The working world of Dr. Alexandra Heislitz
Doing big things together
Dr. Alexandra Heislitz’s career may have been somewhat unusual, but it is also inspiring. As a woman gaining a doctorate in mechanical engineering, she was something of a rarity. But she successfully balanced her work with her family life as a mother of two children. In 2017, she found her way to Freudenberg. First she managed projects in the Freudenberg Technology Innovation Corporate Function. Today, as Head of Innovation Networks, she is responsible for developing agile working procedures for the company as well as creating and maintaining essential networks – both internally and externally.
Born in the Main-Taunus district (near Frankfurt) to a family of tradespeople, she always did her share of the work even as a child. After finishing school, Heislitz went to university – as the first of her family. She chose to study mechanical engineering at the Technical University of Darmstadt. “In school, I was fascinated by mathematics and physics, and I found them to be especially easy subjects. However, they were perhaps a bit too theoretical for me. So I decided on mechanical engineering since it involves real things that move,” explains Heislitz. She was one of 12 women in her study program among 400 men.
So I decided on mechanical engineering since it involves real things that move
Dr. Alexandra Heislitz
Accepting and mastering challenges
Upon completing her degree, she chose to gain a doctorate in lightweight engineering. The doctorate was associated with a full-time position at TU Darmstadt. At the same time, she decided to take the opportunity before entering the business world to start a family with two children. “This seems to be an unusual path since people often ask me how I managed it. I have a simple answer to that question: with the support of my family and friends. It’s my firm belief that we can achieve more together – whether in a family or a dedicated team. That’s how I finished my doctorate while I was heavily pregnant. We also moved into our house at the same time after thoroughly renovating it with the help of the family,” she recalls.
Before Heislitz joined Freudenberg, she worked at a large-scale automotive company. “My time there was very exciting, and I had the opportunity to learn the structures of a corporate group. However, I had the feeling that I couldn’t develop there the way I wanted to.” After some research, it was clear to Heislitz: “I wanted to work at Freudenberg. Right from the start, I identified strongly with the slogan ‘Innovating Together.’ I liked the idea of creating something together with a team. The fact that Freudenberg is a family-owned company was particularly important to me. It means that the Supervisory Board is personally committed to the company.”
Heislitz’s career at Freudenberg began as a project manager in methods development. She managed various projects from a range of Freudenberg Business Groups, investigating the cold temperature properties of elastomers and the wear and tear in gaskets, for instance. The objective of the projects was to learn how Freudenberg can design the products to work even better. “One of the test benches was a particularly exciting project. It required a lot of work, time, expertise and careful attention to set up the test and analyze the data. It helped that our team could work on site directly with the customer – an automotive supplier. This direct contact was a major advantage since we could analyze everything carefully on site. Plus, the work atmosphere was very open and constructive, even despite the pressure to succeed. This allowed us to build the test benches to a more exacting standard and to optimize the gaskets to resist wear.”
In search of new solutions
While Heislitz was busy successfully managing a variety of projects, the new Innovation Networks department was established in the Future Technologies area at Freudenberg Technology Innovation. This is the department she runs today. “I am very pleased and grateful that my manager Dr. Juliane Jungk always supported me and helped me grow – in keeping with ‘Innovating Together’.”
As Head of Innovation Networks, Heislitz now focuses on other topics. She is responsible for Freudenberg’s internal and external networks and also develops new working procedures in teams together with partners both inside and outside the company. “Our environment has become faster-paced. New product innovations and new business models materialize around us at a speed never seen before. This puts our existing business models at risk of disruption. But thanks to new and effective work procedures, diverse teams and strong partners at scientific institutions and in the start-up networks, we are in a position to respond.”
When Alexandra Heislitz is not working, she spends time with her family and on her hobbies, which are as varied and unusual as her career path: “I don’t have just one hobby, I’m interested in many things. I’ve always been open to new things, and this is definitely reflected in my leisure activities. In addition to water sports, I recently discovered virtual reality gaming and sports.”
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