Role models

Be authentic: Martine Reicherts’ advice to aspiring leaders

Martine Reicherts is the first chairwoman of Mediahuis Luxembourg, the publisher of German-language daily “Luxemburger Wort” and Portuguese-language tabloid “Contacto”, among other titles. She joined the Mediahuis-owned publisher after dozens of years of experience in the EU institutions, including as European Commissioner for Justice and Director-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture. A member of boards of the Luxembourg Central Bank and the Luxembourg National Research Fund, Reicherts spoke to W Insight about her career path and the perks of not playing games.

Joanna Socha: You are the first woman to head Mediahuis Luxembourg. During the Financial Times Women at the Top conference you mentioned there are few women at the top of major media organizations. What was your path to the top? How did you manage to break that ceiling?

Martine Reicherts: Ten years ago, I was leading the Publications Office of the European Union that publishes EU laws. When I was in charge, I transformed this house from a paper house to a digital house. And during that time, I met with the director general of Mediahuis Luxembourg. At that time, the Publications Office was one of their clients. I was in regular contact with the director general of Mediahuis and I warned him that he would lose us as clients because we wouldn’t like to advertise in a paper. And I did it in a very transparent way. And he highly appreciated me being straightforward. When they were looking for a candidate to head the Luxembourg media group, they thought of me. Of course, the fact that I had media experience helped as well. 

Martine Reicherts (photo provided by MR)

JS: What are the most important goals on your agenda as a chairwoman of the group?

MR: I think Luxembourg-based media, as it is all over the world, is undergoing a huge revolution. The move from paper to digital is a major challenge. And we have to suit everybody because we still reach people who prefer the traditional paper in their letterbox, as well as the younger audience that prefer short notes and quick answers. So we need to find one size that fits all, which is, of course, impossible, but we’re looking at various options. 

JS: Do you have any regrets about your career? 

MR: It may seem arrogant, but I think even the mistakes were part of my learning process, so I wouldn’t change a thing. I started really at the lowest level of academia and I ended up at the highest. I’m now on pension from the European Commission, but still I’m having lots of interesting engagements, such as being the president of the Yoga Federation in Luxembourg and the International Yoga Day. These kinds of things make me happy because that’s my passion. 

JS: “Ask for the maximum and you will see what life gets,” you said during the FT Women at the Top conference in Luxembourg. Could you share some examples from your career of this approach?

I think it’s really important to dare. It’s important to simply go for something, even though the chances are not a hundred percent. I think this is what this approach of asking for maximum is about. 

At present, I’m on the boards of a few organizations. You don’t usually apply for such positions, but you’re invited thanks to the people you know. That’s why it’s so important to build relationships. The first board position I was offered was for the Central Bank of Luxembourg. They were looking for somebody with my experience, and they were specifically looking for a woman. I’m also the president of the National Research Fund in Luxembourg, which I was offered because I am on good terms with the Minister of Education. All those little things, the relationships you build, and the trust you generate, often end up in concrete proposals. One of my other favorite sentences is that your being attracts your life. It’s the way you are, the way you behave, that brings you into certain situations.

JS: What are the most important aspects of building relationships? 

Be authentic and try to build on your real interests. If you play games, people feel it. That doesn’t work. Frankly, I’m not the kind of person going to club events every week or having dinners in the evening. I find it terribly boring. So instead, I’m going to my sports classes, conferences, events like this one (FT Women at the Top). 

I think being proactive and helpful is crucial. Once, I was given a job just because I offered a translation to one man in the European Commission. The meeting was in German, a language he didn’t understand. When I saw this, I just took my chair and sat next to him and asked: “Do you want me to translate?” He said yes, so that’s what I did. The day after, he called me and asked: “Would you like to become my assistant?” He said he really appreciated my help and initiative. That’s how I became the assistant to the Director General in the European Commission. I was about 30 years old at that time. I strongly believe in that kind of networking much more than this, what I call the Anglo-Saxon way of having after-work events. They are very often artificial, in my experience.

MR: There are many media entrepreneurs trying to build something from scratch. What would be your advice to such entrepreneurs trying to attract investors, including, for instance, Mediahuis Ventures?  

Again, don’t play games, because people with experience feel this.

Be who you are. You are not perfect, but they are not either. And be innovative. That can be challenging in a society where in schools you are taught to have a very traditional way of thinking. That’s why you should try to stimulate the left-side of your brain to be innovative, creative and come forward with new ideas. 

Interview by Joanna Socha

Edited by: Diana Asatryan, Phyllis Budka

The photo of Martine Reicherts used in the featured graphic was provided by Martine Reicherts

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