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Nicola Breyer

Nicola Breyer

Nicola Breyer is the CEO of Qwist GmbH

  • Location: Berlin, Germany 

  • Title: CEO and Managing Director 

  • Company: Qwist GmbH 

  • Sector: FinTech 

  • Degree: MA International Management at ESCP Europe

How does your usual day look like?

I get up at 4am every day to work out, do mindfulness work, and read a valuable non-fiction book.

NO! ;-)

I get up around 6am most days, and ensure nothing has come up overnight at work that requires immediate attention. I read key industry news and try and do a couple of things at home (empty the dishwasher, hang up laundry) before usually being at my desk around 8am. If I am not travelling, I usually spend Tues-Thurs at the office and work from home on Mondays and Fridays.

Mondays are full of Zoom calls with people spread across geographies and locations, and I keep my Fridays free from any regular meetings, so that I have some time to speak with people on urgent matters or get some work out of the way before I head into the weekend.

Being asked to comment on my go-to-outfit. If I can and I have no formal commitments, then I am seen preferably in jeans and a hoodie with one of my 14 pairs of converse, or flip flops in the summer. I can dress up if I need to, though… But the Berlin tech scene is very casual.

On Mondays, I take tennis lessons at lunch time, and I regularly have to tell myself not to feel guilty for taking that break, but it is the only thing I do for myself during the week, and it really helps to destress when hitting these balls ;-)

As we have been transforming our company, refocussed our product offering and raised additional funding, I have had to have a lot of ad hoc meetings and parallel conversations via slack and email, so my calendar ends up being very full of a variety of topics, but I am lacking thinking and productive time during the week. With this now being completed, I look forward to a 2024 where things should be a bit more plannable, fingers crossed.

My role as CEO of a tech company is to ensure we allocate our scare people and financial resources to maximise returns. In the end, I need to know most of what happens in the company, and since we are a company regulated by the financial authority in Germany (BaFin), we are very strict on compliance and legal topics and BaFin is a key stakeholder other businesses may not have, in addition to our customers (Banks, retailers, payment providers, etc.), employees and investors. I also need to be active in helping to shape new standards and the implementation of regulation in our industry, and our marketing team gets me to speak at conferences, podcasts etc. – in the end, however, I do what’s needed, whatever it is, and if you are turning around a business, you roll up your sleeves and get things done, independent of what it is.

I usually try to not work beyond 7pm as a rule, I sometimes attend industry events in the evening; I speak with founders where I sit on the board; or I simply enjoy a meal with my husband or, not often enough, a close friend.

I usually check in with Slack and email again around 10pm before heading off to bed, where I read a bit or – guilty pleasure – scroll through social media/LinkedIn. That rhythm goes out of the window completely when in a fundraising round or if there is a key customer issue.

What are the things you like the most about your job?

The variety of topics I get to deal with

The fact that I can shape a company, its culture and

That I get to work with very smart, and nice people every day, with all that’s going on, we still laugh a lot (and we have 2 office dogs)

What are some of the skills you utilise the most in your day-to-day at work?

  • Listening

  • Decision-making

  • Prioritisation

  • Mediation

  • Calendar Tetris

What was one of your happiest days in your career and why?

When we received approval from the regulator to close our latest fundraising round. With this completed, I knew all the hard work of 18 months was paying off, the company would survive and thrive, and I could keep my promises to our team and customers.

What was the toughest career decision you ever made?

Letting people go for a business to survive.

What is something you had to learn to become better at your work?

Listening, really listening – and reflecting before taking action. Oh, and that more work is not necessarily good work. Sometimes you need to pause and elevate to excel.

How did you get to become a CEO?

I wish someone could tell me!

I guess through always being an agent for growth, change and innovation, by discovering my love for the FinTech world, by taking risks, being very entrepreneurial and stubborn. I also love working with people and take pride in seeing progress especially in younger women in the tech industry.

What's the one piece of career advice you have for anyone interested in following your footsteps?

Make sure you know what being a CEO, or a director of a company, really means. It is a responsibility and often comes with personal liability. Ask yourself if you are ready to give it all and if you are the best person to do the job. Be humble. A title has nothing to do with status or entitlement.

What's your number one productivity hack / when or how are you most effective?

When I have a free agenda and 5 topics I need to get done in a day. No disruptions, no slack, no calls in between. I also like handwritten to do lists, it is very satisfying to cross things off these, manually!

What makes you gracefullyBOLD?

My integrity, resilience and strong will, as well as my values and my belief in people and their abilities.

How do you spend your weekend or downtimes?

Netflix, walks, working out, shopping on the local food market and cooking. Then in the summer, sailing on the Wannsee in Berlin.

How do you deal with stress and build resilience?

Working out is THE top cure. But also developing a bit more distance to what I do, trying not to take things too personal, and trying to elevate and step away from certain situations. It also helps when you decide not to work with negative or toxic people if you can.

What would have been your alternative career path or alternative University degree?

I wanted to become a singer when I was a teenager. More realistically, though, a leadership role in hospitality or a diplomatic career.

Who is a female professional that inspired you along your career journey?

There are many, but Orna NiChionna, stands out. She is so incredibly poised, accomplished, smart and humble. She also is a lady (which I am not) and incredibly elegant.

What's the last thing you learnt?

If you ask for help and support, you get it.

If you could time-travel and meet any leader, who/where would that be?

Emmeline Pankhurst – in London.​

Note: Emmeline Pankhurst was a British political activist and organised the UK suffragette movement and helped women gain voting rights. There is a Blue Plaque you can see in Notting Hill: 50 Clarendon Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 3AD

The one question we didn't ask you but you'd like to answer?

  • Question: What do you wish we had more of in the business world and times of social media?

  • Answer: The recognition we are all human, most of us are full of positive intent. Let’s be more real and authentic rather than simply portrait perfection.

The previous interviewee left a question for you: “What does success look like for you?”

To have freedom, health, and long-lasting relationships.

One word answers & quick fire round. Let's go!

  • Your superpower: Sense of humour

  • Favourite restaurant: Long March Canteen, Berlin

  • Favourite fashion brand: Converse

  • Favourite beauty product: Ave + Eve personalised day and night cream

  • Favourite perfume: Penhaligon’s Quercus

  • Book recommendation: "How not to Die" by Dr. Michael Greger

  • Next holiday destination: Marseille, France

  • Your hobby: Sailing

  • Who inspires you: Everyone who works hard with a positive and can-do attitude

  • Tea or Coffee: Tea

  • Red wine or White wine: White wine

  • Morning bird or Night owl: Morning bird

  • Cat person or Dog person: Dog person

Thank you Nicola for sharing your journey & wisdom with us!

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