Claudia Mayer

Edition 2: Expat Businesses in Utrecht Interview Series with Business Coach, Claudia Mayer

"Creativity and Profitability are not mutually exclusive. I believe they both have a magnetic force, attracting the one to the other." -Claudia Mayer

I interviewed Business Coach, Claudia Mayer, an expat from Austria. I enjoyed getting to know Claudia and how she came to do the work she currently does and loves. We met at the HNK (Het Nieuwe Kantoor) in Utrecht, which is a great new place for those entrepreneurial expats who are looking to rent office space. 

Darla: How long have you been living in Utrecht?

Claudia: I moved from Amsterdam to Utrecht in April 2014, so it's been about two years. I had lived in Amsterdam for one year before that. I used to work as a Strategic Business Developer at UNStudio Architects. That job brought me from Singapore to Amsterdam.

Darla: Ah, so you didn't come from Austria to The Netherlands, you came here from Asia. How long had you lived there?

Claudia: I lived in Asia for four and a half years. I loved my experience there, but coming here was for sure a culture shock for me... like a sort of reverse culture shock even.

Darla: I can imagine! What are some of the biggest differences of life there compared to here, would you say?

Claudia: The biggest difference was that in Asia you mostly can't express critical feedback, it's called "saving face." You can't be direct, or critical, you can't just say no....but if that's what you really mean, you have to say it in an indirect way. When I went to Asia I had to unlearn my directness, as I come from Austria...and then coming here I had to learn it again. One example, I think it was one of the first work meetings I had in Amsterdam. I was new and joined the first Communications team meeting at work. I had an idea and proposed a certain tool or link, when the team leader said: "We don't do it that way," and that was it. I had expected a bit appreciation for the idea and a friendly reply like I would receive in Singapore or Guangzhou. Now I know, she didn't mean it rudely, it's just Dutch directness.

Darla: I don't have an office job, but I've heard about some of the Dutch conventions working for a company here. Of course, every culture has its norms and values and learning those and adapting quickly can help you get ahead I would think! Did you do your studies also in Asia?

Claudia: No, I studied Business Administration in Innsbruck, Austria. I also went one year abroad to Seville, Spain, with the Erasmus Program. That was the birth of my travel bug. After my studies, the only thing I knew was I wanted to work in marketing and abroad. I applied for a trainee program for the Austrian lighting group called Zumtobel. It was a two-year international sales and marketing trainee program. The last part of the program I spent in Guangzhou, China. After the project ended, I stayed there for two more years working as a Marketing Project Manager for the Greater Asian Region.

Darla: So that is how you ended up in Asia. It must have been quite some experience there, also learning the language.

Claudia: Yes. You can imagine it was a big culture shock because everything was so different. I needed a shower curtain and I went to a store with household goods. I showed the lady an image of a bathroom and tried to motion 'shower curtain' and the lady showed me pipes. She showed me everything BUT shower curtains, and later I learned that few Asians use shower curtains. So I went to the Ikea. It was a time of misunderstanding, due to language barriers but also a different way of thinking. The way we construct sentences is different than the way they structure their sentences. Time or location is always first and then the subject is later. So the whole thinking is different. It's also based on the Communistic roots. Because of the 'saving face' there is no "no," so therefore there can be a lot of misunderstandings. If I asked the assistant if she booked the company car and she said, "Yes," I understood yes to mean yes. But then there was no company car. You needed to translate first the language but also into the cultural framework and that was a good opportunity for learning from failure. I learned that communication is not me saying things but adapting my message into the recipient's world, so successful communication is determined by the receiving and not by the sending.

Darla: Interesting concept and well-said! And what brought you then to Singapore, where you lived before coming to The Netherlands?

Claudia: After Guangzhou I worked for Zumtobel in Singapore for two years as Business Developer for the Southeast Asian region. The move to Singapore was motivated largely by the things I had been missing from the western culture. Singapore is known as the Switzerland of Asia. I had a lot of business trips during this time, to Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia. I was approached by UNStudio who were clients of the lighting company, to work for them as Strategic Business Developer in their head office in the Netherlands. A few weeks later I packed up 33 boxes for my move to Amsterdam. EBU: 33 boxes exactly. :-) So based on this background you have given, I am curious about how you went from business development to coaching...

Claudia: I'm generally a very curious person, I love to learn and grow. Through intensive traveling and living in other places, you get to know yourself better. I wanted to consciously create more happiness for myself and improve my productivity. 10 years ago I read a book about self-coaching, which was the starting point. It convinced me that if you know more about who you are and what you want, then you can achieve it, or create it. Long story short, I've been going to seminars over the years to learn about this subject, as a side interest. I started to unconsciously share advice with friends who later told me my advice was very valuable and that they were one step further in overcoming their challenges or fears. In Singapore, I wanted to start a coaching training but I didn't because of the move to Amsterdam. You do certain jobs because they are convenient, they make sense, they match your competence and experience, but what you miss is that sparkle in your eyes. It was not totally missing for me, but it was not bright and glowing and powerful. I always knew that one day I want to create my own company. My father had his own company as a real estate agent and I guess it was in my DNA. I just kept thinking about doing this Professional Coaching training. From April to October of 2015, I participated in the Co-Active Coaching training and I loved it. To be the best coach you can be is like a lifelong study because it's an art and a science. It was the best decision of my life to do it. In July of 2015 I started "Coaching by Claudia."

Darla: What services do you offer through your company?

Claudia: I'm focusing on making creative people more courageous. I'm not a big fan of the word 'help,' because I'm not helping anyone. I'm more pushing and supporting someone to dare, the role is more that of a sparring partner. As the coach I'm a partner, I'm not superior or working for someone. It's a partnership, like a sports coach whose goal is to get the physical and mental performance of an athlete to achieve the unbelievable. A coach sees what a client doesn't dare to see sometimes. I force you to do something that is maybe a little bit uncomfortable. I do it for the sake of getting you more familiar with stepping out of your comfort zone and into the direction of what you dream about doing.

Darla: Can you tell me something about your clientele or target group, "Creatives and Designers?"

Claudia: I love the business of design and I love to design business at the same time. And that reflects why I worked 8 years in a creative industry (lighting and architecture). And I worked on the business development end before. So what I do now is basically enrich what I did before, business development, and bring it together with personal development through coaching. In my work, I see that every career question, or business challenge, is rooted in the personal level. Especially creatives and designers have countless ideas, choices, and directions. If I ask myself what's next in my career, the right direction can be found by exploring the personal level. You need to dig very deep because the people always make business and career decisions in line with their personal values.

Darla: What can you offer expats here in The Netherlands?

Claudia: I work with Dutch and international clients in Dutch, English and German, one on one or with groups. It's so individual, what I do. With one person my services are totally different than with another client. My specialty is increasing the entrepreneurial courage of creatives and designers, that they receive clarity on their career or business objectives and take action to realize those objectives. I believe that creatives and designers deserve profitability. Companies that are clear on why they do what they do are the most successful. So Simon Sinek says, it's more important to talk about why you do what you do than what you do. If I'm not clear on why I'm a coach then I can't be successful. I offer expats two packages, after one complimentary session. One is three sessions and one six sessions. To reach the goals in the most effective way I suggest to clients to meet every two weeks. Coaching is a personalized service and therefore I'm offering a powerful one-hour complimentary session, with no obligation to book me further.

Darla: That sounds great. We wish you success and happiness going forward and thanks for doing the interview, Claudia!

Claudia: Thank you for your professional interview and meeting with me. It was my pleasure talking to you, Darla. It's wonderful that you bring Expats in Utrecht closer together, by sharing their international, personal stories! Free resources for growth-driven Designers & Creatives: Direct booking link for complimentary business/career coaching experience: in line with their personal values.