Six questions to Kathrin Knötzsch

September 14, 2021

Head of the organics department, in charge of marketing, a mother of three children and, in her spare time, coach of a junior volleyball team: Kathrin Knötzsch from Berghof Analytik successfully manages to juggle with quite a bunch of things. In this interview, the graduate chemist and passionate hobby gardener tells us why clear structures are the be all and end all for both her work and her private life, why team sports, from her point of view, teach important life lessons and why Berghof Analytik is a very special laboratory – for the customers and the team.

1) Usually, a person who studies chemistry is interested in that subject early on at school. Does this fit the description of your career, too?

Yes and no. I have always been very interested in chemistry, but unfortunately chemistry lessons in middle school were very dull and boring, which rather extinguished the fire for chemistry in me. That’s why I signed up only for the basic chemistry course at high school. In retrospect, however, that turned out to be a wonderful stroke of luck, because our chemistry teacher was really great and covered a lot of interesting, practice-oriented topics with us – such as dyeing jeans or making cosmetics. After graduating from high school, when it came to deciding on a course of study, I as a basic course graduate chose not to take chemistry exclusively but instead studied industrial engineering with a specialization in chemistry. However, after my first internships during my studies and an internship in a brewery at the latest, it was clear to me that chemistry and working in the lab was right up my alley. So I changed my mind and switched my major to chemistry with a focus on food chemistry/life sciences and toxicology. I havn’t ever regretted this decision. I wish that more young women in particular would take an interest in natural sciences and have the confidence to do so. There are great career opportunities and you definitely won’t ever get bored. That's why I was very happy to report on my school and professional careers for the “Komm mach MINT“ campaign, in order to get more young women interested in natural sciences, especially chemistry.

2) You work 35 hours a week, that’s almost full time, and you are a mother of three. Even before the Corona pandemic, that must have been an organizational challenge, but in the last year with Corona, home schooling and alternate teaching, it was in a whole different league altogether. How do you manage all these tasks?

To make this scheme a success you got to be very well structured and you have to stick together as a family. For example, our children have to lend a hand with the daily household chores. We also have fixed routines in other areas. Since, to make things even more difficult, my husband and me moved to this region because of our jobs, we live here without any family to support. That's why it's so important and valuable for us that I can schedule my work at Berghof Analytik with a certain degree of flexibility. Of course, my work in the laboratory cannot be shifted to the home office. But whenever there is a chance for temporal or spatial flexibility, I can make use of it – and we are very grateful for that. The Berghof Group is not only an innovative family business, it is also a company where family-friendly work conditions are an important issue. This is something that not only we benefit from, but also very many other families with one or sometimes even both parents working for the Berghof Group.

3) Speaking of very clear structures, the Berghof Group had an absolute lean management specialist in its ranks for many years. He ensured even more satisfied customers in many areas at Berghof by consistently optimizing processes according to “lean“ criteria. Is this also an issue at Berghof Analytik?

Yes, definitely. Last year in particular, we again put all of our internal workflows and technical infrastructure to the test with the entire team as part of a major project – and were surprised how much potential for increasing efficiency we discovered in our laboratory, mind you, without compromising on the quality of the analyses. Much to the delight of our customers. As a result, we were able to significantly improve our delivery times, reinforced by investments in supporting technology. This was a very important step, because customer demand for express analytics is growing steadily at our two laboratories in Tübingen and Chemnitz. We will therefore continue to pursue this path consistently - because our goal is quite clear to become better for our customers every day.

4) Speaking of satisfied customers, Berghof Analytik has successfully held its own against strong competitors in the field of analytical laboratories for almost half a century. Many customers have remained loyal to Berghof in this area for decades. What is the secret of this success? What, from your point of view, makes Berghof Analytik stand out?

In analytics, it’s no different from most other areas: standing still means taking a step backwards – technical development is also rapid here, and laboratory equipment is becoming ever faster, more precise and more powerful. In addition, there are ever stricter regulations and procedural instructions, both nationally and internationally. Of course, we rely on a modern technical infrastructure that enables analyses of the highest quality, and we are constantly training ourselves to always be at the cutting edge of what is happening in law. However, the great strength of Berghof Analytik is the personal support: For us, the analysis result is by no means the end of the journey – with us, every customer has a fixed contact person who knows him and his needs exactly and gives him the best possible advice which conclusions he should draw from the respective analysis result. Moreover, our experienced team in many cases has been working for Berghof Analytik for many years. This combination of experience, consistency and personal connection, which is quite unique on the market, is in my view the secret of our success.

5) Keyword success: what are the requirements young people need to meet to find professional happiness in the lab?

First and foremost, of course, the chemical background knowledge, for example from an apprenticeship as a chemical-technical assistant (CTA) or laboratory technician or through studies in chemistry, food chemistry or pharmacy. But it is at least as important to be well-structured and organized and to be able to organize things well. And you should enjoy and love working successfully with different people. Not only in the team, where success is always based on good cooperation, but also with the customers, because as I said: At Berghof Analytik, this personal commitment, the proximity to our customers, is the be all and end all. Personally, I also like to spend a lot of my free time in our small but lovingly tended garden working with plants, herbs and berries, which we examine for, among other things, pesticides, mycotoxins, pyrrolizidine alkaloids and heavy metals in our laboratory. For me, planting and caring for flowers, herbs and fruit is not only a perfect way to have work-life balance, it is just fun to keep coming across plants that we analyze in the lab.

6) Lovingly tended is a good keyword: In your spare time, you are also active as a volleyball coach of a youth team with children aged 10 to 15. What makes this sport so fascinating for you?

Sport, especially team sport, is a very important formative experience for me. As a team, you are only successful if all team members stick together and support each other. Everyone has personal strengths and weaknesses, and in the end you can only benefit from that as a team if you complement each other with your strengths and weaknesses. Team colleagues who think they have to distinguish themselves as lone warriors simply don't stand a chance. Especially in our, in my opinion, ever prevailing dog-eat-dog society, I find social behavior and social competence more important than ever. In my view, this applies not only to sports, but can also be transferred one-to-one to your professional life or your family. Therefore, I’m a big fan of team sports. Success and defeat forge a tremendous bond in a team. It’s not without reason that close friendships often develop here that last a long time beyond the sport. Of course, team sports have also left its mark on me as a person – which is another reason why I really enjoy working at Berghof Analytik, because the team concept is high on the priority list here. Working together as a team to ensure that we constantly improve and that our customers are completely satisfied and feel personally and well looked after is an important issue for us at Berghof Analytik.