Read their story
P The fact that we managed to get the two of you together for an interview is quite an achievement in itself. You live on opposite sides of the globe, don’t you?
Christian: “That’s right (laughs). In January 2005, after talking it over with my wife and daughter, who was 7 at the time and couldn’t speak a word of English, we took the drastic step of moving us all to Australia. It was a big decision and we needed to think it through carefully, but we’ve never regretted it for a moment. As a project manager at GEA, I already had a few years’ experience travelling around the world starting up or supervising projects. I wanted to travel less and spend more time with my family, but at the same time continue to enjoy the safe haven of a company where I felt comfortable. So that’s why I accepted GEA’s offer to go and work in Australia.”
Sebastian: “I fully understand my brother’s decision. I feel the same urge to spread my wings. It may have something to do with the fact that our parents are so home-loving: they've lived in the same house in a small village in Germany since 1976. When I was a student I spent seven months in Canada and I’ve also travelled the world with my wife. We spent our honeymoon in Australia and visited Christian and his family. But right now our third child has just been born, so it’s convenient to be at home (laughs).”
P There’s 13 years between the two of you. Are you conscious of that difference?
Sebastian: “To some extent, yes. I grew up in a different world from my brother, one in which digital is an important part of everyday life. That prompted me to do a Master’s degree in Marketing and Communication, with a strong focus on online activities. I’ve always been fascinated by the power of online media.”
Christian: “Yes, that’s a huge point of difference between us. Sebastian is really in his element when it comes to digital, but it requires a bit more effort for me (laughs). I have a completely different background, as an engineer. But another thing is that our family has always been in the food business. One of our uncles is a butcher, another is a baker and our dad was a chef and a butcher. When I was young, and Sebastian hadn’t put in an appearance yet, my parents had a food truck and we used to take it from one organized event to the next. So I was brought up with that love of food and an interest in food processing, maybe more so than my younger brother. After high school I did an apprenticeship in our local dairy factory. After that I did my civilian service in a village where disabled adults lived in family-like set-ups. I worked in the local cheese plant there. That was what inspired me to go on to study engineering, specializing in dairy.”
Sebastian: “I understand the point you’re making, Christian, but I’m a butcher’s son too, you know! You only have to think of the numerous barbecue photos we exchange between Australia and Germany (laughs).
P The fact that you’re work colleagues as well as brothers is quite special. What has your experience been?
Christian: “I think it’s funny, because it wasn’t something I ever expected. Sebastian didn’t really work in food at first, but when we went to the Anuga Food Tec Exhibition in Cologne together in 2012, he jokingly asked whether GEA happened to be looking for a good Online Manager. I didn’t want to push it, but I gave him a few tips and look what happened: we’ve been colleagues for the past five years now.”
Sebastian: “That’s right. At the fair, I asked my brother what it was like working for GEA and he said he was really happy there. I was keen to work for a company with a global mindset and an interesting mission – and engineering for a better world is just that. A short while later, four weeks after the birth of our first son, I started at GEA. Initially, I was part of the Online Team for Dairy Farming, but then I joined the External Digital Communication Team. And even though our jobs are actually a world apart and we physically live in different parts of the globe, GEA is usually the main topic of conversation (laughs). These days, we chat much more than we used to, at least once a week.”
Christian: “Düsseldorf is a long way from Australia, but Sebastian keeps me posted on what’s going on at the GEA head office. He’s also taught me a lot about digital projects.”
Sebastian: “And I’ve learned a lot from Christian about products and processes, but it’s also easy for me to find out from him exactly how he’s getting on with the digital tools that we develop within the Online Team. And very occasionally we even get the chance to work together: for instance, Christian is a key user for the new CRM package for sales, and I’m a key user for marketing, so that makes for some interesting conversations (laughs).”
P Both of you are actually a bit of an outsider on your team, aren’t you?
Sebastian: “That’s one way of looking at it. Some of my friends think it’s pretty weird that most of my team, the Global GEA Online Team, are based in Copenhagen while I work out of Düsseldorf. But actually, I think it’s great that I’m free to play a unique role in my particular field and that people trust me to get on with it. Look, I try to learn as much as possible from colleagues who are working on other things. I love the fact that my manager in Copenhagen trusts me to do my job as well as possible and gives me the support and flexibility I need to do just that. Every day is different: one day we might be experimenting with Artificial Intelligence and chatbots, the next we’re reporting on annual meetings, developing digital asset management systems or participating in trade fairs. I never get bored and perform best if people trust me to get the most out of something.”
Christian: “Yes, like Sebastian I’m the only German on my team. And of course, as a German in Australia, I’ve always been a bit of an outsider (laughs), but I’ve now come to terms with it. The laid-back culture here is very different from the German mentality, but it suits me just fine. I also love the positive mindset: Australia is a relatively young country and people here are humble. Everyone is actually an immigrant and we all want to work together to build this country. I also agree with what Sebastian says: Australia is pretty far from Germany – there’s a 10-hour time difference – so management needs to have trust. But if you do your best at GEA and want to keep on learning and progressing, you get that trust automatically.”
P One final question: are you both happy?
Christian: “I love Australia, I love my job and the people I work with. And I love the fact that at GEA I can keep on developing my skills and people appreciate what I do. Now that my daughter has left home – she’s 22 and has moved to Melbourne – I’ve taken on a new challenge as Area Sales Manager for Asia Pacific. It means more travelling again and it also gives me a chance to share my knowledge and experience with more people within a vast area. I’d also like to take a moment to mention someone who was an enormous source of inspiration for me: Michael Dukatz was a colleague who took good care of me at GEA right from day one. He was a mentor to me and I was deeply saddened when he passed away just after I moved to Australia. But he taught me how to get the best out of people and help them grow. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do now. So, yes, I’m glad to say that I’m wholeheartedly happy… and of course I’m quite proud of my ‘little brother’ (laughs).”
Sebastian: “Thank you, Christian. I’m really happy too. I feel that I can really help people and that what I do is not only fun, but also very meaningful for many, many people all over the world. And having a big brother in Australia is way cool (laughs)!”