Member Spotlight: Maren Schweizer
Member Spotlight: Maren Schweizer
“I’m sure you own 40 or more of our products minimum. Thank you for buying them, without knowing that you are buying them,” smiles Maren Schweizer. She is the CEO of Schweizer World Group and venture capitalist. This bold, unapologetically confident statement tinged with good natured humour is also her in a nutshell.
Maren was born in the German town of Villingen-Schwenningen, east of the famous Black Forest—the home of the cuckoo clock—no points for guessing what its first business was. Interestingly, Maren did not begin her career in the now-171-year-old family business—rather she started off as a commercial pilot.
TESTING OTHER WATERS
“Flying is my passion,” admits Maren, having started at the young age of 14 when her father introduced her to the flying club in her town. “I was not allowed to drive a car or drink beer, but I could fly an aircraft,” she says, amused by the concept of it all.
By the time she was in university, she was juggling her studies—which includes a master’s in engineering and a PhD in economics—with her job as a pilot, thanks to her friends who helped her catch up. She built her career as the Managing Director of an airline start-up in Germany, before moving to France to become the sales director of private jet company, Dassault Falcon Service at just 29.
However, Maren knew that a career pivot to the family business was inevitable. “My father would take my brother and I to the company every Saturday. Ever since I can remember, we were surrounded by the all too familiar sounds and smells of the production line—it was our playground,” she says. Add to that, they were always privy to the every-day conversations about the business and its future plans.
When Maren got into the business 16 years ago, she was clear about finding ways to build a sustainable business. She decided that establishing a venture capital arm to the business was the way forward.
“We decided to tinker the dinosaur with all the business expertise on the one side, and then have a separate speedboat who can actively look out for what is happening [in the world around],” explains Maren in characteristic humour.
This gave birth to Schweizer World Group, which invests into digital ecosystems in Southeast Asia. The company also brought her to Singapore in 2013. Today, besides her role at Schweizer, Maren serves on the advisory board of German-headquartered HDI Global SE, a leading insurer for industrial and commercial companies.
IT’S NOT ALWAYS BUSINESS
It is evident that Maren reached admirable heights in her career at a young age. “Being the only one was always a challenge—it was very character-building”, she says. But as she found out while sitting on the board of a Japanese company for three years, being the only woman, and to boot, a young foreigner who didn’t speak the language, could be a great advantage.
Being in the most traditional of business setups in the world where speaking on record during board meetings followed a hierarchy, she was allowed to speak up being an “outsider”. She became the spokesperson for others in the company who wanted to express themselves. “I was the diplomatic double agent,” she laughs.
Being there for others and, more importantly, the timid ones is something that Maren insists on. She takes time to check in on her staff—now more so because of the pandemic-led challenges—and have casual chats with them. “You need to do that, because loneliness can set in, and the not-so-outgoing personalities can get left behind. Especially if they are recent hires in the team, or more introverted characters, they tend to get forgotten,” she says in all earnestness.
Maren tries to inculcate the same kind of humane and benevolent behaviour in her two sons, Maxine, 16, and Tom, 11. “In a place such as Singapore, it is very easy to lose touch with reality. I focus a lot of my attention in teaching my sons to stay humble and grounded,” she says. This was something her mother made sure when they were growing up.
Although she grew up knowing where her career would lead, Maren is keen that her sons venture out, remain curious and find their own passion. “I would want them to pursue their career somewhere else, so they can make their mistakes somewhere else,” she laughs. Then more seriously, “I think it is also helpful for the next generation to be able to gain credibility and leadership skills rather than live in the shadow of the golden spoon they were born with.”
GOING WITH THE FLOW
Maren hopes to step down from some of her roles in about five year’s time, she has toned down her busy lifestyle from being a traveller—who used to travel three weeks in a month—to now being an islander. Maren moved to Sentosa Cove in April this year and is indulging in all that being a Member of ONE°15 Marina Sentosa Cove can give her as well.
“I love sailing and diving—everything about the water. The breeze, and the sight and smell of the sea energises me,” she says.
But the word “retirement” is not part of the plan. “If you like what you do, you cannot separate your life from your work,” she says subscribing to the Japanese concept of ikigai.
As for her plans for the future: “I want to continue to make things better than I found them. Change is my default.”