August 17, 2016

Christine Berthold-Poje: On playing hockey for Germany and the importance of placing teams first, ego second

Christine Berthold Poje

Christine Berthold-Poje

One of the oldest sports, hockey boasts great skill and bravery, plenty of goals and clever tactics. We interviewed former German hockey champion Christine Berthold-Poje from BNY Mellon’s Frankfurt office and asked what it was like to be one of the youngest females (she was 13 years old) to play in the Bundesliga, having a football World Cup winner for a brother, and why she thinks it is always important to put teams first, and leave personal egos at home.

How did you get into hockey?

I’m from a sporting family and grew up in a small town playing football outside with boys, particularly my older brother Thomas who was part of the West German team which won the 1990 World Cup in Italy. He is still heavily involved in football and regularly appears on television talking as a football commentator.

I joined the Hanauer Tennis und Hockey Club at the age of eight, and by 13 I was playing in the top German adult league, the “Bundesliga.” I was so young that the league had to provide special permission to allow me to play. I’m not sure if I was the youngest ever to play, but I think I might be. I represented the region of Hessen and then joined the German under-21 national team.

Did you compete in the German national team?

Yes, but I decided to end my international career at the age of 21 because it was difficult to balance work, private life and sports. I continued to play in the Bundesliga until early 30.

At this time my daughter Jessica was born and even though my life has changed, I go crazy if I don’t go outside and do some kind of sport. I took up tennis in my 30s and was fortunate eventually to compete at a relatively high level too. 

Hockey is a team sport – has this impacted how you approach things in business?

Hockey requires a mix of discipline, teamwork and a relentless focus on a shared goal. I particularly believe that teamwork is vital to success in all walks of life. We must each put aside our personal agendas and always put the team first. In sport, egos can often get in the way of success. Teams of brilliant individuals who only focus on self-interest fail regularly; it is the cohesive team which finds consistent success. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, it is vital to understand them.

Playing hockey has helped me better understand how to build relationships too. As a relationship executive, it is my job to cultivate trust so that BNY Mellon can advise clients more effectively. This means having empathy. Hockey has taught me the importance of admitting your mistakes and taking accountability and responsibility. 

In sport you cannot improve or move on from defeat if you don’t correctly identify your own mistakes. This is also true in business. Clients trust you when you are accountable and transparent and you put clear governance structures in place.

Can you give us an example?

When I joined BNY Mellon three years ago, I was given a “red” client, meaning they were very unhappy with the given service. The client had indicated it was likely to search for another service provider. In a short space of time, I helped to build trust, transparency and was personally accountable when it was required. This client moved to “green” status within a year, we stabilised the relationship and grew our partnership with the client who remains with us today. I’m very proud of this.

How has balancing business and sport shaped your approach to work?

Financial services sometimes has a reputation for cultivating a poor work/life balance. Whilst a “long-hours” culture can initially appear to improve production, in the longer term it can reduce performance and prevent innovation. Thankfully, this culture is changing.

I believe physical activity is important to reducing stress. I think it’s also important to have outside interests as they provide new skills and perspectives. Team sports in particular can teach you so much about how to motivate others, work in a team and deal with conflicts.  

And finally, how have attitudes towards women in sport and in finance changed during your career?

The biggest issue for me is giving successful women the profile to act as role models. Germany’s national women’s football team is a great example. Despite consistently winning competitions, in comparison with the men’s football team, you do not see them as often on TV.

In the financial services industry including at BNY Mellon, I’ve seen more and more women take up senior leadership roles, which is incredibly pleasing to see. This must continue across the industry so that women are encouraged to strive for senior roles in financial services.