Black History Month 2023: Making Diversity The Norm – Rimm Elfu
- Name: Rimm Elfu
- Programme: Mannheim Executive MBA (Class of 2019), Mannheim Business School
- Country of Origin: Eritrea
- Current Job role: Managing Director at Intersurgical Beatmungsprodukte GmbH
Please could you give us a brief overview of your background and career so far, and what your role is now?
After graduating from Goethe University in Frankfurt in 2010, I first worked for many years in international sales roles, rising to the position of Global Sales Director. At my previous employer, a German family-owned company, I was appointed Managing Director and remained in this position until the company was sold. Since this year, I am now Managing Director of the German entity of a British company. I have spent my entire career in the MedTech sector.
How did you experience at business school help you with the next stages of your career?
I was particularly impressed by learning about communication and leadership in my Executive MBA program at Mannheim Business School. In this area, we had remarkably good workshops and lecturers. I also appreciated the different and honest feedback I received during the program. I learned a lot about myself, my strengths and weaknesses, and how others perceive me.
Can you tell us about your experience as a Black student at business school and subsequent career. What are the challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
Personally, I find it difficult to talk about “challenges” in general. You always have to put things in the right context. My parents undoubtedly had real challenges when they came to Germany with me (then three years old) as refugees and really had to struggle. They had to deal with very open racism and even hatred. As a child and teenager, it wasn’t always easy for me either, especially since I grew up in a very rural environment.
“I think we need to get to the point where it’s not a big deal if a black person is in a leadership role or running their own successful business.”Rimm Elfu
In terms of a negative experience in a professional context, for example, I have a strong memory of a situation at the beginning of my professional career. This involved a role as a sales representative who was supposed to look after the southwest of Germany. I didn’t get the job because – as I learned after the fact – they couldn’t imagine a person of colour driving through this very rural part of Germany supporting or acquiring customers.
But in fact, I have to say that in the meantime, with a good education, with a certain “successful” career and as someone who grew up in this country, was socialized and sees himself as German, I perceive fewer hurdles. Nevertheless, the challenges have not completely disappeared and are now sometimes more subtle, for example in the form of comments, looks, or assumptions. Most of the time they are very inconspicuous or even incidental and therefore sometimes they only have an effect in retrospect.
Here it is important to be able to differentiate. Was what I just experienced really a form of racism or a neutral decision/a normal conflict or similar? If you have the impression that it was racism, then you have to address it. I think the business world is becoming more and more sensitive (at least outwardly) to diversity and inclusion. That’s a positive development. Personally, I actually can’t speak of many negative experiences in the professional environment either.
What do you think needs to be done to create a more inclusive environment for Black people in business and management education?
I did not have a black professor or lecturer during my studies at Goethe University or during my EMBA program at Mannheim Business School. I hope that my children will have other experiences in this regard, as I believe this is an important experience that can lead to a more inclusive environment.
What will be an indicator that we are achieving racial equality in business?
I think we need to get to the point where it’s not a big deal if a black person is in a leadership role or running their own successful business. It would be ideal if we simply didn’t have to talk about the subject in principle anymore. For example, it has always been important to me that in press articles about me or my work/role, my skin colour is not made an issue. I have read, for example, that Janina Kugel (former board member of Siemens) does not want to talk about her origin in any interview or make this an issue. I can understand this very well. Each person should make their own decision here based on their own experiences.
Can you name an initiative or an individual who is helping to create a more inclusive environment for black business people?
Black Professionals Europe. I noticed it positively on social media, and students and alumni of Mannheim Business School are also active there.
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