From a very young age, Mireille Deckers-Strobel was drawn to a mix of business and technology. This has turned out to be a perfect background for her current role as Head of Global Sales Operations at German tech company, FAULHABER Drive Systems. Not only that, but she also speaks four languages every day as she manages her sales teams around Europe.
Mireille is a trailblazer. She is a strong believer in not setting artificial barriers for yourself and your career. While based out of Stuttgart, she travels regularly to the company’s sales office on High Tech Campus Eindhoven. This interview is an important reminder that the Fe+male Tech Heroes community is not only for local Brainport talent. While it is Eindhoven-centered, it’s a global initiative open to everyone. And just like Mireille, the Fe+male Tech Heroes community knows no limits.
Can you set the stage and tell me what FAULHABER Drive Systems does?
We develop and produce precision drive systems like DC motors and stepper motors with gearheads, encoders and integrated motion controllers that can be used in a lot of different applications, from industrial robots to surgical robots that perform remote surgery.
We are also in hand prostheses, optic systems and lab automation. There are so many different fields of applications. That's what makes it very interesting.
What kind of office does FAULHABER have in Eindhoven?
We have a small sales office on High Tech Campus and it's so nice the team is still part of a bigger community. They can grab a cup of coffee and see their neighbors. It's a nice concept.
Our products are related to high consultancy and it's important to be close to the customer. So, back in 2015 we decided to have our own sales offices. I was sent to the Netherlands to set up the Eindhoven sales office. It was my first larger project back after having my first child.
You have a business engineering degree. What drove you to choose that rather than just strictly engineering?
I already had it in mind when I was 14 or 15 years old. I was interested in languages, but I also liked mathematics, physics and chemistry. For me, it was hard to decide. I didn't want to specialize too much. My father had a small company and I was always interested in the business side. Very early, I started to make his invoices and flyers.
Then I found out about business engineering. That was perfect for me. I learned the business side with accounting, languages and even legal, but I was still studying physics, mechanics and electronics.
It sounds like the perfect combination for all your interests. How has this background led you to your current position as Head of Global Sales Operations?
I have an engineering background, of course, but I would not be able to develop a miniature motor like my colleagues. I understand how it works, though, and I can talk with our customers about it. I'm able to understand their needs. My technical background also helps me when I hire a new inside sales engineer e.g., and I need to check their technical competencies to make sure he or she understands the needs of our customers.
Bringing it all together allowed me to go in this direction where, for the last 16 years, I’ve been at FAULHABER in international sales. I started as an inside sales engineer doing consultancy for the international markets and then I became an area sales manager that included the Benelux. Then, I took over the inside sales engineering and customer service in a management position.
You are very drawn to languages. Where would you say that comes from?
Yes, languages are a part of me. There are very few Dutch-speaking people in this world, so you always have to adapt. I speak at least four languages every day in my job. That's what makes it interesting.
I must say, I was lucky to be born in Belgium where it's normal that you grow up with different languages. My parents spoke Dutch to me, but we lived for a while in the French-speaking part of Belgium. I learned to read and write in French in kindergarten and primary school. And being so close to the German border, the dialect we spoke with my family is also close to German. I am fluent in Dutch, French, German and English, for the past few years, I’ve been improving my Italian.
Did you have any role models growing up, whether male or female, that helped bring you to the point where you are today?
Of course, my father and his small business made me realize I was interested in business, which is one of the reasons I decided to pursue it. However, my grandfather was a very important role model for my career. He traveled a lot and in the small village where I grew up, it was uncommon for someone to travel that much and understand so many different cultures. I remember he brought back a typical Italian coffee pot. It was exotic to have mocha after dinner in a small Belgian village back then. He was the person in my life who shared with me the most about different cultures. I think it is one of the reasons I came to Germany to accept this international challenge and to stay within this global role.
You’ve been at FAULHABER for a long time and you’ve worked your way up. Do you see a lot of females doing the same or do you feel like you are a pioneer in your current role?
FAULHAUBER is a technical engineering company and we do have a lot of male engineers. On the other side, in production, we have a lot of females because it is very accurate work.. So, if look at the company, you might say, “Okay, it is 50/50 male versus female. That's equal,” but the more you go up the hierarchy, the less you will see this balanced situation. We do have women in management positions of course, but so far, at my current level, I’m the only woman in headquarters.
The company is, of course, looking at this, but on the other side, you need to take the best person for a job. I cannot say, “Okay, I have this vacancy and I only want to take a woman.” We need the best person for the job. One of my team leaders is a female and she was hired because she had the best profile for that job, not because she is a woman. I hope we can promote even more female managers at all levels.
But for me, it's not about needing women because they are women. No, it's about diversity. People think differently – whether man, woman, someone from another country or someone that is disabled. It's about the mix of people. You can’t only be stuck in your own experience; you also need to hear what others have to say. We still have some work to do to reach an even higher level of diversity, but I'm convinced we will. We need to find fitting people or further develop people from within our own company.
It's not like the opportunities aren't there for women, but sometimes women get diverted along the way. What do you think we can do better to get more women into tech?
Women need to continue to be curious about technical jobs and then at university, women will no longer be a minority among studying mechatronics, for example. I hope it becomes normal, that it's 50/50, but it will take time before these women come to the job market.
I also think it’s important we show both career and family can be combined. It's not a career or family, you can have both. I think we can do a lot to promote this to women and get away from the classical way of thinking. In this way, the work of Fe+male Tech Heroes helps people know about these fields.
A 2020 Harvard Business Review reported that although women held only 25% of high-tech sales jobs, at least 50% and as high as 70% of customer success managers were women. Do you think women bring something unique to the sales process?
Yes, I definitely think women bring other soft skills. Sales is all about human beings. You deal with a company, but it's a group of people. Women are different than men and we bring more emotions, for example. This is something unique in a technical environment where everybody talks about techniques, torque, speed and voltage.
What advice would you give to a young woman considering a career in technology?
I would say to not create borders or barriers for yourself. Everything is possible. When you grow up, you might see things only men do or only women do. No, don’t create these borders. When you're young, you have time to try new things. If you're interested in or curious about something, try it and see if you like it. You don’t have to stay in your first job stay your whole life. If it's not working, try something else. Stick to your personal goals and don’t give up. And finally, don’t forget about the continuous learning. This is, to me, an important factor in general, but also in a technological environment.