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in conversation with Postbus' Board Member - Silvia Kaupa-Götzl

Our leaders’ interviews are honest conversations with female CEOs and board members in different industries sharing inspiring stories and hands-on career advice on how to climb the career ladder.

For the very first edition of our leaders’ interviews, we look to the transportation industry, a largely male-dominated field across the world, with few exceptions. We sat down with Silvia Kaupa-Götzl, board member at the largest bus company in Austria, Österreichische Postbus AG.

Q1. When you look back at your career, what are some of your milestones, highlights or accomplishments that you are really proud of?

A: “I think the biggest milestone in my career was when I decided to quit my job as a lawyer. It might sound like a bit of a strange milestone, but it was the first time that I decided that I have to leave a job because I wasn’t good at it and I didn’t like it. It was really hard to do because I always wanted to be a lawyer, you know? I studied law and I started working in a law firm. And when you realise that it's actually not what you want to do for the rest of your life, it's hard. It hurts a bit.

“But, it’s also very healing in a way, because I knew that I had to get out and do something else, I knew it wasn’t making me happy.”

Q2. Did you have any support system along the way when you made that drastic change? How did you make that transition?

A: “It took me 2 years to actually do it, so it involved a lot of thinking, denying, trying and trying again. When I quit for the first time, they asked me ‘What can we do to make you stay?’

“And then when I was going to quit the second time, I think I talked to my mother, and I said, ‘Mom, I'm going to quit. I'm definitely going to quit now and I might not be able to find a job anytime soon. So I might come back to live with you. Is that okay for you?”

“And she said, ‘You know what? I'm so glad that you finally decided to quit that job because you were so unhappy, and I could see it. So please go ahead and do it. And we are going to give you whatever support you need.’ So yes, I had a support system within my family and friends, and they all said the same thing.”

Q3. You mentioned it took you two years to get out of there, I'm sure you must have had some fears and doubts. How do you usually deal with making tough decisions?

A: “I think, what I learned from it is that you have to trust your gut feeling because I knew something was wrong. I knew, and I felt it with my whole body. But my brain was telling me things like ‘No, you are a lawyer, you've always wanted to be a lawyer. You just became a partner in that firm, even if it's a junior partner.’ “But when your brain and your gut are saying different things, I think you have to trust your gut feeling. And talk to people. They're not going to make that decision for you, but they can always listen to you and give you some advice.

“And then finally I reached a point where it was crystal clear that I had to go, and then you have to do what you have to do. I had two options and it was ‘Be unhappy for the rest of your life and let them basically destroy you’ or do something else. It was really that bad, and this is why I say you have to trust your gut feeling.

“And I’m not afraid to fail. Because it happens. It’s impossible not to fail. Just learn from it and make it better next time.”

Q4. Thanks for sharing that so honestly. So, fast forward to now, how do you become a board member at such a large organisation like Österreichische Postbus AG?

A: “I think you really have to take it one step at a time. It's nothing I've ever planned. People often ask questions like ‘What do you want to be in five years from now?’ I think that's the most stupid question ever. You cannot plan a career, because there are so many things that can happen. Just take one step at a time and it's the small steps that bring you forward.

“Back when I first started working at ÖBB, there was a new role and I knew I had the chance to get it. I really focused on it, and I talked to people within my network here, so I focused on this small step.

Later on, there was a new management within ÖBB and they asked people, ‘Who are the most important people in this organisation? Who is doing the best job? Who should I talk to when I want to get an honest opinion on what to do within ÖBB?’ “My name was mentioned a lot of times, that’s what I got to hear later. And I believe I was lucky because they happened to ask people who knew me and liked me. As I said, it was my performance on the one hand, but also luck, and that’s why you cannot plan your career. It just happens. And when it’s there, you just go and grab it.”

Q5. You are responsible for large operations and almost 4,000 employees. What do you do to be a good leader? How have you worked on your leadership skills?

A: “I think first and foremost, you are a good leader when you are yourself. Don’t be one of those people in a suit who try to be a leader. Just be yourself - really, that’s the most important thing.

“Of course, my leadership style has changed. You always learn a lot about yourself when you deal with people - and grow, become older, see things from a different perspective.

“I have a daughter, I think that also changed my life and the way I think about so many things. Sometimes when I would be angry at work and frustrated about a situation, I would come home, see my daughter and just forget about work. And then the next morning I’d often come to realise, ‘Maybe it’s not that bad after all’ and usually, it really isn’t.”

“I think I also learned to control my emotions a bit. I’m a very emotional person and I hope my employees would say that I’m a bit more patient now. Emotion is good, but not always. Sometimes it can be too much.”

Q6. What does a typical work day look like for you?

A: “Full of meetings. I have meetings every day, a very packed schedule. There are internal and external meetings, and on some days I can go and talk to employees, bus drivers, people in facility management, and so on. These are the fun days and the really important days because you get to know something about the organisation and the people who work out there every day, giving their best. And every now and then I get to do interviews like this, which is something I really enjoy.”

Q7. As you mentioned, you work in a male-dominated field. But the mobility or transportation industry is also so purpose-driven, and there’s so much potential for female talents. What are you doing to change the gender parity or close that gender gap?

A: “There’s still a long way to go. Just by being here, I’m trying to prove that women can make it to the top in a technical field, even in transport. I’m not an expert, and I’m not trying to be, but I know what I’m doing and I really like what I’m doing.

“I have a daughter who is 6 and basically just started school, so I’m also trying to show women that it’s not a problem to balance a family and a career. When women working here get pregnant, I like to approach them and offer to talk about their options if they would like, because I really like to encourage them to come back to work after maternity leave. I think it always helps to have the perspective of a ‘grown-up’ at that point.

“We also talk about diversity a lot. I think it’s important that men who work in our organisation understand that diversity makes it better for everyone. We’re not trying to get rid of men. A mixed team just performs better, and it’s more fun! We don’t need to discuss that anymore. We did discuss it, actually. Five years ago, there were people saying, “Women can’t do it, women can’t change tyres, women can’t drive in the snow’ and so on - there were a lot of prejudices, and we’re over that now but we still have a long way to go.”

Q8. What is one thing you can commit to today to contribute to helping other women rise to the top?

A: “Whenever you have a question, or you need advice or any kind of support, contact me. I think it’s really important to have someone to talk to, who has been there and is more experienced than you when you have questions about your career. A woman recently contacted me after a networking event and asked to have lunch because she felt I understood the situation she was in, and we went ahead and met, and it was great. Women need to be more connected and work together, having that network is so important.

“We have a very good network of women here in ÖBB, which has been around for a long, long time. It’s quite strong and very informal, and we support each other. ÖBB is such a huge company with 4,000 employees and for me, it’s important to know other women who work within that organisation that is still dominated by men, even though it’s getting better. I think it’s important to especially talk to women - not only, but especially.

“The last piece of advice I want to give is, don’t hide as a woman. Don’t ever hide - this is why I’m wearing red, by the way. Be visible. They need to see us - if they see me there, they know that they can make it too.”

about Silvia

Silvia Kaupa-Götzl is a board member of Postbus in Austria, the largest bus company in Austria. Her areas of responsibility include everything from Human Resources, Controlling & Finance, Transport Market, Technology, IT & Innovation, Legal, as well as PR & Market Communications. She joined the ÖBB Group in 2005 and rose through the ranks to become CEO of Österreichische Postbus Aktiengesellschaft in 2015. Prior to that, she worked as a lawyer for two renowned law firms in Vienna after graduating from London School of Economics and Political Sciences. She often talks about mobility, innovation, sustainability, and female leadership. She lives in Vienna with her husband and 6-year-old daughter.

about Österreichische Postbus AG

Postbus is the largest bus company in Austria, and a subsidiary of ÖBB-Personenverkehr AG, part of Austria's largest mobility company. With almost 4,000 employees and around 2,400 buses, Postbus brings around 205 million travellers to their destinations in Austria every year.

% of female employees: 9.4%

% of female board members: 50% (1 out of 2)

% of female management: 7.4%

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