Career Story: Tanja Spennlingwimmer, Kapsch TrafficCom IVHS Inc.

April 20, 2016

Professional MBA Finance alumna

What stages in your life have had the greatest impact on you and why?

I was just 9 months old when my parents took me to another country for the first time. I had the opportunity to travel a lot to different places, although really exotic, places such as Sudan, Yemen, Mozambique, Malaysia etc. during my childhood and teenage years. The exposure to different countries, languages and cultures at that early age had a tremendous impact on my personal development. It still fuels my passion for travel, my personal pioneering spirit and my intercultural sensitivity.

Another impressive and impactful stage in my life was my first job as a Business Development Manager. Fresh from university I had the chance to develop market entry strategies, to enter and penetrate markets and to fuel the entire internationalization process from scratch. Besides rolling these out in person in CEE countries, I was responsible for setting up the company’s first wholly-owned subsidiary in a foreign market. It was a great time as I was just responsible for everything that makes a company alive – from customer relations and staffing to setting up processes and infrastructure. The chance of being at the heartbeat of a company’s development and expansion at that age was a great experience and really shaped my way of doing things.

I also do not want to miss on the great time during the MBA and the professional intercultural experience I encountered particularly during the study weeks at Harvard University. It really inspired me and my career and supported my most recent promotion to a management role in the United States. And I’m positive this stage will again have a great impact on me.

Did you originally want to pursue a career in a different field?

As a child I always wanted to become a university professor, maybe because of the fact that my mum had a career in education. Later on I found my passion for sales, a field that is content-wise not too different from teaching.

All in all, one could conclude that I am a communicative, extroverted and people-loving person, and looking at my current position, one could also ask why I’m now working in finance. Although finance guys are said to be more serious and nerdish on figures, I think I am still the perfect fit as the world of finance has become more behavioral, intercultural and thus communicative than ever before due to the spirit of global business. 

How and why did you come to work for Kapsch TrafficCom IVHS Inc.?

After having the chance to set up a subsidiary for an Austrian company in Germany and be there in charge as the commercial director for some years, I decided to take the challenge and start to work for one of Austria’s largest, still family-run corporations with an even broader set of international subsidiaries. It should allow me to apply my intercultural experience and mindset.

After two further years at Kapsch TrafficCom in Austria, in which I was mainly working on projects in Central Asia, I recently took over a leading position in Kapsch’s North America headquarters. With over 300 employees in North America, Kapsch is working on becoming a market leader.

Having a global mindset, experience in the European headquarters, as well as state-of-the-art know-how in finance was a driver to take over this challenging position. (And all of this happened right in the final months of my MBA studies.)

What has changed in your career as a result of your MBA degree?

The MBA program already had and still has an impact on my career. It fueled the promotion to my current position as head of commercial project management in North America. The Professional MBA Finance intensified my understanding of corporate as well as international financial topics and created the necessary links between the different pools of knowledge. Moreover, it provided me with a holistic picture of the world of finance in a practical manner and thus increased my personal capabilities and understanding.

What was your biggest professional/personal success?

My biggest professional success cannot be singled out. As I mentioned above, setting up a foreign subsidiary from scratch was an unbeatable experience and a huge personal driver. Nonetheless, I feel personal success everyday also with small things as I move up my career ladder. And I think that is also what makes me happy, to have the feeling every day to move something into the right direction.

My biggest personal success can be similarly outlined. I think that also small moves can be big successes that motivate me and push me. Nonetheless, a really big success was climbing the top of Mount Blanc last year without being a professional alpinist or mountaineer. Sometimes you even have to walk in bigger shoes to come farther than you would ever have believed.

What are your goals for the coming year?

My goal for the next year is to excel at my new job here in the United States. I want to drive and develop the organization and its business here as good as possible with all my knowledge and enthusiasm. Of course, I will also develop myself further to be ready for all upcoming challenges in my professional career.

Privately, I will be working hard on finalizing my doctoral thesis (business law), which I started in parallel to the MBA program. 

What do you consider a “great luxury”?

Having an exciting job that demands full power and dedication, and being in the final moments of my MBA as well as pushing my doctoral thesis means time is the greatest luxury for me. Time with the people I love such as family and friends is invaluable. 

What was the last book/movie you really enjoyed?

Book-wise I am deeply into professional literature from the finance as well as the legal world. On the other hand, I watched “Into the Wild” on one of my latest flights from Washington D.C. to Frankfurt. I can really recommend it, not just for killing time on a long flight, but also because it is a movie that inspires you to accept challenges no matter how unmanageable they seem in the beginning. Moreover, it shows that one persistent step after the other brings you over the finishing line.

How would you characterize your philosophy of leadership? Has it been influenced by a leadership role-model?

I would see myself as a transformational leader, a conductor and motivator. I think that I have the gift to make people believe in themselves and to aspire big, hairy, audacious goals. Therefore, I consider participation as well as teamwork as essential building blocks of my leadership philosophy.

I would not say that I follow one particular role-model in leading people, but I’m authentic and follow my own principles as just outlined. Nonetheless, I am sure the interaction with people, in particular with top managers, shapes your leadership style.

How do you recharge your batteries when you are not pursuing your demanding career?

I am quick to regenerate and love doing this while being active and outdoors. Nature as well as good conversations with family and friends give me a lot of inspiration and energy. Therefore, I can really charge my batteries when, for example, I go hiking, skiing and do other sportive activities or just cook a good meal for friends and family.

Also, I am still a passionate traveler and love getting to know new places.

If you could change places with anyone for a day, who would it be?

From a professional perspective I would like to change places with Dr. Wolfgang Eder, CEO of voestalpine, for a day. He is not just one of the best CEOs in my opinion, but I think he has a thrilling and absolutely admirable job as head of such a traditional, yet innovative Austrian company.

From a macroeconomic perspective I would take over Christine Lagarde’s place for a day. It must be fascinating and shocking to have her role as manager of the International Monetary Fund in these fast moving days characterized by unstable economies as well as global wealth shifts, even if it is just for a day.

Why would you recommend the Professional MBA Finance of the WU Executive Academy?

The MBA program is a great opportunity to develop yourself and make yourself ready for the next step in your career. It not only helps to improve your knowledge in a business related field, but it also provides insight into practice. I would definitely recommend the program because it is a personal enrichment and it really pays off career-wise. Moreover, you meet lots of interesting people from different countries who pursue the same goals. It is an exceptional way to network and, of course, to find new friends.

What did you like the most?
I personally enjoyed most the excellence of the lecturers, who all have an international background, the intercultural setting resulting from the mixed student portfolio as well as the trip to Harvard, which created unforgettable memories and a much better understanding of international finance contents.


My motto in life:
Keep on moving.
I can laugh about:
A lot. Laughing helps to stay positive and motivated. Therefore it is best to laugh with others.
Mistakes I am most likely willing to forgive :

My deep love for planning ahead. An indispensable skill in business life, but sometimes too much for friends and family.

I would spend my last money on:
A flight home.
In 20 years I will:

Be the same forward-looking person, but I will be in the lucky position to be able to look back on a great and successful time as an inspiring leader, wonderful relationships and many, many moments of happiness.

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