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mastering your money: lessons on financial independence | leadership spotlight

Angelika Hofer-Orgonyi is the Head of Digital Excellence at the Mondi Group, a global packaging and paper manufacturer, where she has worked for over 8 years. Besides her passion for digitalisation, she is an experienced Finance Manager and has extensive experience working within global B2C as well as B2B industries. Coupled with a wealth of international experience in Austria, Switzerland, Ukraine and Russia, Angelika is also skilled in strategy development, project management and business planning and forecasting.

I sat down with Angelika over breakfast to discuss how being personally tied to a salary in order to pay your bills will ultimately kill any love for that job and how instead becoming financially independent will allow you to maintain more control over your work, career and home lives.

Q1: Angelika, how did you discover for yourself that being financially independent was important?

A: “I grew up in the 1970s and 80s in the very traditional countryside of Austria with my father being a teacher and my mother a housewife who was fully dependent on my father’s monthly salary. It was soon clear to me that financial independence is the key to the world and will allow me to make my own decisions without having to ask anyone for permission.”

Q2: When is the best time to start building your own financial independence?

A: “When I started my career in my early 20s I was following the ‘work hard, play hard’ rules of the late 90s. While I always had some emergency money in a savings account, I hadn’t thought about saving up for retirement yet, big future investments or the unthinkable situation of losing your ability to work. This revelation only came to me closer to the age of 30, when my male colleagues started to talk about their personal financing and insurance strategies. These discussions helped me a lot to realise that having a financial plan early on has a lot of benefits and is relatively easy to set up.”

Q3: How did you build this independence? What was your approach to work?

A: “I got myself an independent financial consultant based on a personal recommendation. The financial consultant listened to me and took time to understand my risk appetite. He also forced me to define a purpose for my financial plan and run some simulations for me based on that. Frankly, anyone could do this for themselves easily with an excel sheet, but I was very happy to have someone to consult me and provide some different viewpoints towards a tailored financial plan including spreading the risk over different financing means. He still manages my finances today.

“At work, the feeling of financial independence gave me a confidence boost. I could freely choose my assignments or say ‘no’ to decisions I did not agree to, as I always felt: if I do not like it, I can leave and find something else. I was never dependent on the next month’s salary. Interestingly, this confidence boost also fostered my career. I kept getting feedback that my nature of being courageous, speaking up and choosing my battles is an asset. One very senior leader even asked me to become his reverse-mentor, via a mentor-up scheme my previous employer ran.”

Q4: Are there any lessons you’ve learnt the hard way or seen others experience that made you adopt this approach?

“Yes, I will never forget the pain of one colleague of mine. She was a senior director and had tried for years to adopt a child. When she finally succeeded, I found her one day at work quite depressed. She told me that she and her husband had overinvested when building their house. In order to repay the debt to the bank, both her husband and herself must continue working, although she would actually love to take a longer sabbatical off work to finally enjoy being a mother. But their financial situation would not allow for it. She felt trapped in a job she did not like anymore.”

Q5: How do you use this independence in your life?

A: “I can give two examples. Number one is that during my career I made the decision to change employers twice. Both times I took a longer break in between to take a breather, prepare for the future and relax. I would not have been able to do that without sufficient financial funds already saved up.

“Number two is that before I had my first child, I was working abroad and did not know when or where I might start a family. Being used to the social welfare system of Austria, I decided to put a little money aside every month as my own personal maternity fund to allow me to stay off work for a year. It gave me peace of mind when I became a mom.”

Q6: Is there any advice you would give to the next generation of female leaders to help them get started?

“First of all, do not take marriage for granted as your social security. Even the love of your life might turn into something else over time. Make sure you keep full control over your own finances and your life. It will reward you with confidence and peace of mind in uncertain situations.

“Secondly, start with a small financial plan early on. Think about the purpose of your financial plan. Is it for retirement, a new car, a house, a sabbatical, to care for your parents or kids for example? Over time you will get used to setting aside money every month to achieve your goal.

“Thirdly, consider your long term plans closely before falling into a part-time trap. Working part-time for a limited time can be wonderful, but everyone gets older and at some point you might want to retire. If you do not have enough saved up during your prime years, be it privately or via state pension, you might run into financial problems later in life when you are already too exhausted to work or develop health problems that limit your ability to work.”

This interview was conducted as part of our leadership spotlight series, in which we aim to demystify the path to leadership for aspiring leaders by sharing a variation of journeys and defining moments.

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