Bold Moves for Personal Growth
15 AUG 2023
Tina Sandmann, Group General Counsel, is a role model for people who want to make bold career choices. She took calculated risks to achieve the growth she had been seeking.
Your career path has taken some interesting turns. Can you talk about your background and the experiences that shaped the professional you are today?
I'm a lawyer by training with a very classical legal background. After university, I worked at an international law firm for three years, and from there joined the legal department at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. After a while, I began to realize that I wanted to expand my areas of expertise.
Making the decision to move out of the legal field was very difficult. I had to decide whether the change would be worth the outcome. I was a little reluctant at first, however, at the time I was 37 and could not imagine limiting myself for the next 30 years. So, I thought, OK, I'll take the risk. Taking that risk, moving out of Legal, made it easier to move around later in my career and opened doors for me. Because of that choice, I had the opportunity to work in the Integration Office during the Sigma-Aldrich acquisition. I’ve also worked as the CFO for EMD Serono in Germany, and I led Group Internal Auditing for four years.
Ultimately, my path brought me back to Legal, but the experience I’ve gained along the way has been invaluable.
How did your career change impact your thinking?
Up until that point, I had always been a lawyer. I had dedicated a lot of time to training and my thesis. So, when I stepped away and became a project manager, the change made me feel like I was losing my professional identity.
What made me realize that I wanted to do something else was the idea that even if I never received another promotion, I wanted to explore a different path. It took me a long time to come to this decision, but it made me resilient. I learned that I did not always have to strive for the next step, but rather, could focus my career on topics that I was interested in. I became more determined to work on projects that enabled me to learn and that I enjoyed.
During your career, you’ve also taken time to do a sabbatical. Why was this important and what did you hope to get out of this time away?
I didn’t go on a sabbatical to get work out of my head. I actually really love my job. Rather, I asked for a sabbatical to allow myself time for other topics. For me, it was about understanding how I could be most effective in my job for a long period of time. As a mother of three kids, working a full-time job is sometimes difficult. I felt like I couldn’t be the mom that I wanted to be. So, even though I loved my job, I felt like I needed to invest time in myself and my interests outside the office. For example, along with dedicating time to my children, I was able to indulge in some of my passions such as hiking, dressage horse riding, exercising, training and reading - which I normally didn’t have enough time for.
I also found time to be completely alone, which was a fantastic experience. The sabbatical allowed me to take a step back from my constantly busy day-to-day life and just spend time with myself, my family and my passions.
What advice would you have for those who are at an inflection point in their career? Perhaps they’re debating a career move or thinking of taking some time away to refocus.
I have two pieces of advice –
First – Be bold and take chances. Don’t allow yourself to be restricted by conventional career paths or expectations. Focus on the topics you are passionate about and be open to taking a step to the side or to exploring an area of interest.
Second – Whether you’re making a career shift or looking to take a sabbatical, timing and having a plan is everything. I had been in my position for three years when I asked Belen for my sabbatical. At the time, my department was well organized. I came to her with a well-thought-out plan for coverage. Because of this, I was able to guarantee that the transition would be smooth. From that conversation, we moved seamlessly into a career development discussion, which I found amazing.
Now I have the privilege of being the Group General Counsel for Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. I don’t know if this was the “plan” thirty years ago, but I do know that my plan came to fruition when I found the right balance for my career and my work. For me, it is about timing, taking risks and being true to yourself.
If the timing is right, you have support in place and you are willing to make a bold move, anything is possible!
By dedicating time to her personal and professional development, Tina Sandmann was able to unleash her potential. Even when times seemed uncertain, Tina recognized when change was needed and was able to shift gears. Through it all, Tina has “acted as the owner”, keeping the needs of her team and the organization at the forefront. She exemplifies how, in order to drive human progress, we all need to have a strong responsibility and commitment to our joint success. Our professional success. Our company’s success. Our personal “success.”