Lilli Rohde and Maike Benner are former colleagues, friends and now business partners. They are the founders of Mal!sh, an international business consulting and coaching company, and are also the Directors of the Global Woman Club in Frankfurt, Germany, opening up later this year (14 October 2018).
Your company has an interesting name, can you tell us what it stands for?
“Learn from the past – Live now – Form the future.”
Maike: We chose MaL!sh as our company name as a combination of our first names and because it is an attitude to life that describes both us and our values. The essence of its Arabic denotation is not to dwell in the past or focus on things that went wrong and that you cannot change. For us and our company values, this philosophy instead means to accept the pastas an asset that formed you which you can use to shape your future. Learn from the past – Live now – Form the future.
Part of the services you offer go beyond company processes, they cover the people dimension, also addressing the intercultural dimension that businesses face. In your private lives both of you have also had considerable international exposure. Can you share some more about that?
both: Yes, we are absolutely not a typical business consultancy. Realizing that most consultancies, trainers and coaches focus on implementing tools and systems with a one-size-fits-all mentality, we said there must be a different approach.We use our people skills and international experience to incorporate that into tailor-made services. Our approach is to spend time in the teams, learn the “language” and to conduct holistic coaching, (team) training, improve or implement tools and systems.
Furthermore, from our corporate life we discovered that women were often not very supportive towards each other in a business context. We want to create awareness of our own behavior and inspire to think outside of the box. We have created an event series which has gone international in four different countries where we present “our” four stereo types of female office behavior and have them interact with one another. We will host another of our “Female Office Challenges” event in Toronto, Canada right after the Summit (18 July at That Channel).
“We use our people skills and international experience to incorporate that into tailor-made services. Our approach is to spend time in the teams, learn the “language” and to conduct holistic coaching, (team) training, improve or implement tools and systems.”
Lilli: I was born in Russia and migrated to Germany at the age of 7. I grew up between two different cultures and had to learn quickly that only if you understand the behavior and interactions can you get connected to people. When I started my professional career it was and remains my greatest strength to quickly form connections with people from every culture. I have traveled and worked in Europe, Russia, North & South of America and Middle East, when I was responsible for worldwide Customer Service.
Maike: I was always interested in foreign cultures, countries and languages striving for a deep dive into any culture. In my view the best way is to live in a country, exchange with locals, study their language, beliefs and (educational) system and travel the country. I was fortunate enough to do two student exchanges – one to Australia, the other to Canada. I studied and obtained business degrees in Ireland and Brazil, did an internship in Cairo, Egypt and went on business trips to Brazil, Egypt and Romania.
How did you meet, you seem good friends? What made you decide to start a business together?
Maike: We met at our former employer. I was working in Finance/Controlling, Lilli in Sales. I was calculating prices – she was selling the products. Our overlap was not huge and so we exchanged more on a personal than professional level and realized that we have the same values, attitudes, drive, humor, empathy, passion.
Lilli: We come from total different cultural, family, educational and job backgrounds and couldn’t be more different in appearance, yet we realized very fast that we have the same values and targets. One evening in January we decided to combine our strength and bring our knowledge, passion and drive into our own business and empower women and support companies to achieve best results with their teams.
How do you work together, do you both have different areas that each focusses on? And do you occasionally face any challenges being both friends and business partners?
Maike: Since we are a “two-women-show” we do most things together or distribute task equally, which also helps to become better at tasks that you are not good at yet.
“What is important that we make any decision together and only after we both agree or one has been convinced by the other. We are willing to take fast decisions in unfamiliar situations.”
We both had challenges in our private lives where we supported one another and we helped each other to go through, which showed us that we can trust each other.
Lilli: On the downside one can definitely say that we mix now business with personal and for the time being our main focus is our business. Yet since we love what we are doing and some of our best ideas were not generated sitting in an office, you can say that having a business together is a logical consequence for us. Also related to our values we never miss to balance it out with non-business activities as well. We always try to have the famous Work-Life-Balance in our own business.
What advice would you offer those considering starting a business with a partner? Which elements do you find important while considering someone as a potential business partner?
Maike: Having a business together where business success, generation of income, preserving a friendship are all key, is a challenge. I personally have always wanted to start my own business. I have many great ideas, I like uncertainty and challenges and have always had people to support me. Yet it wasn’t until Lilli and I became friends that I actually felt sure I could do it. So in my view it is important to have the right partner. Our secret to success is communicating, brutal honesty and willingness to re-focus.
Lilli: The key point is to stay flexible. If you want to be successful in a business in general but especially with a business partner, you need to trust, stay open for new inputs and ideas and be flexible towards unforeseen situations. From my point of view to start a business with a partner is double hard work. You can´t be selfish and this helps you think even more in the sense of the company. Every one of us has her special “playground” but at the end all we do is for the success of our company. So if you consider someone as a potential business partner you first of all have to be sure you want to share, and then to find someone you trust 100% and who is honest with you.
You both have many years of experience in different functions in the corporate world. How has that shaped you and your coaching skills? Can you give as an example where you feel that having that experience made all the difference?
Lilli: I would never want to miss the experience of the corporate world. Getting to know processes and structures, project management and team leading experience have sharpened my view on what is important and how to get to the best possible results. When going into coaching on a corporate level you have to understand what the company is doing and what the challenges are. My background helps me a lot. Also when talking about team development and building – here I can implement my skills from team leader ship positions.
Maike: I have implemented international IT pricing systems within the organization and was part of the project management team. Bringing structure into a project along with achievable milestones, convincing the stakeholders and having a view on the costs, helps me understand if a unit is working in efficiently. As I have conducted many international workshops on different hierarchical levels I have developed approaches tailored to the audience. I believe this is crucial for meaningful coaching relationships.
How did you come across Global Woman Club, and the decision to spearhead the club in Frankfurt?
Lilli: One of the best ways to connect with other like minded women is to go to networking events. The Global Woman concept immediately caught our attention as we saw so many similarities with our company values. As our mission is to connect with other females we naturally contacted Mirela to inquire about a GW Club in Germany. Since there was no club yet, we connected instantly when meeting face to face, we agreed to start the Global Woman Club Frankfurt. To meet all the incredible women and share the same values and targets is so inspiring and motivating. We are happy and proud to open the first German GWC in Frankfurt. It will rock! You are all invited to attend on October 14th.
Any other future plans?
Maike: At MaL!sh we want to enter the Russian and Brazilian market with our coaching and consulting services, as our main intercultural expertise lies within those two countries and we see a lot of potential there.
As directors of Global Woman Club Frankfurt we want to increase our responsibility and help Mirela to spread the incredible Global Woman values in other countries, where we have great female networks.
Both of you will also be speaking at the Global Woman summit in NY, on 14-15 July. How do you feel about speaking there and what message would you want to come across?
Maike: Speaking in front of people is not new to us. However, such a big stage with a large audience is definitely exciting. We are very happy to be presenting ourselves, MaL!sh, our ideas and values.
Lilli: Our message will be about empowering women, being the captain of your life, Learn from the past – Live now and form your future. Speaking together on the stage with Les Brown, Barbara Marx Hubbard, who is definitely a role model, Mirela Sula and all the other incredible people is a motivation and honor for us.