DR. MIRKA WILDERER, CEO OF DE NORA WATER TECHNOLOGIES - TOP 100 INNOVATION CEO
DR. MIRKA WILDERER, CEO OF DE NORA WATER TECHNOLOGIES, LLC HAS BEEN SELECTED BY THE JUDGES OF WORLD BIZ MAGAZINE'S ANNUAL AWARDS TO BE A RECIPIENT OF THE TOP 100 CEOS IN INNOVATION AWARD 2021.
THIS SELECTION FOLLOWS A STRINGENT PROCESS THAT EVALUATED OVER 40,000 NOMINEES TO SELECT THE EXCLUSIVE LIST OF 100 WINNERS.
Dr. Mirka Wilderer is recognized as one of the leading executives in the water industry with deep experience in corporate strategies, business transformation, and cross-functional leadership in global organizations. With her entrepreneurial approach, Mirka’s career expands over a timeline as an executive and change leader for global organizations with deep experience in corporate strategies, business transformation and cross-functional leadership. She has worked on four continents and attained a doctorate in international business while seeking innovative solutions to leading change and preserving one of our world’s most precious resources: water.
In 2019, Mirka was appointed the first female Chief Executive Officer of De Nora Water Technologies, LLC, a leader in disinfection and filtration technologies with a global footprint in the water industry. Under her leadership the business has already realized impressive growth in the past 2 years while managing through the global COVID-19 pandemic and pivoting to surface disinfection.” Mirka’s motto this past year has been: Expect the unexpected; plan for the worst, work towards the best, and nurture a culture of resilience and adaptability to boost innovation and shape all aspects of the new normal. Mirka fosters an agile approach to operating the business with the goal to remain flexible in light of constant changes. By taking this approach and empowering her team for solutions, innovation is a natural derivative.
Mirka’s goal is to instill a shared sense of purpose and vision in the organization and then tap into the diverse strengths and rich talents of each employee globally to encourage passionate contributions from everyone. Employing the strength-based model, Mirka demonstrates exceptional leadership skills and facilitates cross-functional collaboration across a complex organization. She enthusiastically drives excellence with the goal to achieve greatness for her team and herself.
With the vision to establish De Nora Water Technologies, LLC, as partner of choice and recognized thought leader in the water space by serving modern-day customers reliable, efficient, and digital customer experience, Mirka has launched the SURGE strategy as powerful forward framework to ignite profitable growth as the business is approaching its 100-year anniversary in 2024. Following the company’s purpose to empower collaboration and champion resilience, the SURGE strategy includes the levers of Market Penetration, Portfolio Revitalization, Operational Excellence, Employee & Partner Engagement all accompanied by a comprehensive digital transformation. Mirka’s accomplishments in fostering an innovative culture and trailblazing digital transformation in the water industry have recently been highlighted in a fireside chat with SalesForce and a featured article by SAP in Forbes.
Mirka also provides valuable service to improve the quality of life for others in the community. In fact, it is extremely important for Mirka to have a positive impact on society, the world we live in, and the future of our planet. To Mirka, taking care of our planet Earth is what makes the difference between just having a “job” and following a “calling” – being able to have a lasting impact and contributing to something that truly matters.
In addition to her professional dedication to sustainability, Mirka’s personal mission is to create value and generate benefits for the greater good of society by tapping into all available talents. Building her executive career in a very traditional industry, Mirka is finding herself increasingly becoming a champion for diversity in the water space. As the only female CEO of a major water technology provider globally in a traditional work environment that generally skews male, she is becoming a role model for providing opportunity and fostering a world that celebrates diversity. Mirka created a diversity, equality, and inclusion Task Force at our company – the first of its kind.
Mirka has the aspiration to launch a new initiative in the water space - titled “Diversity in Water”; a platform for executive and emerging leaders to connect, learn, and empower people in the water space. Her goal is to address topics of relevance in the water space, showcase accomplishments and provide visibility to those leaders SURGING in diverse leadership.
With an extremely full schedule as De Nora Water Technologies, LLC Chief Executive Officer, Mirka manages to find the time to mentor others. One mentored employee in particular is now a recognized rising talent at our company. Mirka helped challenge her to look at work obstacles as opportunities and provided insight and advice on how to accomplish the necessary steps and confidence to continue moving forward. With a strong passion for advancing women in leadership and believing in the power of mentorship, Mirka has been an active mentor for young female professionals over the years. She proactively mentor’s young female talent identified by organizations such as the Bavarian Elite Academy, IWF and YPO. Partnering with H2O imagine, an international startup accelerator providing early-stage water startups with support, she is mentoring young female entrepreneurs in the water space to stay true to their own path and dreams regardless of challenges, hurdles, and barriers.
Mirka’s accomplishments include the esteemed recognition from Titan 100 as “One of Colorado’s Top CEO’s & C-Level Executives” (2021), from Diversity MBA as “Top 100 under 50 Executive and Emerging Leaders” (2020), from Global Water Intelligence as “One of the 20 Most Powerful Women in the Water Industry” (2020), the prestigious award of one of the “50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan” (2018), and one of the “Forty under 40” in West Michigan (2016). Mirka is a member of the distinguished GEN CEO Women’s Network in Germany, the International Women’s Forum (IWF), the Forbes Women’s Forum, and the Young President’s Organization (YPO). Mirka is a frequent public speaker and has been on several CEO panels, such as the guest of a Fireside chat hosted by SalesForce and Business Insider to discuss the accomplishments in driving digital transformation in the water space and pivoting during the COVID pandemic, accomplishments also featured in an article in Forbes.
Born in Germany Mirka is a resident of Colorado, married and a mother of two children. Her husband, Andreas Wilderer, is the author of the Amazon best-selling book “Lean On –The Five Pillars of Support for Women in Leadership”, which strongly emphasizes their commitment as a couple to supporting women in leadership.
"At an early age I came to realize that water is the universal way in how we’re all connected. To me, helping to preserve one of the world’s most precious resources – water – is what makes the difference between just having a “job” and following a “calling.” It gives me purpose and allows me to contribute to something that truly matters."
How did your interest in water begin and what excites you about your work in the industry?
We always joke that water is in the DNA of my family – we have water running in our veins. Both my parents are scientists in the field, and dinner conversations growing up were all about the latest research in water treatment. In 2003, my father was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize – one of the world’s most prestigious awards for water.
At an early age I came to realize that water is the universal way in how we’re all connected. To me, helping to preserve one of the world’s most precious resources – water – is what makes the difference between just having a “job” and following a “calling.” It gives me purpose and allows me to contribute to something that truly matters.
You had only been at the helm of De Nora Water Technologies for a year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Share with us how that impacted the company and how you adapted.
Unexpected anything gives you an opportunity to run or rise. And what I have learnt is that trust and team must go hand-in-hand. My team and I took the pandemic as an opportunity to pivot, boost innovation and shape all aspects of the new normal. We came together for a greater good, and we were able to achieve the most incredible things!
An example that comes to mind is our pivot from water to surface disinfection. One of our technology lines produces sodium hypochlorite (commonly referred to as bleach) on-site for drinking water disinfection. Now, who else might need disinfectant during a global pandemic to kill a virus? The more we thought about it, the more ideas for surface disinfection came to mind. Offering on-site sodium hypochlorite for surface disinfection became a start-up momentum within our organization, requiring us to reach way outside of our core water markets to serve customers across an entire spectrum of industries. It was incredibly fulfilling and gratifying to be able to contribute to the global efforts of keeping our customers, their families, and communities safe and healthy against the threats of the Coronavirus.
Overall, I think what we have all just learnt that the new business-as-usual is a “Business-as-Unusual.” I am very proud of how my team came together and leveraged the crisis to accelerate our SURGE forward. My motto this past year has been: Expect the unexpected. Plan for the worst; work toward the best. And nurture a culture of resilience and adaptability to boost innovation and shape all aspects of the new normal.
"My entire career has been centered in a very traditional work environment. I am the only female CEO of a major water technology provider globally in an industry that generally skews male. By definition that makes me “different,” but I have always viewed it as my superpower."
How do you approach being a female CEO in an industry led almost exclusively by men?
My entire career has been centered in a very traditional work environment. I am the only female CEO of a major water technology provider globally in an industry that generally skews male. By definition that makes me “different,” but I have always viewed it as my superpower. I’ve never tried to become the best possible man in the room. Instead, I stay true to my authentic self and offer the best version of myself. Being “different” has allowed me to disrupt some of the more conventional approaches in the playbook of the industry.
Historically, CEO has been synonymous with male. So being a female CEO, I have learnt not to strive to take on the male leadership attributes in order to fit that traditional executive profile. However, it requires self-assurance to stay true to your female qualities and shape your own female leadership style.
On the other side, it takes clarity to break from the expectations that typically come with more traditional female roles. It requires a thick skin to “disappoint” others when you neither meet their expectations of female attributes nor CEO stereotypes. I have heard many times that I am too bossy, while male colleagues are praised for being determined. I have heard many times that I am intimidating, while male colleagues are viewed as ambitious. Why should a female CEO be less driven and strong-minded than a male counterpart?
To me the challenge is that female CEOs don’t quite fit the mold of the stereotypes of either female or CEO. We each have our own personalized leadership approach – to me the challenge is to evolve to more gender-neutral qualities and expectations on the role.
What is your advice to other leaders about the importance of diversity?
I am a strong believer that the diverse landscape of market conditions, customer requirements, and workforce needs to be reflected in the make-up of the executive team of an organization. More important than ever, as the new business-as-unusual is a dynamic, unexpected, and ever-evolving environment, we need to look for inspiration and leadership in unconventional places. And, it has been proven that innovation is born through diversity-rich teams.
I encourage all leaders to tap into all available talent and create opportunities - for all people of color, culture, sex and orientation; this will represent your market and boost innovation to solve some of the tough challenges of our time.
What advice would you share with the next generation of female leaders?
My advice to female leaders to help them thrive:
Authenticity: Don’t strive to follow mainstream but stay true to your authentic self; become the best possible version of yourself! For a woman, that also means to not trying to become the best man in the room, but to stay true to your female qualities.
Self-clarity: Instead of trying to fit in, take ownership of your personal journey, invest in your strengths and talents, and strive for opportunities outside of your comfort zone.
Connection: Take time to build value-rich relationships, leverage the guidance of mentors, and harness the power of networks. Seek out role models that provide you with both inspiration and a safe space for learning and exploration.
Agency: take control and actively shape your life and career. Instead of looking for shortcuts of immediate gratification, push yourself – not because it is easy, but because it is hard. We can do hard things!
In short, find the answer for yourself: Become the pilot of your own life in an authentic way, based on your strengths, creating value-rich connections, and strive to accomplish amazing things!
"A successful business is not successful because of one person or leader, it is successful because there are many smart people working together toward the same goals."
Share with us some insight into your mentality in regards to making a difference?
Make a difference, one day at a time: While studying the names of famous generals in history class in middle school, I remember asking myself, “What were the names of the thousands of foot-soldiers dying on their battlefields? What were their stories?” I was anxious that to become worth mentioning in history books, I would have to become one of the great generals. In the meantime, and over the years, I have learnt that I, too, can have an impact. Maybe it is not by winning the great battles of our times, but maybe it is one person at a time – one day at a time. If I can make a difference in someone’s life by showing them respect, celebrating their successes, and recognizing their accomplishments, it will cause a ripple effect that sets victories for the greater good of society in motion.
How do you approach leading your executive team?
Nobody knows it all. For me to be effective, I don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. I need to be aware of my strengths as a leader and how to use them, and I need to surround myself with a diverse, resourceful team rich in talent. A successful business is not successful because of one person or leader, it is successful because there are many smart people working together toward the same goals.
My role is to understand who I need to bring together to solve a particular problem, address a specific or novel task, or drive innovation by addressing some of the complex challenges we are currently facing. In fact, just recently, one of my team members provided me with the feedback that he had never met a CEO that so openly admits and expresses the words, “I don’t know – let’s find out.”
De Nora Water Technologies
De Nora is an Italian multinational company, offering sustainable technologies for Green Economy. The world’s largest supplier of high-performing catalytic coatings and insoluble electrodes for electrochemical and industrial applications, the leading provider of equipment, systems, disinfection, and filtration solutions for water treatment.