umlaut Ann Christin Wendeln

Portrait

Impressive rise after a change in profession

Graduated from high school at the age of 15, a manager by the time she was 27 – Ann-Christin Wendeln is a high-flier. But before her rise to the top, she first had to fall from a height of 4,500 metres.

Sometimes you have to take a fall to be able to grow and reach your potential. At least this was umlaut project manager Ann-Christin Wendeln's experience. On a bright, sunny day in the spring of 2014, she climbs into a helicopter with a parachute on her back, not really knowing whether to laugh or cry. In a few minutes' time, she will be doing a jump from a height of 4,500 metres. They get to the right altitude and her heart is pounding in her chest. What happens if the parachute doesn't open? What if this is the last thing she ever does? She pushes these thoughts away, crawls over to the door, closes her eyes – and jumps.

"That was both the best and the worst thing I've ever done," says Ann-Christin today, six years later. At the time, she was 21, spending some time in Australia – and the parachute jump had been a dare. A lot of things have happened since then, yet she still often thinks back to that day. It has divided up her life into a before and an after. Before that day, Ann-Christin tells us, she was more anxious and preferred not to take risks. "Since the jump, I have faith that nothing terrible can happen to me. Whatever the future brings, I’m well equipped for any challenge."

Overcoming challenges, throwing yourself into uncertain situations, maintaining an overview – these are things Ann-Christin also does as a project manager at umlaut. Here, she is part of a team called "Testing and Validation" who specialise in infotainment systems in vehicles. This includes, for example, integrated navigation systems and speech recognition systems. These are areas that are undergoing constant development, becoming more complex and more networked. Customers expect the products to function perfectly when they buy their vehicle. To ensure that this is achieved, umlaut implements a wide-ranging assessment procedure.

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Ann-Christin Wendeln is part of the team "Testing and Validation" who specialise in infotainment systems in vehicles

Between Alzheimer's research and the automotive industry

We pay a visit to the main testing centre in Böblingen, a well-lit building with a glass façade. Ann-Christin sits at a desk in front of her two monitors, with two e-mail windows open. A phone, note books, tea. What will her day look like today? "It would be nice if I knew that," she says and laughs. "It doesn't matter what I have planned – there's always a surprise waiting around the corner for me." As the project manager, Ann-Christin is like the octopus in the team. She uses her tentacles to pull all the various threads together, maintains an overview, communicates in all directions. This means she is sometimes a problem-solver, sometimes helping people to get started, other times she is putting out fires. She is always 100% committed to her tasks.

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Holding the strings for a whole team and always 100% committed


It took her a little while to get used to working in an office – by profession she is actually a biologist. Before she joined umlaut in 2018, she did a doctorate in Biomedicine. The way ahead seemed to be pretty much paved for her: she graduated from high school with top marks at the age of 15 – three years younger than most people – and gained a doctorate at the age of 25. For this, she carried out experiments with genetically manipulated mice at the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research in Tübingen. The findings of her research were to be used in the search for a medication to treat Alzheimer's Disease. She won various prizes and scholarships, and was doing very well in the world of research – until she decided to swap the lab for a desk and Alzheimer's research for the automotive industry.

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Ann-Christin Wendeln: PhD at age 25

"Once a country girl, always a country girl"

At first glance, this might look like a decision aimed at improving her work-life balance – if she had wanted to continue working in research, she would have had to go abroad, as she tells us. A step that was out of the question for her. Her home is a "little village", 35 minutes by car from the office, where she lives with her partner and goes bouldering in her free time. A community located to the south of Tübingen, with detached houses and great views of the surrounding landscape. She also has plans to have a house built in the near future, somewhere in this area in the foothills of the Swabian Alps. Ann-Christin couldn't imagine living in a town or city. She grew up in a village and says, "I think it's somehow in my DNA".

Finding a link to umlaut was actually a happy accident, Ann-Christin tells us. That's nothing unusual in her team, as many of them have taken the leap from another field. It was one of her colleagues, also originally a biologist, who told her about umlaut when she had just finished doing her doctorate. "She was so full of enthusiasm. I had a long think about whether it might be the right thing for me too. Then I thought: You're brave enough to try this jump too." Today, two years later, Ann-Christin still sees herself as a researcher, "but in a different field". As a project manager, she spends her time looking into the minds of customers and colleagues. She tries to read what they want, using a well-structured and organised approach. She calls her job at umlaut "a happy experiment".

A path that isn’t pre-destined

When she first joined the company in 2018, she was still testing the infotainment systems herself, analysing errors, doing all the documentation. For a while, that was okay, she says. But in the longer term, she knew that she wouldn't be satisfied. "I always need new input, otherwise I soon start to feel unhappy." Together with her mentor, she looked at where her strengths lie, what direction she could take, what she enjoyed doing. Today Ann-Christin heads up a team of 15 people. Instead of taking responsibility for a research project, she is responsible for other people as a manager. In this role, she says, she finds out more about herself every day. "For example, I’m much more spontaneous than I used to be because I’m permanently reacting to new situations and having to adjust my plans." Always something new – that's exactly what she wants.

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As a member of the newly-founded Employee Board Ann-Christin will now step in for the interests and wishes of the employees


A path that isn't predestined – that's something she hopes others can find too. That's why Ann-Christin is also a member of the newly-founded Employee Board. This is an international committee, a kind of umlaut mouthpiece for the interests and wishes of the employees. And how do you get to be a member of the committee? – an application and an official election procedure. In the beginning, Ann-Christin tells us, she was full of self-doubt. "I asked myself: will people really vote for me? Me, the young one, new and inexperienced?" The next leap, the next success – when it came to the election, she got the highest number of votes. A good thing she left her fear behind in Australia.

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