Basel duo in the running for top businesswoman title

Catharina Maulbecker (left) and Barbara Staehelin (right) co- founders of Basel based internet business GetWellness. GetWellness

The bi-annual Swiss Business Woman award is fast approaching. In the second part of a series on the nominees, swissinfo profiles GetWellness co-founder, Barbara Staehelin, who has been nominated along with her business partner, Catharina Maulbecke.

This content was published on June 12, 2001 minutes

Founded in 1997, GetWellness is a medical consultancy firm, which offers specialist advice to companies and healthcare professionals, and provides a 24-hour service via the Internet for executives who need medical advice or treatment when travelling abroad.

The two, who both studied biochemistry, and worked for the United States consultancy firm, McKinsey, identified a niche market in providing advice about healthcare in an increasingly globalised economy.

"We realised how frustrated one get if you're torn between different systems," Staehelin told swissinfo. "Everyone is organised differently, and we saw there was a need to organise this because the economy is globalised but medicine is not."

Before joining McKinsey, Maulbecke, 40, worked until 1992 at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, while Staehelin, 38, completed her studies at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology in 1989.

By 1997, they had both decided it was time for a change. "It was the sheer excitement of trying something that hadn't existed before that motivated us to open GetWellness ," says Staehelin.

In the four years since GetWellness was started, it now has an annual turnover of SFr3 million ($1.67 million), and employs more than 50 people. Staehelin says much of that success can be attributed to the working relationship she has with Maulbecke.

"We think along the same lines, but we can also be each other's harshest critics. We are also very supportive of each other - when one of us has a bad day, the other picks up the slack and that helps us deal with the pressures of starting up a business."

As the company has expanded, the roles of its two bosses have become more defined. "When you're a small company and you're calling to each other across the room you can change responsibilities on the hop," says Staehelin.

"But now we employ 55 people and it's not fair to give mixed signals - so at the beginning of the year we decided to divide up the responsibilities."

Staehelin now deals mostly with external relations while Maulbecke takes care of the internal management of the company.

As women, they say they are generally treated as equals by their male counterparts, but that was not always the case.

"When we first got started people presumed we were working from home - the natural assumption being that a woman would not run a business from an office," explains Staehelin. "When we hear that now, we just say that we had to move to an office because our 55 employees wouldn't fit in our living room any more."

Maulbecke and Staehelin each have two children, and their success is proof of their ability to manage both areas of their lives. "I couldn't imagine not having the family and I also couldn't imagine not having the professional exposure," says Staehelin.

Staehelin believes that getting ahead as a woman in business in Switzerland is no more difficult than any other industrialised country. But she says more could be done to support working mothers.

"For the kind of work we're doing, we have to rely entirely on our own private initiative. If there was a more supportive environment, women who have the impulse to start up in business but not the means to afford extensive childcare would find it easier to get started."

The Swiss Business Woman award will be announced on June 12 at a gala dinner in Zurich. The award, run by champagne makers, Veuve Clicquot, has been going since 1972 and is held in some 20 countries.

The other finalists on the Swiss shortlist are Irène Hiltbrunner, founder of Dynamic Business Services in Biel, who swissinfo will profile next weekend, and Ricarda Berg, managing director of M+W Zander in Zurich.

by Tom O'Brien

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