Corona and my racing driver skills: The pandemic as an opportunity

We asked female leaders, who will be speaking at our summit in 2021, to share their personal thoughts on the challenges, opportunities and new perspectives they have personally encountered as they navigate through the still ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. This special series should inspire and encourage you to continue to manage the crisis in the best possible way. This is where Ilka Hartmann, who sees the pandemic as an opportunity, has her say.

Speaker Ilka Hartmann

Managing Director / Member of the Board | British Chamber of Commerce in Germany e.V., Germany

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At the weekends, I like watching Formula 1. Anyone can step on the gas. You just press the pedal down and that’s it. But the real finesse in race driving is knowing how to brake. The instinct for the right moment to touch the brake and release it again – racing drivers refine this art to the nth degree, so they lose as little speed as possible and can accelerate again immediately.

The past months of Covid-19 have strongly reminded me of this. The start of my new job as Managing Director of the BCCG coincided with the outbreak of the Corona virus pandemic. But at the time, I was unaware of the implications. I thought I was pretty well prepared: I had developed concepts and strategies for events, approached speakers and guests, reserved venues and gathered my team together. Then came lockdown. Everything slammed to a halt.

To be honest, I’m neither a fast nor risky driver. I’m a team player, a networker. I believe in collective competence and the strength of contacts. So, I mobilized our team, developed new ideas, tested alternatives, devised technical approaches. Online seminars, video streaming, podcasts – we reinvented ourselves overnight. Literally overnight.

BCCG President Michael Schmidt likes to quote Max Frisch: „Crisis is a productive state. It just has to be cleansed of the taint of catastrophe.“ In my experience, women live by that motto: whether as a wife, mother, daughter or in the workplace – every day we have to overcome, solve, circumnavigate small catastrophes, all the while radiating confidence and good humour. We were born to cope with disaster. It’s more by chance than by design that I work with a lot of women. But I do enjoy this unspoken agreement: crisis? What’s that? Where’s the bypass, what are the alternatives?

None of us complains about problems, we all think the same thing: what’s the solution?!

Ilka Hartmann, Managing Director/Member of the Board, British Chamber of Commerce in Germany


I’m not saying it was – or is – easy. I admire all women with small children who have to manage a home office, day-care and schooling on their own at home. To me, social media was, until recently, a fun activity for my daughter. Now I post, like, re-tweet and chat as if I’d never done anything else. And of course, we learn something new every day, whether in video conferences, streamed events or post placements. But it’s fun and challenges you to rediscover and extend yourself and your own skills.

What I found most impressive at the end of 2020, above all, is what Corona has made possible: within just a few months, German scientists developed a vaccine that the whole world could pin its hopes on. Getting it approved also happened in record time. Digitalisation, working from home, but also solidarity – all of a sudden, there’s a new dynamic and a momentum that hardly anyone thought possible. Our view of essential workers’ jobs has also changed: we suddenly see much more clearly just what it is that caregivers, nurses, sales clerks, cashiers, teachers and policewomen actually do. And also considering – at last – paying them more for doing it! We have to keep an eye on that!

Corona has also impacted my private life: my husband is a doctor and works in the management of a hospital in southern Germany. It goes without saying that the dangerous nature of the virus, taking mutual precautions and being generally careful also play a major role in our household. We have had to find new ways to maintain friendships and keep up contacts.

The BCCG team and I succeeded in preventing the Corona “Emergency Stop” from making us skid off course. But the challenge is by no means over: we’ll have to live with the effects and changes in this new year too.

So, let’s view the pandemic as an opportunity: not to give up, but to make new discoveries, get to work and reinvent ourselves a little. Both at work and at home.

Ilka Hartmann, Managing Director/Member of the Board, British Chamber of Commerce in Germany
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