was no real plan behind it.

I started in the 90s after graduating at the University of Vienna for economics, so I did not study technology or at a technical university, but I studied economics. Then I joined IBM in the 90s. And that’s where I learned how important, how fundamental technology always was and will be.

That was basically for me then with this passion, that you can I don’t know fly to the moon, or that you can help people who are in parts of the world where probably you suffer from hunger or you suffer from political unfairness or from any type of that that’s not good in terms of values.

That technology has a lever to help and with this in mind and progressing then in what I did I also found out that the more you proceed in the career, the more you have the opportunity to join in a leadership position, the more you also have the chance or the responsibility to take decisions that probably then bring us forward in what we are doing.

And I think that wasn’t what I never probably could have articulated in younger times. But what was it bit like ahead of me saying okay, if I get there and if I get that position, and if I’m responsible for this team or for that business unit, then probably I’m also in a position to shape things or to decide on things and to be proactive in what I’m thinking or doing to want to try.

So, this participating in range and taking decisions and shaping a bit the future that comes along with leadership for me, and that’s probably when thinking back there was a bit what triggered me on saying yes, I would like to follow a leadership career.


You mentioned something interesting, and that is that you studied economics and not business and yet you’ve had this very long and successful career in technology. What advice would you give to young professionals who are aspiring for leadership positions in tech. I think this is particularly important to know because tech is moving so quickly and we see all of the changes with AI, which I think has gotten a lot of folks interested who may have otherwise not been interested. What would you say to those people?


So in general, I think I would put curiosity on top of the list and say whatever you curious in or whatever you’re interested in where your passion is that also go after this when it comes to education or to work. Now I think back decades back, it was easier to enter the technology environment without being a deep, technical person but the passion or you love technology, embrace technology, live technology, I think was fundamental already decades ago.

Today, I would argue because technology got more broader, more complex. AI is a complex topic in itself. I think some fundamental technical education is very helpful. So, my recommendation probably is and if I could choose today probably would say yes, let’s go for technical education after I school to deepen a bit some arenas of what technology means and this understanding then what does it mean how is it being developed? What does it mean if innovation cycles accelerate? What does it mean?

Today we probably cannot predict what the technology in five years will be in terms of leading technology because the cycles became shorter and shorter. I think that understanding with a bit of technological education is something I would recommend.

At the same time, as I said in the beginning, technology has a certain purpose and it drives the business model it helps us in this society. So, I think equally important is to understand we are not applying technology for the purpose of, but what does it mean where’s the real purpose in digitization? What is really the purpose if you want to apply artificial intelligence, for example, and that comes down to understand what society needs? What do we need as humans? What does a company or a business model require? So both understandings I think are very important, not just the technical side, but also the business side.


You mentioned something interesting. You talked about curiosity and passion, and there is an intersection point, right? Because you can love technology or be interested or curious about technology, and also be interested about how technology impacts farming or impacts fashion. There are so many intersection points. And having a career in technology doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re working for a large tech concern selling software licenses, it could mean lots of different things.


Absolutely. And farming is a great example. So, for example, I don’t know if you’ve heard about vertical farming. So, farming doesn’t take place horizontally, you try to use the vertical space in parts of the world where there is not enough space. How can you with the help of technology do vertical farming in terms to produce, things to eat or to drink? So I think that is a huge innovative space as well.


I’d like to ask you a question that I hope you don’t think is a tough one. But we’ll see. The tech industry is often criticized for lagging in gender diversity, especially in leadership roles, and not only gender diversity, but also the diversity of the representation of underrepresented people from different identity groups. How are you challenging this status quo within Siemens Austria?


I think it is not difficult question, but the answers are difficult. Because to really live through diversity and inclusion I think is very, very hard to the environment we all act in is more transparent is getting more complex and is changing faster.

Challenges are not just the single cosmos you’re working in. If you look the newspaper they are coming from a geopolitical scale. I think the dimensions when it comes to diversity and inclusion are broad. What we try is really to give people the same opportunity on the one hand side, but also tools that make it truly equal for people to achieve what they want.

I don’t know if you know the picture with the two apple trees and you give two people a ladder to get to the apple. But if one of those two, is not as tall as the other than the right thing would be to give the person that is not as tall as the other a ladder that is a bit taller in terms of have really equal opportunity to grab the apples from the tree.

And that’s a big picture I have in mind it’s not just look there is the same opportunity for you are also to be very mindful. Do people have also the tools you need on top not just to the opportunity itself to also leverage the opportunity.

We had another example. Yesterday, we talked about in a different context about language. For example, some people are native speakers when it comes to English, others not and how you make sure that everyone has the same airtime to speak the same time and get across the message equally.

And when it comes to language for example, it’s not easy because for us for example, English is not our native language, then you have to express yourself probably differently than from others. So here it’s really important to listen to content to make sure people have understood what was told.

And so there are many, many dimensions we work on in general. We want to do an awful lot of bottom up you, know that people organize themselves. They carry with the passion of diversity inclusion, rather to say this is a top down thing. Of course, it’s important that we sponsor, that we live what we say and we walk the talk, but I like very much also that bottom up things evolve and are being deployed by the teams.


Thank you for sharing that. You said a few things which I really want to highlight. You know the vision that you created of equity versus equality is such an important one because the naysayers will always say, well, yeah, everyone has the same opportunity.

But the fact of the matter is it the barriers to getting to the starting point may be a lot different depending on what your background. Either from a socio-economic background or from your gender or from your identity group.

The other thing that you mentioned, which I think is really essential is diversity and inclusion and belonging as a tick box exercise usually doesn’t work. And you need to have it balanced in two different ways. Obviously, you need to have an organization which is committed to fairness and equity in the workplace.

But you also need some grassroots activity to take place because it’s clear what’s happening in Austria is a lot different than what’s probably happening in Siemens in the United States. Right? The needs are completely different, which means that people have to react differently depending on the geography.

I’d like to talk a little bit about failure. It’s very easy for us as we reach the heights of our careers to talk about all of the successes or for people to focus purely on the success but obviously, failure can be a very great teacher, are you willing to share a significant failure or setback in your leadership journey and the lessons it taught you about leading in a high-stakes globalized world?


I think learning from failures is very important. It’s not that we want to fail obviously, but I think we want to learn out of it. I think that is very important. And that’s also why it’s important to talk about. I was thinking if there is one big single failure I could remember.

What I do remember is that there were many situations where failure took place and where I had big learning curve out of it. For example, I figured out pretty late in work how do you get your opinion your proposals across so that you find a lot of people that say, well, that’s a great idea, and we want to follow this, and we want to take a decision on something.

I remember very well when I was in a big meeting and I was proposing something and the people were looking to me — all good colleagues and you know for years and hardly anyone said wow, it’s a great idea. The meeting went very bad, and I left the room and I was very frustrated and depressive and said it can’t be it was a good idea.

No one was picking up anything and afterwards I figured out and said okay, what I need to do is to get people’s opinion or influence prior to a big meeting and do a one-on-one stakeholder meeting before and ask for sponsors prior to enter a big crowd and propose something new.

It’s too naive to think if you come with something this good that obviously everyone would agree. That’s not reality, because people don’t want to be without having enough information. Being pushed to the side probably when there was not enough time to go into details and all these things.

So, there was a lesson to learn pretty late in my career. Now if I want to achieve something, it’s much better to do one-on-ones and then before or when entering the big boardroom for example and proposing something you know already who your sponsor is who is with you. So that’s one example.

Another thing, Sharon was when I remember very well in the period of COVID and corona. I was running the country organization for IBM. I remember that I communicated, and I thought the communication I did is enough. Looking backwards and figured out it was not enough. So, thinking about how many times you need to communicate is a difficult question because some people think we are over communicating other’s think it’s not enough.

On the communication side, I think I’m still learning what is the right thing to do that you really get the messages across you want to and that people also understand and hear what we want to communicate. So that’s also a big area where I got feedback from different arenas, and I’m still learning here because also communication in the world that has so many topics and everyone has so many things to solve at the same time has changed in my opinion over the last years.


I think in hindsight, all of us have different perspectives on how things could have been handled during the pandemic. That was a very unique time and I think tested the leadership skills of everyone at that moment.

In your view how has the rapid pace of technology and globalization forced leaders to change their style in your industry?


I think technology has had a big change first of all, in how information is being shared. The world leaders prior to the digital world probably had their knowledge and knew what their competence was and a certain power was attached to something that probably others would not know and that makes you strong as a leader and that makes you powerful.

I think thanks to technology, thanks to digitization, and thanks to that we are all have access to data much more easily than that power. Somehow that probably was perceived as my personal power because I knew something my colleague would not know. That went away and I think that’s a huge advantage because it’s so important now, as leaders in the same company, for example, that we share data and information, because at the end, it’s not about the individual that has certain powers. And that’s why I believe I’m more powerful, more successful and more right, so to speak.

I think it’s much more important that the common goal we share as leaders in the company, that is being achieved, and that requires transparency on data and information. And that is thanks to technology and digitization that’s a huge advantage also to becoming more productive faster than what we are doing more knowledgeable when we take decisions.

And then you mentioned globalization. I think globalization for many, many years was driving our commercial success as a country or as a company. Now with the things that are happening, and you mentioned COVID before or with the geopolitical situations, more and more than local strength coming back and I think at the moment we talked about both things.

it requires globalization, but it requires also that we are strong locally and independent. To a certain extent, and that we don’t make ourselves dependent from one big rather than having less dependency on one thing but more spread. I think that is at the moment something where we learn now how important it is to act globally, but at the same time act also locally.


Thank you for that. What qualities do you think future leaders need to thrive in what you just described in the previous statement?


One thing I come back to is the curiosity thing. I think it’s very important to stay curious in what we are doing. I think another big thing is to put yourself into the shoes of someone else. Sometimes we’re so convinced after so many years of experience. We know so many things that and we cannot understand that people think differently or have a different opinion.

I think it’s very important no matter how experienced we consider ourselves that we step back and put ourselves into the shoes of our vis-á-vis and then learn and understand much better where challenges are or how we can help people. I think that is very important.

The third thing I think is that as a leader, there is not this one-to-one relationship anymore. This is me and this is my team. And that’s hierarchically organized. I think that history. The way we do business, the way we live leadership or teamwork in an organization is much more and I use the word now I know it has been used a lot — it’s much more agile.

I think we need to define ourselves more about what we do in terms of do we walk the talk rather than this is the organization, or this is a one on one relation I do have to someone. Things are happening in an ecosystem that goes beyond the own company, because none of our business is just us and clients. We act in an ecosystem we act to stakeholders, whatever we are doing, we’re acting with, for example, research and development. We are acting with the political representatives in the world.

I think this thinking open in an ecosystem that we all together driving for let’s say for example, sustainability. It’s not just the Siemens or IBM or a client thing. It’s us that we want to put forward so the curiosity I would really put on top putting yourself into the shoes of the other and then think broader in us together, driving force goes,


I’m sure you’ve read a lot of the headlines that talk about how the younger generations want to reimagine the way work happens. You and I are probably the same age — I might be a bit older, you know where we used to work 16 hours a day and we’d work on the weekends and all of that stuff. And we just thought that was the rite of passage to moving on to the next step of our careers.

That’s not necessarily embraced by the younger generations. Do you have any thoughts or wisdom that you’d like to share on that particular topic? Because it is one that’s top of mind for a lot of leaders.


First of all, I think it’s that privilege. If you find purpose in what you’re doing, I think that is not always easy at all. Job roles do exist, but I think if you like what you’re doing, it’s part of your passion. You find purpose in what you’re doing and work. I think that’s one of the fundamental bases.

I don’t know if it’s right to work number of certain hours in a week or you know, from a certain time during the day or during the night. I think thanks to technology we became all much more flexible in what we are doing, which is great. So, let’s leverage the flexibility we have and it’s great.

Sharon we today talk as if we were in the same room, but we are not. So that’s also a very nice example. And at the end, I think the outcome is this word counts. And I think I learned this in the last years is much more important to say the outcome that I’m driving, it has this the right purpose, the right meaning has that outcome being achieved, rather than that has to be done from nine to five or from Monday to Friday is less important.

I think thanks to data, it’s easier to say okay, that is the outcome, there will be one to go for. And then that’s already a great success. If the young generation or the next generation says yes, it’s meaningful, there is a purpose and I’m driving for outcome.


The word purpose is sort of sticking stays in my ears because when I opened up this podcast, I said I work with women leaders, who were trying to find purpose in what it is that they’re doing. And so, this is not only a topic that’s top of mind for the young generation, but also for people who have made it to the top and are really just starting to examine the landscape of everything out there in their life, their work, and the interplay of that.

I always like to challenge people on this notion of work life balance, because it’s all your life, right? And you’re not pitting your work against your life. It’s your life and you have to make strategic decisions about how you’re going to manage it. And that happens no matter which generation you are.

In the context of your career what advice would you give to your younger self?


Very interesting question, because afterwards, you’re way smarter than and in that situation. One advice is that I think I’m here today because I did many changes. When I look back professionally, every change I did, and most of them were really where I was super convinced that the right thing to go after these changes made me grow and challenged me in what I’m doing and made me more experienced and more self-confident.

The advice I would give is beyond curiosity is to be really open for change — getting out of what we call comfort zone after a certain point in time and, to embrace new things, be open for new people open for new cultures and taking change. When I look back, change always brought very, very positive things and yes, you also lose things you have to let go from other things and maybe you don’t work with the same people you previously did, but you don’t lose contact. You can always stay connected. And by the way, it’s also great achievement with technology. I think be very open to change would be something I would recommend.


One of the responses I often get from women leaders who have reached your level in an organization is to they would tell their younger selves not to take it all so seriously, for so many of them every decision was so consequential, and in many instances they sort of lost the fun and the joy of the journey.

Thank you so much for answering these questions so openly and sharing your thoughts and your ideas.


Thank you very much, Sharon. Thank you