Today’s Wednesdays for Women blog is an insightful conversation with Katrin Starke, head of Business Development at ORSAY, which is an international clothing retailer based in Germany. Katrin recently joined us at JDA ICON 2019, our customer conference, and stood on main stage with Professor Dr. Michael Feindt, founder of Blue Yonder, to share results of AI and ML at work to optimize markdowns at their stores. Katrin shares what that experience was like, and how her career trajectory – and success –  has surprised her in several  critical ways. She’s humble, grounded, and curious by nature, which has taken her career farther than she ever anticipated.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I live in Germany, in the well-known Black Forest region. I’ve always been a curious person at heart. I always want to discover and learn new things. I think my brain is always working! So, I consider myself very active instead of laid-back.

How did you get into a career in merchandising and technology?

By accident, actually! When I studied at university, I needed to find a company where I could work while I also studied. I found ORSAY and worked there while I finished my degree. I did a training program in the purchasing department and got to know what merchandising was as well as sourcing, design and other aspects of retailing. But what caught my attention was merchandising. Once I graduated, I started in the buying department and then decided to stay in merchandising.

As for technology, today, I think all our jobs must leverage technology, because it’s everywhere and you need technology to be efficient and do your job better, so that part of my career has always felt natural.

Tell us about your role at ORSAY and your career journey there for the last decade plus.

Today, I’m not in merchandising completely anymore. I am in business development which at ORSAY really means project management. My team manages all the projects that exist at ORSAY. We coordinate everything across departments. We are always introducing new things, like the technology we deployed from Blue Yonder/JDA, expansion to other countries as well as further projects in the area of omnichannel. I’ve been doing this now for 10 years. I did purchasing for five years first, and for the last 10 years, I’ve really focused on project management in all areas of the company.

You joined us at ICON this May as part of our keynote with Dr. Michael Feindt, founder of Blue Yonder. What was that experience like?

It was a great experience! In general I don’t mind talking in front of people, so I said “why not?”

But, then when the details were coming out, that I would be in front of 2,000 people and with the founder of Blue Yonder himself, I really got nervous! I said “Oh my God, why did I say yes!” And my  brain started to really think about it! But at the end, it was a really a nice experience and a lot of fun even just preparing for it. During the rehearsals, everyone was very nice and gave me good feedback,  and that helped a lot and I never feel alone! It also helped that I couldn’t see faces in the audience, just dark shadows!

What’s your proudest achievement in your career?

This one is difficult to answer! Even though I am now a project manager and head of a department I never think it is about me – but about the team and the people. I don’t care about status or title but working with people and achieving something as a team. That’s what matters to me. I am quite proud of it and thankful for the people who helped me through my career and helped me achieve my goals!

Can you point to a critical moment in your career that really made a difference in your path?

There was a very critical moment for me in 2008. ORSAY had a difficult year in terms of its market situation. We decided that we would shift our main purchasing activities to Poland and had to cut jobs in Germany, shifting activities to Poland. At this time, I was 23-24, didn’t have kids or a family, and I was on the list to leave the company. At the same time, ORSAY was building up the project management department, and a colleague suggested that I start in their department. So, rather than getting cut from ORSAY, I ended up moving from purchasing to project management and that was critical for me and my path! It not only helped me keep my job, it’s given me a holistic view of the company and I’ve gotten so much more out of my role now than just being in one department.  Some might say it was destiny!

How do you define success in your job?

For me, success is accomplishing a common goal. It is also always creating an environment where people feel that they add value. These are very important criteria for me to define success.

How has your life experience made you who you are today?

There are two things in my life that have made me who I am today.

The first is my parents. They always told me that yes, you can do anything you set your mind to, and they always supported me. They would urge me to try things and not judge them before giving it a try because you’ll always see if it’s right for you or not.

The second is playing sports growing up.  I learned what it means to have team spirit and how to accomplish things in a team. I learned to push myself above my limits and go one step further. Life is limitless and sometimes we just have to get out of our comfort zones.

Is there anything your career surprises you?

What surprised me was that I wasn’t looking for a career, and somehow it happened at ORSAY. I wasn’t asking for my role and other people saw potential in me and offered me opportunity. I am very humbled by that.

What advice to you have for young women seeking a career in technology?

If you do something and do it well, you’ll always be successful. I also think it’s important to have a level of emotional intelligence. It isn’t always about facts, but how you can convince people, how to approach things. And finally, like my parents told me, just try new things, don’t be afraid, take that first step.

What woman (or leader) inspires you and why?

Coco Chanel! It is really impressive what she was able to set up as a company, and a brand, at this time, when women had no chance at all really. We weren’t seen as leaders or treated as respectfully or taken seriously. She really did a good job and thanks to her, I can wear pants, thanks to the ‘pants revolution!’