Silke Bronold is moving from Hanover to Cuenca in Ecuador, where she will head the Quality Management department in Continental's tyre factory. She is taking with her a healthy dose of self-belief, and much more besides.
“Turn a bit, please – and smile!” Silke turns and beams more brightly than the spotlights on the photo set. The pictures are finished in record time, and the photographer is extremely satisfied. “Oh, that was fun,” the 31-year-old says with a smile, sinking into a white armchair for our interview. The stress she is currently under does not show: with relaxed features and her hair loosely braided, she looks as though she has just returned from vacation. However, the opposite is the case: Silke's job is just taking off. In a few weeks, she will be taking up the reins as head of Quality Management in Continental's tyre factory in Cuenca, Ecuador. This means that she will be crossing the Atlantic to South America, together with her boyfriend, cat, bicycle, and various kitchen utensils.
“There's a lot to organise right now,” Silke gushes. She has to give notice on her flat in Hanover, her gym membership and much more; she has to book a container for her household effects. And then there is her cat Zoey, who will be travelling with her but does not yet have a ticket. In addition, Silke will carry on working until the end of May in her old job as a product industrialisation engineer at Continental Commercial Vehicle Tyres – at the interface between development and production. “We make sure the new tyres can go into production without a hitch” explains the 31-year-old, who started work as a tyre developer six years ago following her traineeship. Now she is training up her successor, and at the same time preparing for her new job in Ecuador.
Crash course in Quality
“I recently went to Aachen for a week's training,” Silke explains. She shadowed the quality manager there – “a crash course,” she says with a grin. Until then, she had only had indirect contact with quality assurance – for example, if the specification for a new tread compound had to be revised. Still, her bosses are confident of her suitability for the job in Cuenca: “After leaving the trainee pool and attending an Assessment Center, I was put on a list of people with leadership potential.” In addition, Silke knew the factory in Cuenca, having already supervised its product industrialisation. She was known to the factory employees. “I told the factory manager that I could imagine moving – if my boyfriend could come too.” Her boyfriend, a South African with a British passport, also works for Continental. Where there is a will there is a way: Her boyfriend was offered a suitable job in the factory in Cuenca.
However, Silke still had a few doubts: “I had never had management responsibility, and now I was suddenly to manage twenty men who mainly speak Spanish?” But her boss and the new factory manager encouraged her - and Silke found the necessary self-belief. Excitement about the adventure of going to Ecuador helped too. She looks forward to joining her new colleagues: “The people in the Cuenca factory are enthusiastic about their work and very open-minded.” As a child, Silke had accompanied her father on his tours as a truck driver, and liked the southern climes best: “I love the different culture and have always wanted to speak better Spanish.”
From Bavaria into the wide world
Even when Silke went to Regensburg to study mechanical engineering, the people in her home village in Bavaria were rather stunned. She financed her studies as a working student with Siemens VDO, now part of Continental. When she then went to Hanover as a trainee, her friends gave her an old truck tyre as a farewell present: “I cut myself on it, because I didn't even know that there was steel in it,” she laughs. But it was during her stay in a factory in South Africa that she really got a taste for tyres: “I saw there how complex tyre construction is - and how fascinating it is to take all of that into account when developing them.”
Silke admits that she does miss her Bavarian homeland. But her work is more important to her. And she is taking a bit of her German home with her to Ecuador: her good old baking tins, pots and knives that she uses for cooking and baking. “I'll be glad to bring a cake into the office occasionally,” she says. Silke's new colleagues in Cuenca can certainly look forward to it.