#50over50: Steffi Czerny
The Person(s) Behind Personality in my #50over50 list today is a curious person and loves to actively connect ideas, people and businesses, most importantly in the fields of media, internet, and arts. She loves to discuss; "the next big thing", "media in transition" and "diversity 2.0" are her favorite conversational topics. Meet Steffi Czerny!
As we wound up in the hills of the Bavarian countryside to get to Steffi’s home for a cozy drink, I was greeted with spectacular scenery and absolute biting cold only to be welcomed by a warm hug, loud laughter, warm tea, hot snacks and a thick sweater from her personal wardrobe. “You need this thick sweater in this weather and please don’t bother returning it to me. Keep it as my gift to you”. This statement just about summarized Steffi Czerny – An affectionate, giving, gregarious soul, also listed in the 25 most influential media personalities in Germany.
At a time when the word “Internet” was accompanied by faded jeans and t-shirt clad 20-something, mostly men; it was refreshing to meet a much more experienced, affectionate, larger than life personality of Steffi Czerny. Media companies were the last to embrace digital technology. Traditional media, especially print media, saw the Internet as a threat and tried to look the other way. In the US, the Editor and Publisher’s DataBook listed 126 fewer daily papers in 2014 than in 2004. While Europe supports its publishing industry more than the US, the general trend has been the same.
The companies who embraced digital and made forays into it earlier continue to thrive while many others faded away. The Hubert Burda Group is one of the most influential groups out of Germany. With over 600 media products and 12,000 employees, it operates in over 20 countries with a revenue close to € 3 Billion. If you read about them, you can see that their futuristic understanding of digital markets was instrumental in them keeping their edge. And Steffi continues to be a key player in creating a great ecosystem to gather cutting-edge tech thinkers in Germany.
And the way she got into that role is also very unusual. Per her own narrative, she was living in the hills with two dogs, three cats, and four children when she met Hubert Burda on a skiing trip in 1995. After a long conversation, Hubert asked her to lead their digital program and she thought he was crazy as she did not know the ABC of technology. In Germany, “nett” means happy and she thought that “Internet” meant internationally nice. Then she went to Silicon Valley, met many people, attended conferences, and taught herself about the world of technology. She understood that the relations and how people feel connecting to one another are more important than the mere brilliance of speakers.
She was instrumental in launching DLD (Digital Life Design) conference in 2005 and grew it to be one of the most influential gatherings of great minds in Germany. She also co-hosts DLDWomen with renowned German actress and wife of Hubert Burda, Maria Furtwaengler; DLD Tel Aviv with Yossi Vardi and hosts DLD dinners in Silicon Valley, Sao Paolo, New York, and other cities regularly.
Steffi understood that events have a great power to make unusual connections that give rise to innovative ideas. What makes her creation more than just any conference is three-fold and she is behind every detail to ensure its success.
First, DLD is a program co-chaired by two of the most influential people – Hubert Burda in Germany and Yossi Vardi who are the most influential tech investors from Israel. By including these personalities from the beginning. She ensured that the conference was beyond Germany and that they had one of the best tech brains, Yossi, helping them with every aspect of the tech landscape.
Secondly, she invites people from all over the world and ensures that they meet one another. I have been to her conference and she spends most of her time walking around people and ensuring that people with similar concerns. In a typical dinner event, she would be walking around the audience and asking each of them if they met the person they wanted to meet and then takes that person by the hand and walks them over to all those who matter to that person and introduces them. Thereafter, she leaves to take care of yet another person who needs to be connected. She ensures that there is great entertainment and that gatherings take place at the most unusual spots in Munich. She ensures that the speakers make it to a great book store or a restaurant or simply meet a fan-based on their specialty. She ensures that there is an egalitarianism of ideas so that the youngest entrepreneur can meet the most influential personality.
Finally, she ensures that the media company forms strategic relationships with other media companies and tech companies to further their journey. She has earned much goodwill as the great connector that everyone takes her calls and respects her ideas.
She makes the other person the most important person in her life and focuses on making them successful. She nurtures young talent and lets them lead.
When asked what advice you have for young European entrepreneurs starting out, her answer was: “If you are a very focused, young and gifted entrepreneur, you do not need my advice.”
While this story is about Steffi and her insatiable appetite for learning and connecting the world, the larger lesson is about Burda picking her to do the job. He did not look at her degrees or her experience. He asked her to take on this role because he found her to be “curious” and he could not have made a better choice.