Karin Wellbrock

Karin Wellbrock, a Partner and Chief Operating Officer, is trying to be a catalyst who brings out the best in others, igniting their spark to create meaningful change and help them reach their full potential. As a lifelong learner, she is constantly growing and evolving, both professionally and personally.

With a humanist philosophy at the core of her values, she believes in the power of human agency and free will to create a better world for all. Her curious nature has taken her on a global journey, studying and living in numerous countries, and exposing her to a diverse range of cultures and perspectives.

She loves to work and her insatiable curiosity and passion for problem-solving drives her to continuously improve the world around her, making it more efficient and effective. 

What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.

Growing up in a small town nestled in the German Alps, I was one of five siblings, so I learned to navigate sibling dynamics and always put family first. My dad, a former refugee, instilled strong values in us, such as the importance of hard work and perseverance. As a child, I worked in the family business and developed a love for learning, especially about history, political ideas, and philosophy.

Despite not being a straight-A student, I was determined to prove a teacher wrong who said girls didn’t need a high school diploma. This drive led me to be the first in my family to attend university. My passion for learning was further fueled by a ballet teacher from Eastern Germany, who taught me the value of discipline and repetition. This same discipline has now helped me transition from management consulting to leadership coaching.

Traveling has always been a big part of my life, starting with a gift of a bright red NEW YORK t-shirt from my elder brother. At 16, I set my sights on America and made it happen, first traveling to San Francisco at 19 and later returning for further studies and work. Throughout my travels, I’ve been able to engage with different cultures and further broaden my perspective.

Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.

The first turning point was: not being part of the family succession plan was a blessing in disguise! It gave me the opportunity to pave my own path and establish my reputation as a professional in large organizations. 

Other one was: after completing my second Master’s degree in international relations in the US, I joined my then boyfriend in Paris and landed a job at the impressive and complex organization, UNESCO. With the help of a wonderful mentor, I was able to get involved in policy work, but I soon realized that I craved something more hands-on and results-oriented, leading me to take an industry role.

Next, my partner took on an exciting expatriate career with frequent job and country changes, presenting both a steep learning curve and career advancement opportunities. I was faced with the choice of either being a trailing spouse or pursuing my own career, and through a combination of research and luck, I found my calling in business consulting. This allowed me to have a successful professional career while still being able to learn and follow my partner’s adventures. Although, after a few years, the constant travel took a toll on both my health and relationship.

Later, after two decades of expat roles and consulting, my partner and I took a step back to reflect on our lives and careers. We embarked on a soul-searching journey and realized that we wanted to be in control of our own destiny and live life on our terms. This led us to the realization that not only did we want to own our own organization, but also develop better leaders and bosses that others would want to work for. This became our driving force and purpose.

Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea or motivation that made you start your business /initiative? What motivated you within to say “YES, go for it!”

I’m inspired by the potential for leadership to bring about real change in the world, and I’m driven by the challenge of improving the trust that employees have in their leaders. So many of our problems could be solved if we had strong, compassionate leaders who were trusted by those they lead.

Despite working with organizations on their transformations and processes, I was shocked to discover how little focus there is on the person who leads. I believe that every leader has the potential to be great, and to create a workplace where employees feel valued and supported.

That’s why I’ve created the coaching triangle – a framework that helps leaders balance their role, their skills, and the perception of their stakeholders. When these three components are in sync, leaders are more successful, and more able to bring about positive change. I’m passionate about working with leaders to help them find this balance, and become the great bosses that the world needs.

Tell us something about your initiative or current role. What is it about, and what impact are you trying to make?

I am passionate about addressing the issue of low trust in leadership, especially in Japan where the percentage of women in leadership roles remains alarmingly low. Instead of simply offering more training and debates, I am focused on empowering women who are on the brink of top management positions. My program is designed to accelerate their preparation and onboarding, and to work hand-in-hand with current executives to identify, develop, and place talented female leaders. This two-pronged approach not only benefits the women, but also encourages current executives to become sponsors of the next generation. Through personalized coaching, I am helping these women overcome mental blocks and achieve their executive aspirations.

Additionally, I am passionate about paying it forward to the next generation of leaders by coaching and mentoring start-up founders, strengthening leadership skills in non-profit organizations, and empowering young leaders through workshops and seminars.

Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?

Starting a new venture can be exciting but also a bit daunting. Having a partner to share the journey with and co-create a vision can be incredibly valuable. You will likely receive a lot of encouragement and advice from friends and colleagues, but it’s important to remember that their experiences may not directly apply to your unique startup journey. Connecting with people who have gone through a startup or have relevant experience can be extremely helpful.

Experimenting and trying new things is an important part of finding your niche and developing a successful business. For example, in the field of people development, it took me many trials and errors to find my sweet spot where I could make a difference and live my purpose.

Creating your own brand can be a challenge, especially when leaving a well-known organization, but having a unique service or product and a reputation for being a professional and high-quality business partner can help build a brand that is all your own.

Managing your energy is crucial when starting a business as there is always something to do. Having a clear vision and prioritized strategies can help keep you focused and on track. Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks and take time for self-care, as a healthy you means a healthy business.

Celebrating successes is important, as the workload can make it easy to overlook progress. Take time to celebrate and reflect on achievements, like completing a project or onboarding a new client.

Learning from mistakes is also a crucial part of growing as a business. By having honest discussions with my partner about what went wrong and how to improve going forward, we can not only improve your business but also build trust.

Continuous development is key to success, whether you are a coach or in any other role. I keep a learning journal and review coaching sessions , then set goals for my next sessions as part of my  personal growth to continually improve and achieve my best.

While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought its fair share of difficulties for many, but for me being in Japan during this time has offered a unique perspective. Unlike in other countries, Japan was relatively spared from the hardships of lockdowns and shortages of tests. Instead, we heard about the struggles of others while our own pace slowed down.

In Japan, personal relationships and face-to-face interactions are highly valued, and many believed that no business could be conducted without them. However, the pandemic has shown us that this is not always the case and that we can still have meaningful and intimate conversations online. As a result, I was able to transfer much of my business online and expand my market beyond Japan. Coaching has also become more accessible to clients, as they can easily fit it into their day without having to travel.

The acceptance of online leadership services has skyrocketed in Japan, allowing us to offer individual and team sessions more frequently and at a more affordable price point. Without the pandemic, it would have taken much more time and resources to educate customers on the benefits and effectiveness of online services. COVID-19 has fast-tracked and simplified this transition to an online business.

On a personal level, the pandemic has also given me the opportunity to reconnect and spend time with friends from around the world who were also in lockdown. This time has brought us closer together and strengthened our bond.

Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?

I have set a goal to empower 100 women to reach executive positions and I am thrilled to report that I am making great progress towards that objective. The transition from consulting to coaching has transformed my passion for people and broadened my perspective. As a coach, I strive to be inquisitive, open-minded and impartial, which allows for deeper connections with my clients and opens up new opportunities beyond coaching. This has led me to join a remarkable community of female angel investors, where I can support and invest in female-led startups, among other exciting ventures.

Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?

Let us strive towards a world where unity and empathy reigns supreme. A world where open communication and active listening are the norm, and where divisive ideologies are left behind. Imagine a world where our leaders inspire us with their actions, and where we can proudly stand behind them in pursuit of a better future for all. It’s within our power to create this world, and it all starts with each one of us making a conscious effort to spread kindness and understanding. Together, we can make this world a peaceful and harmonious place for all to thrive.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?

– Cherish the bond of love and trust in your relationship.

– Dream big and set achievable goals for yourself. With determination and effort, you can turn your aspirations into reality.

– Don’t be afraid to reach out for support when needed. A helping hand can go a long way.

– Embrace diversity and understand that not everyone thinks and acts as you do. Offer encouragement and guidance to those who seek growth.

Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?

As a forward-thinking individual, I firmly believe that great leadership is the key to overcoming any obstacle. Instead of focusing solely on gender, I prioritize the personal qualities that make a leader truly effective. Essential traits such as self-awareness, empathy, and learning agility are what I believe to be the hallmarks of successful leaders, regardless of their gender.

While I am a staunch advocate for increased representation of women in leadership positions, I firmly believe that it is merit, not gender, that should dictate one’s eligibility for such roles. Women should only be selected for leadership positions if they are the best candidate for the job, not to meet a quota.

To achieve this vision, it is imperative that we work to level the playing field in terms of education and entry-level opportunities in organizations. Additionally, women must challenge their own self-limiting beliefs and stop hindering their own progress, such as by refusing to support other women in their professional pursuits.

Finally, leadership roles are limited, challenging and demanding, and they require ambition and a competitive spirit. This might not be of interest for everyone. 

With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?

Let’s turn challenges into opportunities and make a positive impact! Despite the complexities of our world, we don’t have to solve every problem on our own. Find an issue that ignites a passion within you and take action!

With access to education, resources, networks, and support, you have the power to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those around you. No need to aim for grandiose solutions – start small and see where it takes you! Together, we can create a brighter future for all. So let’s seize the day and make a positive impact!