Co-Founder and Principle of the school Wordculture.ch
PhD in Comparative Literature and Languages
Céline Chatti : Thank you Susanna for accepting this interview.
What is your current position ?
Susanna Mineve : I am the co-founder and Principle of this school, which I set up last year with two colleagues and friends that share my passion for languages. Our philosophy is to give everyone the opportunity to enjoy learning languages. Our strategy is to offer a tailored approach to teaching languages to small groups through the use of clearly defined teaching methods. Our ambition is to use clear and realistic objectives for effective learning. It takes 4 months to reach a level. Students must attend regularly and be keen to learn. Additionally, we try to make sure that our prices remain affordable in order to be accessible to as many people as possible. We also offer translation services.
CC : What do you like about your job ?
SM : I love contact with other people. I have students who have been with me for many years because they like learning with me. Even though my first love is teaching,
I also recognise that my role as a manager is equally as enriching, and I have gained experience in so many other areas, including analytical, strategic, inter-personal and managerial
skills. These are things I can also share with my students and colleagues. I also like the relationship I have with my team – we spend a lot of time together, and so it is important
that we feel ‘at home’ while in the workplace.
CC : What is the most challenging part ?
SM : I find management the most demanding part of my job, in the sense that it not only requires practical know-how but also social skills. I am faced with the challenge of having to be able to master the art of communication and feedback. I do everything I can to make sure I always listen to my team and maintain a mutually respectful relationship. However, at the same time there are situations in which I need to refocus and remember my expectations as a manager. It is not always easy to manage situations in which a person makes a mistake, and to say what you need to say without jeopardizing the relationship or making the person feel ill-at-ease.
CC : How do you do to handle those situations ?
SM : In the beginning, I did not feel I needed or wanted support with the management side of things, as for instance through coaching. But after experiencing some problems I came to realise that external coaching was an essential support mechanism, something which I now take advantage of. It has helped me to take a step back and gain a better understanding of myself and how I react to certain situations. It has also helped me understand others. This knowledge has improved my management skills and has had a direct impact on how the school has developed. However, there still remain many things for me to learn, and I am keen to develop myself further. By enhancing my own skills I can be a better manager, and this can only have a positive effect on my employees and their work, which in turn will benefit the students. Well-being in the workplace is vital for success.
CC : What does emotional intelligence mean to you ?
SM : For me, emotional intelligence is about managing my own emotions and those of other people. When I am experiencing a strong emotion, anger for example, I prefer to take myself away from the situation to let off steam. I may take a moment off for a walk or spend time with my husband – I try to put the problem to the side, until such a time that I have calmed down and the anger has subsided. I concentrate on positive things, those things which are going well. For example, I remind myself that here in Switzerland we are in a privileged position, since new entrepreneurs can receive a great amount of support to start a business, especially when compared to some other European countries. The more time passes, the more experienced and wiser I become.
CC : What are the key factors in ensuring success in terms of profit, while at the same time ensuring employees are fulfilled?
SM : I think it is important for employees to feel supported and for me to be available as much as possible and whenever they need it. Organizing social events is also a good way to improve inter-personal relationships by sharing positive moments; for example, by arranging team dinners or group training sessions. But above all, I try to involve them in the school's growth by supporting them in the development of new projects. Everyone has the opportunity to contribute and feel like it is as much their "school" as it is mine, and "to make their mark." For example, our teachers have the opportunity to get involved in marketing and social networking activities, as well as come up with new lesson concepts or organise events with students. Recently, one of them facilitated a "hiking trip" with a group, another set up a "wine tasting" event. If people are happy in what they do, they give the best of themselves – which in turn can only benefit their work and clients, in our case, our students.
CC : When you were young, how did you envisage success?
SM : To be completely honest, I can't say I was a particularly ambitious person or that I dreamed of having a high-profile job in a business. Initially, my idea was to work in a university in the research field. Over time, I realised that what I actually preferred doing was working directly with students. A little later on, while studying for my PhD, my ideas for personal fulfillment developed further. I wanted to create something for myself. In fact, I wanted to go right back to the beginning, to be independent. For me, this involves combining employee and human relations, both important factors in my life, while at the same time creating a business which corresponds with my overall vision.
CC : What is your personal goal ?
SM : I am very happy with how successful the launch of the school has been, and the journey it has taken us on in just one year. We are always fully booked, which suggests our approach has been the correct one and is responding to a demand. However, I do not take anything for granted. The challenge for me is to continue expanding the business while at the same time ensuring the quality of our service is maintained – this is what makes us unique. Enthusiasm is always present at the beginning of a project, but once the initial excitement has worn off, you are faced with reality and all the challenges it presents. It becomes all too easy to fall into a routine and become somewhat complacent. My role, therefore, is to remain vigilant, to maintain the growth of the business, to continue the development of our related activities (such as translation), and, most of all, to remain motivated and creative. I am also careful to ensure the business does not grow too fast and to ensure we do not lose the personal contact we have with our students – I do not want the school to become an institution. After all, it is our student-centred approach which has shaped our success.
CC : What is your challenge for the future ?
SM : My challenge is to simultaneously maintain focus on our strategic vision, to deal with the day-to-day management side of things, and to continue my role as a classroom teacher. I am wearing three different hats – a visionary hat, a managerial hat and an operational hat. It can be challenging to manage all three at the same time, but I feel I’m doing pretty well. In the beginning, my personal life was somewhat unstable, but over time I have succeeded in developing a better work-life balance, which is more sustainable in the long term. It certainly wouldn’t have been possible to continue with the 12-hour days. I am also lucky in that I have a supportive husband and some excellent colleagues.