CEO of Bosch Advanced Ceramics

Sophie Berninger

Sophie Berninger

Alumna since 2017

Embracing challenges everywhere she goes

During a recent conversation, Sophie shared her thoughts on her journey from China to Germany, what stands out from her time at Strategy&, how she’s approaching the future, and what makes her proudest at this point in her career.

Tell us about your early years.
I grew up in China, but it was always my wish to go abroad. So, starting at 17, throughout my university studies in Beijing, I worked a lot—typically more than 12 hours a day—saving money to finance my studies abroad. Then, at 20, my dream came true: I moved to Germany to study at the University of Tübingen. It was a life-changing decision.

What was moving to Europe like for you at first?
I experienced my first taste of real freedom, and I enjoyed the incredible possibilities of life in Germany, which I still appreciate today. I applied for a full-time position with Bosch, and I ended up working there for about 11 years, most of that time in Germany but also one year in Mexico and three years in Shanghai. I learned so much in that time, changing functions almost every two years, from financial controlling to logistics to purchasing to strategy.

What drew you to Strategy&?
After being in industry for more than a decade, I wanted to explore other companies and the broad business topics—strategy, organization, optimization, restructuring and transformation, and so on. Being a consultant gave me the opportunity to do that.

Any lasting lessons from that time?
The biggest learning for me was how to solve complex problems, think critically, and see the big picture. It was hard at times, and we definitely worked long hours, but it was all such a valuable experience for me and I’m really thankful for that time. I still use so much of what I learned as a consultant now.

Congratulations on your relatively new role as CEO. How’s it going?
It’s very exciting, and also challenging, of course! I’m relatively new to my role, but Bosch Advanced Ceramics has been working on possibilities related to technical ceramics for a long time—ever since its first related patent in 1939. I have quite a broad role. I’m overseeing not only strategy but also execution. Across functions, including sales and marketing and operations, I have a global team located across Germany, the United States, and China.

What are some of the potential applications for what you’re developing?
Because of the hardness and wear of ceramics, we’re exploring many potential applications, with many implications for the industrial and automotive engineering industry, as well as medical technology, where biocompatibility is a real advantage.

Reflecting on your very successful career at this point, what makes you proudest?
Reconciling career and family has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced. So, honestly, what makes me most proud right now is my family. I’m proud that I have a supportive husband, and that we have a lovely 3-year-old daughter. I’m also proud of my openness to adapt to a new culture, and I feel like Germany has really become my second home. In general, I’m just happy about the decisions I made in my early professional years, which set me up broadly to continue learning. I soak it all up like a sponge, and this helps me today to master broad tasks.

What is something about you that might surprise people?
I’m doing a yoga teacher training now, so I’ll graduate in April 2023 as a qualified and certified yoga teacher.

What’s the best leadership advice you can offer?
Clearly communicate your vision and strategy to others. And always remember that everyone is different, so a good leader has to be empathic. It’s important to adjust your approach to a specific person and give them feedback that will motivate them. I also think it’s important to enable psychological safety so that everybody is willing to try new things, even if they might fail, and say what they’re thinking, openly, in the team.

Did anything change for you because of the pandemic?
During the strict quarantine period, I was reminded of how important it is for us to be able to see our good friends—and ever since, I’ve really tried to focus on the most important things in life.

Looking ahead, what’s your vision for the future?
Professionally, I hope to lead Bosch Advanced Ceramics toward success and growth; privately, I hope to keep my work–life balance.

As part of a series of interviews with alumni, this one was conducted and edited by Ina Fischer, Strategy& and Jen Swetzoff, founder of CLOSEUP, a creative studio in Brooklyn, New York. Jen was formerly the deputy managing editor at strategy+business magazine.

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