- Experience report
"My advice to young colleagues: take responsibility."
I joined the ifb group almost 11 years ago, right in the middle of the financial crisis. Despite the uncertain times, I decided to realign my career as part of the ifb team, because the combination of professional competence and technical know-how really impressed me. My own skill set was very technical at the time, so I was particularly attracted to the equally strong aspect of management consulting that ifb has to offer.
My own career and that of many colleagues shows that you can develop quickly and positively at ifb, while also benefitting from a lot of freedom. Everybody here has the opportunity to perform interesting future-oriented tasks. You can always turn to colleagues with questions and expect reliable answers. The discussion culture at ifb is open and goal-oriented, which ensures that company-wide teamwork really works well. This support is essential because, in innovation-driven projects and areas of expertise, we frequently encounter issues which are new to us. "Jumping into the deep end" is therefore a normal part of our day-to-day business. But that is precisely what makes this work so interesting and teamwork with colleagues so valuable. This also applies to my own, very broadly based subject area of Business Intelligence (BI), BI architecture, data governance and data warehousing.
When I meet new colleagues at in-house workshops, we also talk about the competencies and values that are important in a consultant's life. Of course, there are many, but three aspects often come up: a tolerance for frustration, persistence and the ability to think in abstract terms. Tolerance for frustration is not meant to sound negative. On the contrary, if you keep breaking new ground, you are bound to run in the wrong direction or encounter uneven terrain sometimes. It is normal here for the team to support you and help you achieve your goal in the end. Nevertheless, we must be prepared to overcome hurdles, learn from mistakes and never give up. Lifelong learning applies more to our industry than to many others. If you add a good dose of abstraction to the mix, complex problems can be solved much more easily. But my most important advice for new colleagues is: take responsibility and you will be successful.
"The path from being a tiny start-up to becoming a 40-strong team was a great experience."
Nine years ago, I transferred from one of the world's largest management consulting and technology service providers to the ifb group. When working for a company with several hundred thousand employees, you are ultimately very anonymous and only one of many. This is not the case at all at ifb. When I got to know my ifb colleagues while working on a joint project, I immediately found the teamwork to be very harmonious, much more personal, and exciting in terms of content. They were just good people who knew what they were doing. When I received the offer after our project to go to the USA for a few years for ifb to help set up the subsidiary for North America, I didn't have to think about it for long. Having spent part of my college time in the USA, I had long been interested in working there as well. My family agreed and it just fit.
The early days were as tense as in a start-up. Heaven and hell were quite close together. There were just 4 or 5 of us at first. If we didn't get any projects, we would fail, but if we got bigger orders, the question was whether we could manage them with so few people. At the same time, the respective structures and the back office had to be set up. These were real challenges and I particularly appreciated the collaborative nature of the work and the team spirit among my ifb co-workers. Company management also stood behind us at all times. Everyone knew each other and it became a truly great experience, not just professionally, but personally as well. As with any stay abroad, the mentality of the host country also requires some adjustment. In America, for example, this meant dealing with much shorter planning horizons of only a few weeks, while we Germans had learned to plan comparatively long-term. But we mastered that, too.
40 employees now work for ifb Americas. I started working from Germany again last year and am in charge of a project for an insurance company in Vienna, which is in full swing. Internally I have taken over the Competence Center Information Management with a total of eight teams and serve as the primary contact person for our consulting approach REFRAMETM.
If you are interested in a stay abroad, you will usually have a suitable opportunity at ifb, because you don't have to overcome high administrative hurdles as is the case in other companies. What matters here are personal skills and individual interests instead of who is available at the moment.
"The team spirit is one of the main reasons I enjoy working for ifb so much."
Like most natural scientists after finishing college, I was faced with the choice of pursuing the conventional path of doctoral studies or entering the job market. The job advertisements for IT consulting aroused my curiosity, because I had really enjoyed bioinformatics and programming in college. At first I was a little worried that the world of consulting would not fit my personality, but I felt comfortable with ifb right from the start. Even the welcome I received at the interview in Cologne was much friendlier than I had expected.
My first months at ifb were very exciting. Most of the other 15 new colleagues, who took part in the training session in Cologne, were also recent college graduates and we really bonded during the weeks we spent together. The structure of the training session and the fact that there was a lot of input in the form of various seminars made the transition from university to work relatively easy for me. After that round of training, I was lucky enough to spend three months in the development team of our partner SAP and therefore had a little more preparation time for my first project at a bank. Once I arrived at the client, I was very grateful to have had this intensive training, as it provided me a good foundation of banking knowledge in particular, before "getting down to business".
My colleagues were willing to provide assistance straight from the start. Everyone is really helpful and, if possible, takes the time to explain things from the ground up. I especially like how we interact with each other in a very positive way regardless of career level. People treat each other with appreciation and respect, which is why team spirit is one of the main reasons I enjoy working for ifb so much.
At the moment, I am helping a client with business analysis for Abacus A360, a reporting software tool. Especially in the test phase, the main focus is on error analysis. Whenever data is not correctly calculated or transferred, I search for the causes and possible solutions together with other business analysts and sometimes even colleagues from development and the specific business unit. I have always enjoyed thinking through different strategies and breaking a problem down bit by bit. In fact, my work is not all that different from the way of thinking in a laboratory, where something can go wrong in an experiment and solutions have to be found. The advantage of computer programs is that everything goes faster than in lengthy biological studies.
"Several years ago, I was welcomed, appreciated and supported by a company that worked as one big team. I still feel that way, but now I also have the possibility to help others and make interesting career paths possible for them."
At ifb group, less emphasis is placed on counting working hours and more on results. This is a way of working that I knew and liked from my studies and that I was happy to maintain here. It may sound cliché, but achieving something together is our top priority. The challenge of continually coordinating a group and rallying it around a common goal during a project remains exciting and is a great experience for everyone involved.
During the last 14 years, I have been able to take on many different responsibilities including developing into a team leader. Through the interpersonal contact in the company, I quickly realized that this is a place you can feel comfortable and thrive. The creative freedom I have here has enabled me to contribute my values, while also cultivating and living out my own vision of what the interaction between employees and superiors can be, even in my role as team leader. I am continually reminded of how widely the needs of colleagues differ in the client projects based on their different personalities. Learning from these situations helps me tremendously in my own dealings with team members.
In addition to aiding with professional issues, this gives me the opportunity to help shape and support entire career paths. In this regard, I don't see myself as merely a boss, but as a motivator, consultant and helmsman for new markets and opportunities.In addition to team management, I am currently promoting topics that have interested me right from the start, such as business warehousing, developments in the field of artificial intelligence or in-memory.
Besides my work, it is important to me to have enough time and capacity for my family and friends. Personal responsibility allows me to remain flexible, so that I still have the capacity to pursue my interests outside of work and spend quality time with my family. When traveling, I can at least remain in constant contact with everyone close to me using new media. At the same time, changing project locations also provide me incentives to engage in numerous sports and cultural activities that I can take home with me as inspiration and share with my family and friends.
"From physicist to techie and networking pro"
In my work with the ifb group, I am most thankful for my co-workers and the opportunity to continually take on new tasks and subject areas. In all truth, working together with my colleagues simply tops all else. They are extremely good at what they do, provide constant support and are always open for questions. This solidarity is, of course, especially helpful in the beginning. When I joined ifb after completing my studies in physics, I really wasn't familiar with ifb's specializations. The in-house training phase at the beginning provided me with an initial general impression, but you actually learn the most through working with clients. This sometimes involves just jumping in at the deep end, for example, when taking on responsibility in the first client project and having to prove oneself on one's own. The basic knowledge of programming that I gained in college helped a bit, but the most important factor consists of a certain will power and fascination for solving problems independently. One of my main tasks at the moment consists of feeding data into the Bank Analyzer, processing this data for technical testing and ensuring that the computer programs run smoothly. In addition to this, I am responsible for further development of the IT systems within the framework of data provision and modeling. In light of my training as a physicist, I've actually become a real techie and networking pro at ifb. Many industries are said to be male dominated. This can sometimes also be heard with reference to the world of consulting. But, as a woman, I think it is important to just do what interests you. As it turns out, I've always been in male dominated spheres and never had the feeling that I was at a disadvantage as a woman. Most of all, it helps to be oneself and not let anyone get you down. One of the most interesting experiences for me at ifb group was my project in Canada, where I spent one and a half years. It was extremely exciting to work in a non-German environment while at the same time getting to know new people and a new culture.
"I was seeking an employer that would allow me to pursue my own goals and include me in decisions regarding my development."
I am currently involved in a large project that consists of setting up a central database for a banking group. My job consists of entering data models and requirements using a tool to make connections transparent.
After college, I was looking for an employer in the financial sector, who would give me a lot of space for my own goals and needs, who was modern instead of conservative and who allowed me to continue to develop in a direction of my own choosing. The information on the ifb website and the interview gave me the impression that the ifb group might just be the employer I had been looking for. In the eighteen months that I've been working for ifb since, my initial impression has been confirmed on numerous occasions. I was most excited about having the opportunity as a physicist to wrap my head around banking issues. I also experienced the application process to be very positive. I quickly received a response after submitting my written application and gained an excellent impression of ifb in a phone call with an employee in the HR department. The job interview involved a talk with HR as well as a detailed discussion of issues related to the actual content of the job. Both of these meetings were with enthusiastic, likable, competent employees.
My first couple of months at ifb consisted of a project-independent introduction phase in the form of workshops. This familiarized me with the ifb group's fields of expertise. I'm not a very big fan of lectures, but these events were interactive with a lot of room for discussion, so they remained interesting. This phase was particularly important to me because I had little practical banking knowledge, being a non-banker myself. It helped me properly sort through the topics and terminology. In addition to this, the experienced instructors could tell me a lot about how projects are organized, which I truly appreciated. The first project followed right after the introduction phase. At the beginning, I found it difficult to get used to the dynamic nature of the project. It wasn't easy to fully understand the processes and responsibilities all at once. With the help of my colleagues, however, I was gradually able to manage this so it should be less of a challenge in the future. In addition to dealing with clients, communication among co-workers is very important at ifb. Interactions with members of the ifb team are very open and natural. In my experience, the hierarchies are flat in this regard. The exchange of information within the company is also extremely instructional. Issues are discussed intensively – in internal seminars, on the phone, via internet or by email – and when I have questions, I can always rely on my colleagues for help. All employees are also encouraged to participate in further training and even organize their own professional development activities. For example, I have already participated in training for a software tool that I use in the project.
"Openness, curiosity and acceptance help you learn the best traits of each culture."
I work in the area of risk and compliance in the ifb group's "Solution Implementation" division and am currently working for a client as a business analyst for "BCBS 239" in IT. I handle a variety of issues and thoroughly enjoy my work as a team leader. At ifb, I particularly value the team spirit and business mindset as well as the solidarity in the company or, as one of my co-workers put it, "the high density of friendly individuals". Although the company is made up of many academics, I immediately got off to a good start at ifb in 2008 as a business economist with training in banking and an affinity for IT, and quickly managed to gain an understanding of a wide variety of topics. The two-month in-house training phase provided me with additional preparation and I developed my knowledge in seminars and projects. Someone is also always willing to help out with specific issues.
So far, I've had the opportunity to contribute to two projects abroad. I spent almost a year each in South Africa and Colombia. In each project, I learn something new about topics, people, company environments, other cultures and myself. Each project presents its own challenges. Language was a hurdle in Colombia. Meetings, in which I talked to an interpreter in English and hoped he actually communicated what I meant, were a bit daunting. Later on in the project, I could more often understand what he was saying and at least intervene or specify in case of misunderstandings. In the end, I held the meetings myself in imperfect Spanish. Being able to communicate with people directly makes it possible to develop a more solid relationship. It helps to be open and approach people proactively when working in a different culture. In the projects abroad, I gained new perspectives on certain situations. What may seem self-evident to us, is not so at all in other cultures. A good sense of humor is always helpful in case of doubt. In South Africa, for example, the men are much more gentlemanly and would never forget to hold the door open for a lady. On the other hand, women have to enter and leave the elevators before the men. This is not always very practical and can really be quite funny. In my opinion, the colleagues in Colombia were better at separating between the people and the subject matter during contentious discussions. Ultimately, it is always helpful to observe people's behavior and remain curious, accepting and non-judgmental. In this way, you can learn the best traits of each culture.
The ifb group has an open-door policy and not all processes are pre-defined down to the smallest details. Therefore everyone here has the opportunity to find and define their own path and make a real difference. This is very rewarding. I've always had co-workers and superiors, who I could share with, and a good network with the required support even in difficult situations. Of course, not everything is picture-perfect, even here. But I would always choose ifb again because of the wonderful colleagues, the friendly working environment and the wide variety of projects and experiences.
"Ensuring the best results for our clients with enthusiasm and commitment.
I joined ifb twelve years ago and went through the same training phase that graduates go through today. As such, I truly "grew up" with ifb. Following a relatively short stint at SAP, I spent several years abroad at various banks in the Basel-II landscape and then assumed the role of project manager for a bank in the north of Germany. After five years at ifb, I was given responsibility for a team and worked with numerous brilliant graduates over the next few years. My team grew over time, thus resulting in the formation of new groups. At the same time, I had the opportunity to prove myself in the role of software developer within the framework of a project for a new client and soon once again took on a project management position in this context. After being promoted to Head of Competence Center in the ifb group, I managed not only my own team, but several others as well. Based on my experience in management positions within the company and successful work at clients, I was ultimately named partner and have since taken an active role in company management.
My superiors played a big role in my professional development by serving as both role models and mentors. I have always been impressed by their ability to address issues and motivate their co-workers. I hope I'm also such a good role model for my employees. In addition to this, two characteristics have been particularly helpful, namely enthusiasm and an empathy for the needs of my co-workers and clients. Empathy is an important part of the leadership role when it comes to assigning employees tasks that match their strengths and promote their individual development. And enthusiasm is an absolute necessity when it comes to putting commitment into action and truly impressing our clients. Today I am responsible for a wide variety of tasks. I manage several projects and teams at clients in the area of regulatory and reporting. This includes being on location three or four days a week as a contact person not only for the clients, but also for internal and external members of our team. I manage several team leaders and my Competence Center consisting of 45 employees. Within this framework, I organize the teamwork, plan hiring of new co-workers and promote new topics and products together with my employees and other team leaders. We work together closely and engage in a regular exchange with regard to new challenges.
As always, I am still impressed with how entirely committed my colleagues are to our clients. This commitment and the culture of collaboration, respect and performance are impressive and characteristic of the entire ifb group. The atmosphere in the team and with clients is friendly and cooperative. It is distinguished by a strong sense of community. Colleagues are accepted and involved, regardless of where they currently stand on the career ladder. We all work together and learn from one another no matter how experienced or how young the individuals are. We support and help each other even it requires extra effort and time. It continues to amaze me how quickly our younger team members excel as experts in their field and pass on their knowledge in internal workshops and projects. The variety of ifb specializations provides ample space for this. Development with regard to specific content then happens almost automatically in the project and in the exchange with colleagues. And this is a continuous process. I learn something new every day and am inspired by young and experienced colleagues alike.