Caterina Berbenni-Rehm’s journey as a business leader was like a walk in the mountains. She was the CEO of FUTUREtec for 14 years, leading an interdisciplinary team of experts in the fields of ICTs, knowledge transfer from research to industry, managing projects up to rollout of the most innovative results.
Caterina Berbenni-Rehm is the founder and CEO of PROMIS@Service. Before starting the PROMIS® journey, she completed a degree in business administration and a Ph.D. in modern philology. She began her marketing career with Ferrero Germany and then directed a cultural exchange organisation with responsibility for 153 people. After that, she was the CEO of FUTUREtec for 14 years, leading an interdisciplinary team of experts in the fields of ICTs, knowledge transfer from research to industry, managing projects up to rollout of the most innovative results.
Today, she is considered a strategic innovator and practice-oriented entrepreneur, with extensive economic, social, scientific, and business management experience at an international level.
Below are the highlights of the interview conducted between World’s Leaders and Caterina Berbenni-Rehm:
Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader?
My journey as business leader was like a walk in the mountains. We started with enthusiasm and the aim to achieve the peak; very well organised and prepared. The big storm caused by the financial crash in 2008, hit us too. We faced fog, sun, rain, snow, icy wind. We found ourselves on the edge of a chasm, which we managed to cross with trust, will and discipline, without losing our goal.
What was the idea behind starting PROMIS@Service?
In 2000, we had a vision nobody believed could become reality: to develop a portal, allowing European SMEs access to information essential for them to comply with customer requirements in the international market regarding environmental protection, health and safety, and quality. The formalised integration of those three thematic sectors (which at that time refused even to talk to each other), was inconceivable!
But we submitted this visionary proposal to the European Commission, and they co-funded our innovation, trusting in the socio-economic value it offered to 23 million SMEs in Europe. This is where our biggest challenge begins.
Soon after we began the project, three presidents of a large German consulting firm bet a crate of champagne that our company would fail in two years; nine years later, they admitted they were wrong!
In 2008, the results of our labours led to the establishment of PROMIS@Service, as a spin-off from the results of the European Commission’s, co-funded research, development, and innovation initiative. In addition to technology, we focused on the “soft” intangible aspects, e.g. human-machine interaction, cognitive science, psychology, cross-cultural aspects, multilingual communication, rules, and ethics in science and at work. It was the starting point of what we have since defined as the “Circular Economy of Multilingual Knowledge” and a very important framework for pre-structured, multilingual Big Data and for the evidence-based use of Artificial Intelligence.
During my professional journey, and as a member of the EU Commission’s Ethical Review, I learnt that, in all fields of science and innovation, ethical aspects and rules are key influencers in our daily work, one way or another.
“The Circular Economy of Knowledge means how to structure, protect, manage, communicate, share, re-purpose, and capitalize on multilingual Knowledge in an integrated way © 2016 CaBeRe.”
How do you diversify your company’s cutting-edge services/solutions for people, entrepreneurs, and business leaders?
In an increasingly connected world, everything we do now centres on the question of how to make knowledge a tangible asset, because knowledge is the most valuable individual and human capital.
I do believe that the respect and valorisation of individual knowledge, which is one of our business models, also creates a kind of ‘natural selection’ regarding the quality (or irrelevance) of data and information provided. Within a generic framework that supports people’s effectiveness across multiple languages and offers different layers of structure and filtering, the diversification of services and solutions is generated by the people, entrepreneurs, and business leaders themselves, in sectorial, as well as ready-to-use turnkey solutions (Communities of Knowledge).
As the CEO of PROMIS@Service, what are your major roles and responsibilities?
As CEO of a small, innovative and dynamic company, I am involved as soon as I get into the office, in all of the company’s processes and activities, from strategic decisions to the simplest daily tasks, like preparing coffee for the team.
As a woman and a manager, I see three levels of direct and indirect responsibilities.
Short-term: responsibility towards employees, clients, and partners.
Mid-term: responsibility towards shareholders and the friends who have believed in our vision and supported us through difficult times, and who deserve a return on their investment.
Long-term: responsibility to future generations and to society at large for the consequences of our actions.
In our company, I am primus inter pares, in particular because we are a team where young and seasoned employees work side by side, learning from each other every day. This is what helps build trust and confidence in an innovative and resilient team.
I say “trust” because nowadays, nothing in innovation is more valuable than trust.
I say “resilient”, because when it comes to disruptive innovation, nothing is easy. In our case, envy and greediness are our worst enemies.
Have you been exposed to competition in the industry? If yes, tell us what makes the company different from its competitors?
With PROMIS®, our company provides a cutting-edge platform (83 modules) in the domain of integrated compliance, risk, and governance with a comprehensive ‘all-in-one’ approach in 9 languages (content included) and integrated human- and machine translation technologies that, to the best of our knowledge, are currently second to none. There are competitors for single modules, but none for the platform as a whole.
Competition is a good parameter for measuring the existence of market potential for innovative products and/or services. The bigger the market potential, the more it attracts industrial competitors; but where money can be made, certain business ‘sharks’ are sure to gather, even at an institutional level.
What are the three things you would like to improve in the organization?
- International collaboration at an interdisciplinary level.
- Multi-cultural and cross-cultural shared understanding.
- Ethics by design”: ethical behaviour in science, at work and in development of methodologies and tools.
I sincerely believe that these points are the foundation of sustainable, disruptive innovations.
Tell us about your vision for the company. How do you ensure a culture of integrity and innovation in the company?
Vision and innovation: As owners of an already mature ecosystem platform for the management and deployment of multilingual pre-structured big data, we see the logical future of our company in research and development in the related fields of Artificial Intelligence and Ethics-by-Design. In this way, we aim to remain ahead of the competition, offering trusted multilingual services for governance, risk, compliance, and the circular economy of knowledge on a global scale.
Every organisation has its own unique integrity culture. Personally, I believe integrity is a mindset that is ideally transmitted by example. Integrity gives me freedom and peace of mind. It allows me to look in the mirror and like what I see, (though I may notice a few more wrinkles!).
Integrity is also what has allowed our small company to overcome illegal attempts to block our disruptive innovation and survive.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken as a professional?
Without any doubt, it was in 2008 when I accepted the role of CEO of PROMIS@Service, a new company with a disruptive innovation. It was bringing to the market an eco-systemic platform of interactive multilingual services and paradigmatic changes both in the delivery mechanisms of content and services and in what were, at that time, its novel business models.
We faced two big problems: (i) the financial crash, which left someone who had committed to investing in PROMIS® unable to do so; and (ii) the market was by no means ready for the innovation we were offering.
The support of shareholders, family, and friends helped us not only to survive, but allowed us to come out much stronger and more resilient to other possible challenges.
What advice would you give to emerging entrepreneurs and enthusiasts considering a career in an industry?
Here some of the advice and mantras that lead my professional journey:
- If people say your idea is crazy and not achievable, it may mean it’s the next disruptive innovation.
- Money is not an end, only a means to an end; therefore, always be a master and never a slave to money.
- Trust is not for sale !
- Fortiter in re, suaviter in modo’, i.e., strong in aim, kind in manner.
- ’Don’t bite off more than you can chew’. Follow your instinct with enthusiasm, but always with prudence.