Articles & Insights

Meet Anna-Karin Birrell

Meet Anna-Karin Birrell, C.O.I. Executive Search Business Partner based out of our Zurich office. Anna-Karin has an International MBA and commenced her career in executive search before joining large global manufacturing companies where she grew to lead recruitment and talent development on a global scale. Anna-Karin joined C.O.I. after working alongside us as a client-partner and we could not be more delighted to have her on board!

Q: What skills did you develop during your early years in sales management that helped you build a successful career in global talent development?

A: Having developed sales and negotiation skills early in my career was of course extremely helpful in many professional situations later. Having myself worked in Marketing and Key Account roles not only gave me the deep understanding of those roles and functions, but my biggest take away was the appreciation and understanding of the business side. To have really worked there myself, has helped me to quickly grasp the business challenges, the financial aspects and the perspective of the management. It also gives credibility and the ability to discuss in great depth, to really recognize talent when you see it, and what may be needed to develop a professional further in their career.

Q: Was the decision to move countries difficult and how did you approach settling into a new culture, at both the country and corporate levels?

A: No, it was an easy choice. I love it, it was always something that excited me! I have always been interested in other cultures and to work internationally. I had already lived in different countries during my studies and whenever I had the opportunity, I jumped at it. It has also taught me to listen more than talk, and try to understand other perspectives and to really hear what is being said even if it is not being communicated directly. I also love travelling and exploring new things, it gives me new energy. In many international companies you have a global culture as many are focusing on diversity, so I think we need to hone in on what culture and environment in which we can flourish and excel – then success follows naturally. Of course, it can be tough sometimes, especially being far from family and friends. But the worst that can happen is often not as bad as you fear – I am more curious than scared and that has been very rewarding. You need to know yourself and know what brings out the best in yourself. I feel very lucky to have received all these opportunities.

The approach has been to be very open, listen a lot, show respect and find the best way and opportunities to go forward. If you can’t do it the way you do at home, then find another way.

Q: How has working in manufacturing environments shaped your career, what did it teach you? How did it help you?

A: I have always been attracted to the industrial sector, and it’s just very simple – you make something that you can touch… it’s often an entire journey from start to finish in the lifecycle of a product and it’s often tangible – I don’t mean it’s easy or simple but I have a logical mind and I can understand the concepts.  And over time I developed a thorough knowledge and can relate to that point of reference and use that to assess and identify potential talent.

Q: What advice would you give your 21-year-old self? What did you wish you knew at that age that could have helped guide you in your professional career?

A: I think it is tougher today and that many require top grades from top universities and that they make their choices by thinking “smart”. I would recommend to really follow your heart and make informed choices around that. I think we are more successful when both our hearts and minds are aligned. Furthermore, you really need to be able to show that you walk the talk, example – if you want an international career, show that you have studied abroad, travelled a lot etc. If you say you like challenges, can you show that you have put yourself in challenging situations? Show that your passions and strengths are real. Dare to be different. The opportunities that I choose with my heart and mind have always been more successful than those I chose only with my mind (so using only logic). I also wish I got the advice earlier to have the confidence to trust my instincts and to turn down something that did not feel right and not feel compelled to always say ‘yes’.   When I learned to say no to what looked like great opportunities that did not feel 100% right, I have been much more successful and happier.

Q: What does it feel like to be working on the other side of the desk again in executive search, with C.O.I, after having been a client?

A: Great! We have known one another for 5-6 years so I knew I would really work well with the team and I knew the professionalism so I feel very comfortable in talking to clients about what we can deliver and our approach. I feel even more a member of the team now and enjoy that we really collaborate closely to make a success of everything we do.  

Q: In your view, what’s the best way to bond with a team?

A: The best bonding experiences have been when a team came together and would spend some days together. This time spent focusing on a problem, task or project to really get to know each other, to identify one another’s strengths and how we could complement each other has always been beneficial. I think it helps to get to know each other on a personal as well as professional level in meetings and to laugh together. Take the time to really get to know each other and enjoy one another’s sense of humor – that makes everything easier and it’s more fun!

Anna-Karin was speaking with Rowena McAllister