Lilli Rohde and Maike Benner
From the Corporate World to Entrepreneurship – How We Found our Path
By Fati Gorezi
Lilli Rohde and Maike Benner are the founders of MaL!sh, an ‘International Business Consultancy and Coaching’ Company. Combining their experiences and strengths in people management, financials, tools and systems, communication and leadership, MaL!sh offers a variety of services. MaL!sh focuses on teams – concentrating on a Company’s processes and people as well as international training in different cultures and countries and by connecting women worldwide. The internationally successful ‘Female Office Challenge’ series connects women and empowers them within their challenges and business contexts. Maike & Lilli are also the Directors of the first ‘Global Woman Breakfast Club’ in Frankfurt, Germany which launched on October 14th 2018.
When did you first come up with the idea for your business “MaL!sh”? And how did it become a reality?
Lilli: To start our own business was always on our minds. We have acquired a lot of useful knowledge and experience which we wanted to share. Feedback after coaching, training and mentoring during our professional paths were always extremely positive and have served to encourage us. To empower women, to challenge processes and structures and to come up with ideas for improvement and to initiate their implementation was, and is, part of our character.
Maike: We both needed a change in our lives and were convinced that the timing was never as good as now to make a change to our goals – no matter how big or small. Some incidents happening around us encouraged us to start MaL!sh especially since our meetup event series, “Female Office Challenges” which was received very well in four different countries and gained a community of 400 members within three months. We wanted to show the challenges women have in a business context and how to solve them or make them easier to handle.
When did each of you first become passionate about women’s empowerment? Was there a specific situation or trigger? Or has it always been part of you?
Lilli: To empower women was always our passion. For years, I was the only female in a leading position in my Company. Working within a man’s world made me realise that we women are more or less alone at the top. I lacked the support of my female colleagues at all hierarchy levels. So, when I looked behind me, I did not have a “girls crowd” to support me or cheer for me. That’s why I started to mentor and motivate my team members and supported them to get promotions. To see women succeed and start to believe in themselves, and reach immense self-confidence, is amazing.
Maike: As soon as women start to realise and activate their strength everything becomes possible. I grew up surrounded by strong and powerful women. I think this is why I was irritated when I first came across gender related “restrictions” i.e. things that are apparently performed better by men like IT or parking cars. I remember the first internet course I did (when the internet was just getting popular some decades ago) It was called “going online without needing help from a man” and I found it rather strange. I like to encourage women not to make boundaries for themselves, when really they just exist in our heads or are simply the “traditional” way of doing things – or dividing tasks.
Both of you have worked abroad for a while. How would you say the situation for women in business compares in different countries? How do you judge the situation in Germany, for example, in comparison to other countries?
Lilli: From my point of view women all over the world have more or less the same basic topics: combining family and job. In most countries in the world you need to make a choice: do I want a family and a relationship? Or do I want a career?
Maike: I agree absolutely, and I don’t see many differences in women being part of business life and having the challenges at home no matter if they work in Egypt, Ireland, Australia, Canada or Brazil.
Both of you come from very small towns. What are your first initial memories of women in their careers? How did they change when you grew up? And how do you feel women’s empowerment can become a part of our everyday life?
Maike: It goes without saying that our society jointly needs to work on concepts and models within the next few years so that women are free to choose whatever path they want to take in their lives (and also switch from one path and model of living and working to another).
Lilli: But don’t wait for things to change. You can make a change in your life and in other women’s lives now by connecting, supporting and cheering for other women. How about supporting people who already dedicate their lives to female empowerment like Melanie Vogel, our nomination for the ‘Global Woman Entrepreneur’ award?
What are your tips for women out there who feel like they can’t succeed in their dream career, and don’t have as many chances as men in the same career paths?
Maike: Don’t wait for someone to come and see your potential. You have to make yourself visible and talk about yourself and your success stories. Also, let those who surround you know when you are convinced that you are able to do a job or task. That confidence will convince others. If you think you don’t have the necessary skills needed, then work on obtaining them.
Lilli: Women should become aware or their strength and power and develop self-confidence. It helps tremendously to have a mentor who supports you along the way; someone to give you input and ideas to develop yourself. Since mentoring is focused on a long-term relationship and your development in a wide range of topics and with a wide horizon, it does not have to be someone from your Company and you don’t need to wait until you enter working life. In fact, it’s advisable to get a mentor as early as possible.
Maike: Even if you don’t have a mentor you may also become a mentor for someone else. You develop great skills yourself and there are always women out there who are younger and less experienced who are dying to find a mentor.
What inspired you to start the ‘Global Woman Club’ in Frankfurt?
Lilli: We first learned about Global Woman Club and its values during a business trip to Los Angeles in April 2018. When I discovered the ‘BusinessBreakfast’ concept and read through the description on ‘Eventbrite’ we were so thrilled and enthusiastic to have found an organisation with the same mission as us. Unfortunately, the breakfast in LA was booked out so we decided to visit one of the Breakfasts in Germany. After our research showed that there was no club in Germany, it was clear for us that this needs to be changed as soon as possible.
Maike: Germany is one of the largest countries in Europe with many business women and entrepreneurs. We chose Frankfurt, not only because we live here but also because Frankfurt is a European financial, business and transport hub with lots of trade fairs, congresses and shows taking place here. The climate for business is ideal: open, international and diverse.
How is the situation for women in Germany? Do women start their own businesses or stay mainly in corporates?
Maike: In the recent past we have seen and felt the entrepreneurial spirit in Germany rising. The traditional roles are not existing anymore. A lot of women are in management positions in the corporate world. But also, a lot of women are starting to realise their own ideas and setting up their own businesses. Talking about work life balance, flexibility and digital nomads women are more open to net work ideas and systems.
Lilli: Looking into corporates a lot of Companies now realise the enormous potential behind female leaders and start offering diverse programs. From our point of view, in Germany you really have the choice or you can do both; being employed and starting your own business. Talking about us, this is exactly what we did with MaL!sh. The first year we worked both in the corporate world and after that we established our own business then fully transferred.
What is your vision with Global Woman there?
Lilli: We want to make Frankfurt the business hub of Global Woman in central Europe. We want to use our experience and networks to give business women and entrepreneurs the possibility to come together to learn from each other and develop new business ideas and projects. We are very proud that our base of members is already so diverse. We have women with their own businesses and women coming from the corporate world. So, some with established businesses, others with great ideas to waiting to be implemented.
Maike: Yes, and our vision is to empower women in Germany to go international and show the world what amazing products, services and ideas they have. On a long term basis we also want to support Global Woman to open further strategic meaningful Clubs in Germany.