From the Project to the Leadership Career Path

Source: pixabay.com, geralt

"Every challenge in due course," says Armin von Kalkstein. It’s good that he has the choice at Roche and can change career paths without any problems. Thus, you cannot get bored, even after 25 years with the company.


Armin von Kalkstein studied Chemical Technology at the Technical University in Dortmund and has been working at Roche since 1990, first in projects, now as the Head of the Construction and Building Technology Department in Mannheim.

Mr. von Kalkstein, why did you decide upon the project career path at the start of your career?

As a young engineer, I knew at any rate what I did not want – and that was to work as an expert, so the expert career path was not an option. A generalist, less detail-loving activity seemed much more attractive. Thus, a job announcement as a Project Management Assistant caught my attention.

How did it go on?

After about two and a half years, I took over the leadership for my first project, which was a project of about a 100-million euros: I implemented a new logistics center at the Mannheim site. After a stint in the area of project management consulting for R&D diagnostics projects, further engineering projects followed: At our site in Penzberg, I planned a new laboratory building, back in Mannheim I led, among other things, a new construction project for the "needle-free injection" project in Pharma Sterile Production. This NFI technology was unique and innovative. The parallel development of the products and the production machines, hence simultaneous engineering, was a challenge for everyone involved. In addition, I had the overall project management for a Diabetes Care project. The speed of implementation as well as the high proportion of further development of the product made it altogether one of my most fascinating projects next to the NFI project. Then the point was reached when the projects could not get any higher or bigger at the project level. So I wanted to take the next step…

… and then you changed to a leadership position?

Yes. Although I had already led teams functionally as a project leader, I was not responsible for hiring and employee development. A disciplinary leadership role was the next logical step. So I changed to the position of Head of the Construction and Building Technology Department, which I hold today.

Which tasks does your department have?

We are responsible for the planning and realization of new buildings and conversions at the Mannheim site. My employees are out of various engineering disciplines, for example architecture, technical building services, electrical engineering and building automation. However, we sometimes also work together with external planning offices. One of my tasks is to develop and encourage employees who work on the individual projects.

Have you never considered changing companies?

That was never necessary. In the 15 years, during which I implemented projects, I always had changing challenges and was working with new, interesting people. Even if I had to build the same building again today, it would have been a completely different project because of the different composition of the team. And now in my leadership position, I greatly appreciate having every opportunity to develop my employees: at the site, I can take advantage of an enormous number of training opportunities or arrange to deploy the employees to another site – even internationally – if they so desire. If an employee tells me he would like to work in China, then I will call one of my colleagues there and try to find a solution. So far, I have always been able to implement the requests of my employees. These opportunities are of course also available for me, if my work as the Head of the Construction and Building Technology Department, contrary to my expectations, ever becomes boring.

In what way did you have to readjust yourself during your change to the leadership career path?

The biggest difference is that a project is unique and has a beginning and an end. My current leadership role is meant to be more long-dated: I set myself strategic goals and further develop the organization long-dated. Both is very interesting, but, as I mentioned, each in due course. If you´re doing one thing for too long, you´re treading water.

What do you advise young engineers who are not sure which of the career paths they want to take?

It is important getting insights already during your studies. Serve internships and ensure that you get to know many different departments during these internships. If you are still not sure, the process of elimination is often helpful: Ask yourself what you do not want to do under any circumstances. If you are open for everything or still indecisive, I recommend, first entering an expert career path and then adding project work bit for bit to get a feeling for what you enjoy the most. Then you can – at least at Roche – still change career paths. You can also decide right from the beginning to join a trainee program, during which you will anyway pass through many different departments.

© Roche with e-fellows.net, December 2015

Tags: Career Blog, Germany