Female Leaders Network Close-Up: How to Build a Career from Scratch

April 01, 2020

From zero to one hundred: the steep career of Adela Mehic-Dzanic

Adela Mehic-Dzanic knows a thing or two about building a career from scratch. When she came to Austria six years ago, she knew no one and was just starting her career. Today, she works at the executive level of the software company Mavoco and serves as Vice President of the Female Leaders Network of the WU Executive Academy. But this is only the beginning – for both Mehic-Dzanic and the network.

Portrait Adela Mehic-Dzanic

Estée Lauder once said, “I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.” Adela Mehic-Dzanic is motivated by the same spirit of diligence that drove the self-made millionairess during her lifetime. When she came to Austria six years ago, everything was new to her: the language, the people, the culture, the professional world. But she had her mind set on leaving her native country of Bosnia behind and starting a new life in Vienna. “I am very ambitious and have big goals for my life. In my home country, I felt like I could not advance any further,” Mehic-Dzanic says. So she started from zero in a foreign country – and was rewarded with a steep career. She joined the telecommunications company Tele2 GmbH Austria as a trainee, was promoted and specialized in the Internet of Things (IoT) at Tele2 in Vienna and Stockholm, and finally transferred to Mavoco in 2019. Mavoco offers IoT software for connectivity management platforms (CMP) in Austria and Mehic-Dzanic heads the company’s Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) division. “When somebody asks me how I was able to do that, I always say: think bigger than you ever thought possible, keep your eyes open, and overcome all obstacles thrown in your way. Then opportunities arise.” Her determination and success make her a role model for others, particularly women, and she often tells women to ask for the things they need to advance their careers and make sure they are seen.

For both employees and managers, visibility is becoming more and more important. Already in 2001, the PR agency Burson Cohn & Wolfe (then Burson-Marsteller) published a survey revealing that a company’s reputation is two thirds determined by its CEO’s image. The image of a company’s leader also influences 48% of Germans and 95% of US citizens in their decision which company shares to buy. With social media omnipresent today, self-presentation should not be taken lightly: a 2018 survey found that 70% of employers check social media to evaluate candidates applying for jobs in their organizations throughout the application process.

Portrait Adela Mehic-Dzanic

Adela Mehic-Dzanic

  • Vice President of the Female Leaders Network

You have to communicate. Show the world what you are working on and who you are so that others take note of you and know what you stand for.

In her opinion, networks can act as catalysts for self-presentation. This is why she was active in the WU Executive Academy’s Female Leaders Network already as a student of the Professional MBA Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the same institution. Today, the fast-rising executive serves as Vice President of the network, significantly contributing to its growth and close ties among members as well as with other networks. “I am a creator and connector at once.”

The idea to found a network was born in the course of a study visit at the Carlson School of Management, the Global Executive MBA academic partner institution in Minneapolis, Minnesota. During this stay, which was part of their Global Executive MBA program, Christa Gschweitl, Özlem Sensin, Priyanka Dutta-Passecker and Anita Kirilova, all of whom went on to become the founders of the Female Leaders Network, encountered a strong women’s network and, back in Austria and joined by Olena Khlon, a graduate from an earlier class, decided to found a network for female graduates and participants of MBA programs at the WU Executive Academy.

Portrait Barbara Stöttinger

Barbara Stöttinger

  • Dean of the WU Executive Academy

What makes this network so remarkable is that it brings together like-minded spirits who motivate and act as role models for each other. From day one, the network was never short of candidates: quickly after its foundation, as many as 250 female executives were already active members of the network.

The first kick-off event took place in September 2018, and three months later, the network already counted 30 members. By the end of 2019, this number had grown to 100. The Female Leaders Network continued to expand at this pace and has 250 female executives among its ranks today. Since 2019, also large-scale events have been held, among them the Female Leaders Breakfast with a no-show rate of below 0%: for the first time in the history of the WU Executive Academy, the number of guests exceeded the number of registrations for an event. 2020 has also been off to a promising start: pharmaceutical giant Novartis came on board as a network partner and cooperation agreements were signed with women’s networks such as “Zukunft Frauen” and “Women of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

Adela Mehic-Dzanic has no doubts about the reasons for the initiative’s overwhelming success: “All of our activities are designed to address and tackle current trends and challenges and, on top of that, we ask all network members what they are interested in and consider this feedback when planning events.” Successful networking is a particularly popular topic. The Female Leaders Breakfast held on March 6, however, had a different focus: money and negotiations.

A workshop on this topic was conducted by Martina Ernst, President of the Female Leaders Network and former head of HR at Erste Bank. She is also the founder of the “SalaryNegotiations.” platform.

Portrait Martina Ernst

Martina Ernst

  • President of the Female Leaders Network

My advice: know your value – and have the guts to take the first step. “If you ask for nothing, that’s what you will get: nothing. It is important to learn to clearly state what you’re worth.

Forty network members participated in the workshop, which was hosted by Katarina Stanisavljevic, Managing Director at Carat, the market leader in digital and diversified media solutions. From 2006 to 2015, Stanisavljevic managed the company’s Belgrade branch, before moving to Vienna in 2015 to complete an MBA program at the WU Executive Academy. In 2019, she was appointed to Carat Austria’s managing board.

In her keynote on the topic of hidden bias, she explored ways to expose stereotypes and broaden our horizons in order to further equal opportunities in all spheres of an organization, benefiting both the professional and private lives of employees and managers. She thinks that whenever women get together, it creates a tremendous opportunity to forge close bonds and support each other: “It is essential that women discuss their experiences and learn from each other. Often, we find ourselves in a tricky situation, which has been experienced and successfully overcome by another person.”

Pic of the Female Leaders Network Workshop
Katarina Stanisavljevic hosted the workshop for the network members.

Studies show that people who are active members of a diverse network are able to gain access to the information they need to implement their ideas. However, it is a well-known problem that participants of a networking event spend most of their time talking to people they already know. “Networking is not about going out and meeting new people. It is about identifying the people who are important for you, your plans, or your business, and to make them members of your inner circle,” Mehic-Dzanic explains. “It is natural to hit a point in your career where you feel stuck – this is when you need friends, a coach, or the support of a strong network.”

In challenging times like these, collaboration and mutual support provided in the framework of a network are crucial. To keep living up to this demanding task, the Female Leaders Network will continue to grow also in the future, especially by entering international collaborations. The network already has a solid foundation. “We are very happy about our development so far,” says Mehic-Dzanic. “But at the same time, we are hungry for more.”

This article was published by Forbes Austria. Click here to read the article (in German).

For more information about the Female Leaders Network, please click here.

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