Mentoring: "Our exchange is both giving and taking - very enriching"
Rolf Mertens, Head of Advanced Analytics & Robotics, has been with the company for more than 30 years. He has also been a mentor for 20 years. The German Mentoring Society (DGM), an association of mentoring experts from business, administration and society, has now awarded him the "Mentor of the Year" award. In the interview, the colleague reveals how he came to this role at the turn of the millennium, what still motivates him and why he considers ERGO to be an excellent employer - especially for talents with an interest in AI, big data and other tech trends.
Interview: Ingo Schenk
Congratulations on this award, Mr Mertens! Could you tell us how you came to mentoring at the time - and what motivated you to stay involved in this role to this day, i.e. for more than 20 years?
Thank you very much, I am very happy about this award! Regarding your question: I myself was lucky enough to enjoy a form of mentoring in my early years at VICTORIA and later at ERGO. At that time, there was no dedicated programme for this - after all, I started here at the Düsseldorf location back in 1992. But in all those years I had one or two superiors whom I could ask for advice at any time - and from whom I could learn a lot. Of course, such a positive experience leaves its mark! And when the first official mentoring programme was launched at ERGO around the turn of the millennium and I was invited to take part, I was happy to accept. And I haven't stopped since.
On the one hand, this is because I still very much enjoy accompanying talented colleagues on their career path. On the other hand, of course, it also helps me: with some of the advice I give, for example, I ask myself afterwards whether I myself have acted consistently enough. In a way, the exchange with the younger leaders holds a mirror up to oneself - one gets used to constantly questioning oneself. In addition, the mentees bring their own experiences and insights with them, have attended different training courses than we have and therefore have a different view of many things. So our exchange is a give and take at the same time, we refresh and enrich each other. This is an invaluable advantage in an employer as large and complex as ERGO, where we are all constantly developing and can take on different tasks.
You yourself have had several different roles in your 31 years with the company. Could you briefly outline your career? And hand on heart: Have you never been tempted to change?
Well, after studying mathematics and computer science at the RWTH in Aachen, I started 31 years ago in the IT environment, where I first worked for 17 years in software development - specifically as head of IT coordination for property and casualty insurance. I really enjoyed the product development, portfolio management and the associated intensive cooperation with our various sales organisations. We even won some innovation awards! As part of the development of Smart Home, I came into close contact with Mark Klein, our Chief Digital Officer, in 2016. He wanted to reorganise the "Advanced Analytics" department with the aim of integrating our mathematical prediction models consistently into the operational business processes so that we generate real economic benefits. Both my knowledge in the areas of mathematics and IT as well as the insurance knowledge I have accumulated over many years have then led to me calling myself "Head of Advanced Analytics & Robotics" since 2019 and also being able to help shape the exciting growth field of "AI".
Regarding the second part of your question: There were certainly offers to change jobs, but at the same time there were always other exciting tasks, fields of play and perspectives that appealed to me here in my own company. Because parallel to my own development, our company has also become bigger and bigger! I already mentioned that I originally started at VICTORIA. This then merged into ERGO, and was soon followed by the cooperation with Munich Re, which we have intensified and expanded over the past few years - there was simply always so much exciting for me to do. So I didn't need to change employers to get other tasks or to develop myself further. ERGO offers more than enough opportunities for all of us - not least through mentoring. What's more, the technologies and specialist topics I'm interested in are a wonderful match with our core business of insurance.
So you would still recommend the insurance industry to young talents who are interested in new tech trends like AI, Big Data & Co. today?
Oh yes, I would! It is in our DNA that we deal with the future and future events. Because we are a data and technology-driven industry. So it's an exciting field for anyone who wants to deal with "data analytics", for example. And look how courageously we are tackling major trends such as "AI", "robotics", "VR" or the "metaverse" and using them in our company - for the benefit of our customers, sales partners, employees and the future viability of ERGO as a whole. I can therefore only encourage everyone to embark on this journey with us. At ERGO, we are working on the future every day: there will certainly be no shortage of exciting projects, opportunities, new tasks and development potential. And if our mentoring programme can play a role in this: all the better!