Mar 8, 2019
Comfortable with discomfort
She’s a mother. A wife. A vice president. But most notably, Veronica Dohm is a modern-day nomad. Even after moving to a different continent – not just once, but four times within the last 15 years – she would still jump at the chance to move again. It is her love for adventure, and for experiencing new cultures, that drives her.
At the beginning of her Henkel career, Veronica worked in the accounting department in Buenos Aires, Argentina, her hometown. The then 23-year-old had never left her hometown for longer than holidays in North America, South America and Europe. These experiences increased her desire to fully dive into new cultures and experiences. That’s why she decided to take advantage of the company’s international set-up and see the world while following her career. And when the opportunity arose in 2003 to work with the corporate treasury at the headquarters in Düsseldorf, Germany, she took it.
Living in another country, all by herself, left Veronica with the initiative and resilience to thrive. With the help of her colleagues, she adapted to cultural differences, including learning a new language and creating new relationships. In fact, she met her husband through her colleagues while they were on a ski trip in Austria. However, her own desire to understand the traditions and characteristics of her new home were what helped her adjust the most.
According to Veronica, Germany runs on a tight schedule, where meetings begin and end punctually. Argentina, on the other hand, has a “looser concept of time,” as she calls it. For example, when meeting with her friends at home, Veronica said that sometimes they will arrive a half hour or an hour later than the time they agreed upon. “Being on time was something that wasn’t part of my culture growing up, but over time I learned to appreciate it and I appreciate that respect for time now,” she says.
These acquired traits, along with the knowledge that she would be facing a new adventure, made it easier to move to her next positions in the United States of America.
“I didn’t feel much of a tough change coming to the States and I think what helped was knowing I wasn’t going home. From that point of view, it was harder to go from Argentina to Germany than from Germany to the United States,” Veronica says.
According to Veronica, even though Germany and the United States have a similar culture, the transition between the two countries came with its own acclimations. For example, Veronica noticed that many of her new colleagues didn’t willingly offer personal information, such as their family members and hometown. She missed knowing her colleagues and getting insights into their lives.
Living long distance
When facing life-changing decisions, like career changes or big moves, there are always going to be struggles. In Veronica’s case, they might have been a little bigger than for others. Whenever she planned to move, she was on an extraordinarily tight schedule. Three months to say goodbye to friends and colleagues, pack up and sell a house. Then find a new house in a foreign country and start from scratch to make it a home.
Despite the quick turn arounds, Veronica kept in touch with her loved ones through social media: “I miss my family, my friends and the things I used to do when I was in Argentina and I don’t get to do on a daily basis. I receive notifications from my friends when they make plans to meet up and I wish I could be there.”
Now, with a family of her own, Veronica instills the importance of cultural awareness in them. Despite living in different countries for the last 15 years, she still practices Argentinian traditions with her family and speaks with them in Spanish, English and even some German. Her husband and children, five and eight, moved with her every time a new opportunity arose. However, because of their young age, her children were able to acclimate quickly to their new surroundings.
That’s one of the biggest advantages that Veronica pulls from having the opportunity to go to different countries and experience different cultures, especially when it comes to learning different languages and assimilating to different traditions.
Looking back while moving forward
Scoping out changes, challenges, and new opportunities eventually led her back to South America – this time to Brazil, as an Adhesives Financial Controller for Latin America. But what might’ve been getting closer to home geographically didn’t always seem like it was coming home emotionally. “By the time I went to Brazil, many of the things that I have learned in Germany or in the US when it comes to the professional ethics, habits and behaviors, they were all me. I’m a very Latin person, but now with a lot of influence from working in a more mature culture,” explains Veronica.
While acquiring these new habits and ways of thinking, she also realized the importance of staying true to herself – and her past.
As a Vice President and Regional Controller – now living in Madison Heights, Michigan – Veronica Dohm needs to navigate communicating internationally and regionally, which she does with ease. But that wasn’t always the case. It took courage, ambition and an openness to new experiences to get her where she is today. Her advice for others is to be willing to take on new opportunities, learn from other people, and to “be smart enough to take the best practices that you find there and bring them with you. That’s what makes you grow personally and professionally.”
THREE QUESTIONS TO VERONICA
If you could meet your 11-year-old self, what advice would you give to yourself?
Don’t let anybody tell you what you can or cannot do… your opportunities are as endless as your dreams…. Just make sure you work hard (probably harder than you would like to) on fulfilling them. Be focused, be risky, be different – all while being yourself.
What was the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Take risks, take chances…. Don’t overthink if you are capable, say yes and figure it out… this was much of what drove me to take on my first international assignment in Germany. With dedication and conviction, the results were to come… and surely enough that was the beginning of many more experiences in different regions, countries, and areas within the company….
Who or what inspires you?
Funny enough it was one of my first bosses who inspired me and for all the wrong reasons. He was used to working in a much more man-based environment and only had the idea of me serving him coffee instead of sitting at the same table, discussing the topics and deciding with him. That situation and person inspired me to be better, to believe in myself and to “overcome” being young and woman in a managerial position…. And prove to myself first and the rest of the world that there is nothing about gender that dictates your potential or even your performance.