Ann-Christine Predian is the founder of a jewellery label and a junior consultant at umlaut. How team spirit helps her to keep a good balance between the two.
When Ann-Christine Predian sits down at the dining room table in her flat in Lübeck with a pair of pliers, a tape measure and some string to make bracelets for her online shop, she doesn't just need skill and dexterity, but also a good feeling for trends. Because the range of beads and charms she stocks is huge: standing by the table, we see two large Ikea bags filled right to the top. Inside them, lots and lots of boxes, containing around 300 different kinds of beads and charms, all sorted according to colour and shape. Even just the glass and plastic beads come in around a dozen different versions. And on top of this, hearts, butterflies and tortoises in the form of little charms, to say nothing of the letters of the alphabet in all the colours of the rainbow.
"This is a very fast-moving sector, so the possibilities are incredibly diverse," says Ann-Christine, who is known as Anni among her friends. The principles that apply to running a business in hand-made bracelets also apply to the corporate world, which is where Anni can be found in her day job: "Things always have to be faster, better and more cost-effective," she says. As a junior consultant in Team Operations Strategy, Anni provides support to companies – predominantly in the Mittelstandsector (medium-sized, family-run businesses) – with the process of change along the entire value creation chain, her goal being to improve the operational excellence of the companies in question.
Anni has gathered a good deal of experience from running a small business over the years, and has learned how to keep a good overview in times of uncertainty. The 28-year-old set up her jewellery label Syltcandy in 2016 and is not only head designer, but also takes care of finance, marketing, sales and shipping, and quality control. And she is facing an increasing amount of competition. The pandemic gave the DIY trend a further push: mothers in particular, Anni tells us, suddenly discovered that they could earn a little extra money when their children were at school or nursery. Thanks to special online marketplaces like Etsy, and in particular Instagram, the hurdles to entry are pretty low. Anni's holistic view of her start-up now helps her when she is providing support to customers at umlaut.
Setting trends and responding to individual customer requests
"If you want to survive, you have to be a trendsetter," Anni tells us. With her "candy" for the wrist, she is targeting the Beach Flair niche. She wants her bracelets to express joie de vivre and freedom, and to bring back memories of sunny days spent on the beach. She gives them names, like "Golden Girl" and "Hi Butterfly". Customers also have the option of submitting requests for an individually designed bracelet via her online shop. They seem to like this. Anni has around 3,700 followers on Instagram.
Instead of going straight to university after passing her school-leaving exams, Anni decided to do an apprenticeship to qualify as an industrial clerk. She spent three years in her home region of Ostwestfalen working for a well-known kitchen manufacturer, and is now able to imagine what it must have felt like back then when consultants paid a visit. "There were certainly moments when quite a few people were thinking: these consultants, they always think they know better."
This experience has given Anni a well-developed feeling for the importance of communications in the change process. And for the fact that even the best reasons for a change process are not of much use if the opinions and moods of a team or a department have not been taken into account. "At the end of the day, it's a matter of managing emotions." And how does she build trust in her dealings with customers? There's no secret recipe, she says. But it would seem that honesty and maintaining a close relationship with the customer are important to her.
The subject of Anni's master's thesis was "Virtual Leadership"
Anni also wrote her master's thesis on the subject of creating trust in a virtual environment. The title: "Virtual Leadership". Her main goal was to demonstrate how digital solutions can be used to close virtual gaps – so that, despite the distances involved, a personal and trust-based relationship can be created between managers and employees.
In communications, it always comes down to the needs of the company in question, and this is something that Anni is experiencing in her current project at umlaut, which she is managing partially from home, partially on the customer's premises and partially from umlaut’s office in Hamburg. The customer: an international engineering company, various products in the B2B sector, lacking a growth strategy. This is something that is now going to change. As well as the relevant analyses, strategic recommendations for action and suggestions for practical measures, Anni's team are focusing predominantly on generating enthusiasm for the change process among the employees by means of successful change communications.
In order to get things right when treading the fine line between a successful dialogue and one that fails, Anni often adopts a similar approach to the one she takes with the manufacture of her bracelets. "You have to learn that, sometimes, you have to give up on ideas that you thought were the best ones," says Anni. In contemporary language, this is known as "killing your darlings". It’s no good using her absolute favourite combination of beads if no one buys it. And it’s equally pointless having the doors of the external consultant wide open in a company if none of the employees dare to go in. In her current project, instead of video calls, Anni's team are organising a live event for all the employees, with Q&A sessions. "The resonance for this has been unbelievable," says Anni. "So many employees asked questions, including members of staff from production."
Should Anni close down Syltcandy and its Instagram account?
When she was doing her master's degree at the University of Leuphana in Lüneburg, Anni was on the point of applying the "killing your darlings" principle to her "baby", Syltcandy. Her master's studies were simply taking up so much of her time. In parallel to her degree studies, she also started working for umlaut whilst still a student. That was almost three years ago. For Anni, it was clear: getting a good master's degree and the 20 hours she worked at umlaut had to take priority. "Every time I got an order for a bracelet, it made me feel stressed." The only solution seemed to be a radical step: close down Syltcandy and the associated Instagram account.
The fact that her jewellery label still exists today is all down to Anni's friends: don't give up the shop, they said, we'll help you! For quite some time now, a good friend has been working alongside her to keep things going. Anni has also automated the accounting system and has rebranded her label. It has all paid off: Anni got top marks for her master's degree and is today getting countless Syltcandy orders every month. When she started out, it was mainly young girls who developed a penchant for Anni's bracelets; now they can also be found adorning the wrists of women nearer the age of 40.
Her orders come predominantly from German-speaking countries. But some of Anni's little brown packages with their light blue Syltcandy stickers have also been shipped to the Netherlands. "My friends and I get really excited." When lots of orders come in at the same time, you'll see Dagobert Duck emojis with gold coins raining down in their group chat. "It's a great feeling."
"There's no elbow mentality at umlaut"
The fact that Anni is able to reconcile her job at umlaut and her role at Syltcandy so well is down to the fact that her passion as a company founder is met by a generous helping of "family" team spirit here at umlaut. The positive atmosphere between colleagues is also one of the reasons why she works for umlaut: "There's no elbow mentality here – we all help one another out," says Anni. "And at the same time, you have this great start-up culture that gives you the opportunity to implement your own ideas."
For Syltcandy, this currently means that Anni is looking to tap into a new target group: men. The time is right. In terms of colours, she plans to use a range of earthy shades: brown, black, stone. She won't tell us when the first men's armbands will be available in the shop. As a consultant, she knows one thing for sure: if change processes are to be successful, the timing has to be right.