As an international company, REWE Group also offers its employees the opportunity to work abroad. In this interview, five colleagues report on how they dared to make the switch.
From Belgium to Bulgaria: REWE Group is active in Germany and 20 other countries. Due to this internationality, REWE Group naturally offers its employees the opportunity to go abroad for their careers. In this interview, five "globetrotters" tell us why they dared to take this step and how REWE Group supported them in doing so.
"Courage to change"
has been sent to Slovakia as CEO of Billa. Prior to that, his career took him to Israel, China and Scandinavia.
Why did you decide to go abroad?
Arnd Riehl: An important basic requirement was my numerous positive experiences abroad. Even as an 18-year-old, I lived in Israel for six months as part of a sports and youth exchange program. This was followed by three exciting years in Shanghai, during which I managed the market entry of Metro Cash& I helped to build up Carry markets in China. I worked for a Scandinavian company for one and a half years, and before joining REWE Group, I was responsible for international purchasing in marketing for more than 25 countries.
When I was asked by the Management Board to accept the position in the management of Billa in Slovakia, I did not hesitate for long. I find it exciting to discover the world and not see myself and home as the center of attention. Another attraction is to better understand global connections and to get to know people from other cultures.
How did REWE Group support you?
Arnd Riehl: The support I received from REWE Group was absolutely exemplary. Both international HR colleagues and colleagues in Germany were always available for questions and comments. In this context, the very good quality expat policy of REWE Group, adapted to the individual personal framework conditions – in my case a "Home Leave Allowance", which enables me to commute home to my family at the weekends – should also be emphasized. Since a foreign assignment raises many tax issues, I also find the support of a professional accounting firm very helpful.
In this context, the qualitatively very good expat policy of REWE Group, adapted to the individual personal framework conditions, should also be emphasized.
As a commuter, how do you reconcile work and family life? Was there any support from REWE Group in this??
Arnd Riehl: Slovakia is perfect for commuting – thanks to the good flight connection via Vienna, it only takes me four hours to get from the office in Bratislava to my home. The basic prerequisite is that the partner fully supports and shares the decision – life circumstances usually change more for the part of the family that stays at home. When it comes to work-life balance, it is not so much the support of REWE Group that is decisive, but rather one’s own flexibility – coupled with the courage to change and the will to make a difference globally.
"You gain a lot"
is currently Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at PENNY Italy. His path led from 2004 from toom Baumarkt via REWE Vollsortiment to Italy.
Mr. Vogt, you worked for toom Baumarkt for more than eleven years, most recently as CFO. What has now brought you to PENNY Italy as CFO??
Wolfgang Vogt: I was told that I could go abroad in a top position for REWE Group. That is a compliment and at the same time an adventure for the head. The many good discussions we then had, and also the excellent preparation, including a "look&" Feel-Trip" were the right decision-making aids for me.
You moved together with your wife and daughter. How did they react to the idea of moving to Italy?
Wolfgang Vogt: Let’s put it this way, it was not immediately party atmosphere when I put the topic on the table in the middle of 2018. We had just bought a house, my daughter had started school. It wasn’t exactly the best time, but how often do you get the chance to have such an experience as a family?? That was the deciding factor for all of us together. I left for Italy in January 2019. My family joined me in the summer after my daughter finished the school year in Germany.
How about all three with the language?
Wolfgang Vogt: I’m certainly in the most comfortable situation, because I have to deal with Italian on a daily basis at work. And the meetings in Italian are already increasing day by day, only when it comes to complicated topics do we switch to English. For our daughter it was a bit more difficult at the beginning. She attends the German school in Milan, where the proportion of lessons in Italian is not yet so high. And my wife continues to work in her job, but now in Smart Working – that’s what we call the home office models here. There she has mainly German-speaking contacts.
What enriches your life here, what makes it exhausting?
Wolfgang Vogt: What’s really nice for us, of course, is the abundance of recreational opportunities. Milan is surrounded by lakes, mountains, great nature, charming cities and offers a lot of culture. But Milan is also a big city, and the region is very industrial. And as everywhere in such regions, traffic is, to put it kindly, a challenge. It takes me about an hour to drive the 20 kilometers from Milan to the PENNY headquarters in Cernusco. But Milan is a great city to live in and it was important to us that our daughter could walk to school as much as possible.
Moving to another country certainly means bureaucracy, forms, offices ..
Wolfang Vogt: … yes, sure, that’s part of it. Some things are complicated and take time. But we had great support. The support of REWE Group, and especially my local employees, who are very familiar with all these issues, have been super helpful to me.
You have now been in Italy for almost three years, and the REWE Group’s posting guidelines provide for a stay of three or five years ..
Wolfgang Vogt: It will be five years for us. I can only really recommend that to everyone. Because it takes time until you have really arrived, understand how everything works and can step on the gas yourself. That’s why I think that five years is the better option for you – and also for your employer.
Speaking of employers: Is an international assignment, i.e. a temporary change of country within the company, worthwhile from a professional point of view??
Wolfgang Vogt: In any case, you benefit enormously. Using my example: I know the company, have a network. But each unit has its peculiarities: New colleagues, new markets, country-specifics… It’s exciting how differently Germany and Italy tick, for example, even though both countries are Western European industrialized nations. Much of what I knew before was not transferable 1:1. So you learn a lot. And I think that these experiences that colleagues gain during a secondment are very important for an international company.
And I think these experiences that colleagues gain on secondment are very important for an international company.
To return to the beginning of our conversation: Is there or is there not, the right or wrong time for a secondment??
Wolfgang Vogt: No, right or wrong is not the issue here. Some times are more suitable, some less. But even a less suitable time can be the right one. Otherwise I wouldn’t be at PENNY Italy today. And it’s a valuable professional experience at any time.
Even with family?
Wolfgang Vogt: Yes, we are happy to have made this decision. Even though life is different here, of course. As a family it needs more personal commitment, more flexibility. For example, as working parents without a family "safety net". You gain a lot and of course you also give. But it is worth it.
"The next step in my career"
Worked as HR manager for PENNY Romania from 2012 to 2019. She moved to Vienna for the position of Head of Human Resources for Billa.
Why did you decide to move from Bucharest to Vienna in 2019?
Dana Popa: I wanted to take the next step in my career. In Bucharest, I worked as Head of HR for PENNY Romania. The offer to work as Head of HR for Billa CEE in Wiener Neudorf gave me the opportunity to go one step further. Now I am responsible for the HR strategy of four countries: Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Lithuania. Our work involves over 20.000 employees. I also lead a small team of five colleagues.
Your new position was not a temporary position, but a relocation, an international transfer. That means you had to quit your job in Romania. You have a husband and two daughters, how did they react when you first talked to them about your moving plans?
Dana Popa: The decision to move was not easy, but not particularly difficult either. My husband is self-employed and very flexible when it comes to his work location. My daughters were actually excited about the idea of moving to another country. However, there was a lot to organize in Bucharest beforehand. In addition, my older daughter was about to graduate from high school, so I initially moved to Vienna alone and commuted to Bucharest every two weeks. My family only joined me in my second year. In this respect, the decision itself was not difficult, but the first year was, due to the circumstances.
The decision to move was not easy, but it was not very difficult either.
How have you settled in Austria??
Dana Popa: As I just mentioned, it was not easy at the beginning. Moreover, I did not speak German. At work we are an international team. It’s not a problem there – but in everyday life it is sometimes, for example when a neighbor comes by and wants to chat a bit. Fortunately, Vienna is a multicultural city where many people speak English.
So the language was a challenge at first, but not a real problem. I also quickly started learning German and my teacher says I am making progress. We found a good school for our younger daughter, where she also learns German. My older daughter did not move with us because she is studying abroad. On top of that, Vienna is a beautiful city and the people – especially my colleagues – have welcomed me very well.
You were one of the first employees to transfer under the new REWE Group policy for international transfers. How did REWE Group support you and help you with bureaucracy and finding an apartment??
Dana Popa: I work in the Human Resources department. Therefore, to a certain extent, I was aware of the aspects of my change of location. The support I received in finding a place to live was particularly helpful. Also the help with administrative and tax issues was extremely useful.
"Glad to have the opportunity"
is a controller at PENNY International for the Czech Republic and Romania in Cologne. Previously she worked for Billa in Ukraine.
Why did you decide to go abroad?
Olha Myniu: When Billa Ukraine was sold, I had already worked there for several years. In Ukraine, you start studying at the age of 17. That is why I got a student job at Billa Ukraine early on and later a full-time job in Controlling. When Billa Ukraine was sold, I got the offer from PENNY International. I was glad to have the opportunity to continue working for REWE Group. The main reason is that I like the way REWE Group promotes its own employees. Now I’m a controller for Romania and the Czech Republic. This means that with my new job, I have switched sides and now look at the work process from a head office perspective. This definitely enriches my professional experience.
How did REWE Group support you?
Olha Myniu: REWE Group helps in many ways, from organizing and preparing interviews for the visa application to administrative matters with the city of Cologne. I was given an apartment to start with, so I could look for an apartment in peace and they helped me organize German lessons or check the lease before I signed it.
REWE Group helps in many ways, from organizing and preparing interviews for the visa application to administrative matters with the city of Cologne.
How have you settled in Cologne so far? Have you settled in your new environment?
Olha Myniu: The first months were a bit difficult because the borders were closed when I came here in May. This meant I could move here for work, but not fly home to visit family and friends. Yet Kiev is only a few hours away by plane. The good thing was that a colleague from Ukraine had also moved to Cologne. After a while, I settled in, met new people, went out more often and made friends. It’s great that so many people speak English here. In this respect, language is not a big problem, neither at work nor in everyday life.
What are her plans for the future? How long will you stay in Cologne?
Olha Myniu: It is difficult to predict. I have a contract for an unlimited period of time. And I like my job, I like Cologne. That’s why I would like to work here for a few years. Because I think the bottom line is that it has to be worth it to move to another country.
"Switched abroad overnight"
Was seconded from BIPA Croatia to BILLA CEE (Austria), where she now works in the Cash Management BILLA CEE / PENNY International department.
Why did you decide to go abroad?
Nikoleta Dragšic: When I was offered a parental leave replacement for a year at BILLA in Austria, I accepted in an ad hoc decision. I was previously identified as having all the skills needed to replace the colleague on short notice.
After having worked at REWE Group in Croatia for 12 years before, I was attracted to change the working environment and gain new experiences. I also liked the idea of working closely with colleagues with whom I had previously worked remotely for many years. Thanks to the great support of my family I felt ready for new challenges.
Having previously worked for REWE Group in Croatia for 12 years, I was attracted to change working environment and gain new experience.
How did REWE Group support you?
Nikoleta Dragšic: REWE Group quickly arranged for completed contract documents, a company car, flexible home office and office hours, and tax advisors from both countries. This made me feel really well taken care of and ready to move abroad virtually overnight.
Thanks to the great commitment of my colleagues, I was able to settle in very quickly at the Wiener Neudorf location. They supported me in finding a nice and affordable apartment close to the office and introduced me to all departments as well as to new colleagues and also to the superiors, which took place in person as often as possible due to the lockdown imposed at that time, but was partly only possible digitally.
As a commuter, how do you reconcile work and family life?? Was there any support from REWE Group in this regard??
Nikoleta Dragšic: At first it was difficult because it was strange for my children that I am not at home several days a week. Since they were very happy for me, they adapted very quickly and felt responsible to grow up a little faster than other children. The support of the family is the most important thing. My children’s grandmother is the main actress in this, as she has taken on many of the chores that go on at home.
Unfortunately, my younger child got very sick this summer, so we have quite a hard time ahead of us. However, we believe in a full recovery after a planned heart surgery. In these bad days REWE Group supported me very much and once again proved to be the company with the biggest heart. I was amazed at how they offered support without thinking twice about it. In my first year abroad, I managed to meet all expectations, so despite the current challenges in my private life, REWE Group would like me to continue working in Wiener Neudorf. I am very happy about that.