6 September  2021, by Julia Bernert

FIBO-Series: Women Leadership

Raphaela Susanna Knorr discusses personal development and reconciling work and private life

Entrepreneur Raphaela Susanna Knorr is Chief Operating Officer of Physical Nation, a new brand for active beauty. We spoke with her about authenticity, resilience and values – and about what this has to do with reconciling work and personal development. 

Raphaela Susanna Knorr has turned her passion for sport into her profession, building up a strong personal brand as an entrepreneur in the fitness industry. As a member of the Women in Fitness Association (WIFA), she works to promote equality in the industry, inspiring women to pursue their visions and make their dreams a reality. Just like she did. Knorr, a passionate athlete with a degree in business administration, has been Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the sports cosmetics brand Physical Nation since 2019, meaning that she has already experienced a two-year development process for both the brand and its products. We spoke with her about authenticity, resilience and values – and about what this has to do with reconciling work and personal development. 


FIBO: What would a younger Susanna have to say about the career that today's Susanna has chosen? 

Susanna: What I am doing today is actually very close to what I dreamt of doing when I was little. My parents ran their own company, so the idea of being my own boss is something that I’ve had since I was quite young. While I am not officially working for myself, with my position as COO of Physical Nation it really feels that way when it comes to responsibility and the ability to make a difference.


How did you get where you are today?

Susanna: Sport – including competitive sport – has always been an important part of my life. However – under the influence of the stereotypes and role models at the time – I initially decided to pursue a more conventional business administration path, i.e. get a degree, go abroad and work in corporate consulting. So, I went from my home town of Bamberg to San Diego for my master’s degree and then on to London to work in corporate consulting and private equity, before I ended up in Hamburg with a strategic consultancy. These were all exciting challenges, but in spite of the fascination of this ‘career’, I really missed having health and fitness as part of my daily business life. Then there was the fact that holding a conventional job did not fit with my desire to work for myself. It was during this time that I met my current business partners.

© Susanna Knorr

What is it that made you decide to strike out on your own? Did it have anything to do with reconciling your private life with the punishing schedule of working for corporate consulting firms?

Susanna: That is an interesting question, and one that might not even be asked of a man in the same position! People are quick to talk about the ability to combine a job and family when it comes to women in particular. In fact, from my point of view the issue is much more one of being able to reconcile your own values and personality with your profession. And this is something that applies to men and women equally. If someone is unable to do this, they will become dissatisfied. Nowadays, there are many ways in which people have the ability to shape their lives to suit their preferences. 


You make it sound so simple...

Susanna: It most certainly isn't! Making changes takes a great deal of work. It requires creating the right conditions – if that is even possible – for self-reflection. For example, I decided to write everything down and then use my knowledge and experience to advise myself as if I were a company: What should my life look like? What are my strengths? Values? Priorities? And what do I want to avoid at all costs? Actually writing all these things down really gave me clarity.

Does this mean that self-development is the key?

Susanna: I would say it's more a matter of honest self-reflection. And seeing as I come from a background in consulting, I wanted to coach myself in the right direction. To this end, I acquired quite a few skills, strategies and techniques and read extensively to expand my expertise, and I spent my weekends on professional development. As a result of these efforts and of my career to date, I made a conscious decision to forego the short-cut of hiring an external business coach. For those with different backgrounds or who are uncertain about taking a new direction, it is a good idea to bring someone else on-board to help – they should definitely do this if they find themselves getting stuck. A view from the outside can do wonders!


Speaking of which – as an entrepreneur, you created your own personal brand through Instagram and LinkedIn. What social media advice can you offer women in high-level positions?

Susanna: Seize your opportunities! Be courageous and show what you are capable of. I am convinced that women in particular should size the opportunities presented by social networks and create their own personal brands. In my opinion, this can no longer be done without maintaining a presence in the social media channels that are relevant to your target group. And this doesn't just mean standing out from the crowd. Far more importantly, the ability to share views and engage in dialogue on these platforms creates substantial networking possibilities that are attractive to business – and not just during a pandemic.


What are your biggest professional challenges?

Susanna: Setting priorities, being patient, and learning. Anyone who wants to develop a new brand and establish themselves in a competitive market needs to be able to persevere and stay calm.


Like running a marathon?

Susanna: Exactly! In fact, I have run a few marathons myself, and I still remember how every time I did so, I would think “You’ll never be able to do it” – but every time, I actually did it. This meant having faith in myself and hitting the ground running. When I trained, I broke the distance down into individual steps and stages. And the experience of actually crossing the finish line is something that I have adapted and internalised for my work: breaking huge, seemingly insurmountable challenges into smaller, feasible portions and getting started, instead of letting myself be intimidated.


Will we be able to get through this without touching on the latest buzzword ‘resilience’?

Susanna: We may be able to get by without using the word, but its meaning and significance as a mindset and resource – that is something we most certainly cannot do without. The ability to persevere and overcome crises is a decisive success factor, and not just in our jobs. And it is something that we can learn. As a result of the pandemic’s impact on our daily lives, society has developed a new and deeper understanding of resilience. And for those who ask how they can acquire the right mindset, I can tell them that doing sport and pushing myself in training have helped me to be more resilient.


How about today – with your current responsibilities, are you still able to do sport regularly?

Susanna: I certainly am! To return to what we touched on earlier about reconciling work and private life: if sport is important to me and I want to train every day, I will make this a part of my daily life. For example, I structure my day so that I can get up early and do an hour of sport before doing anything else. That is the time during which I do something good for me, and it gives me the energy I need for the rest of my day.


What does the rest of a normal day look like for you?

Susanna: After I finish doing sport, I head into the office. The workday always kicks off with our team call – this is when we update one another on the current status of what is happening. After this I check my emails, but I only answer the most important ones straight away – I work through the rest of them during the afternoon, after I have completed my most important tasks as COO. I also like to use my afternoons for developing strategies, in the same way that I like to devote my lunches and evening meals to doing professional development online. And for those of who hear this and think I am crazy, I admit it – I’m a workaholic. You've got me! But my professional interests and private interests really do overlap. And when I’m on break I also like to treat myself to long afternoon walks along the Alster or a nice cup of coffee.


How do you keep yourself from losing focus on what you are doing? 

Susanna: Notes play a key role in organising my time. When it comes to keeping to-do lists, I am a real nerd. I’ve got a ‘hot list’ for everything, and every evening, I use these lists to set my priorities for the following day. I have now developed my own system that helps me to maintain an overview of all the relevant areas (including operational areas) without wasting any time.


How should we picture you as a boss?

Susanna: Ugh, I really do not like this whole ‘Girlboss’ culture, and that really is not how I see myself. Quite the opposite in fact – I am not at all egotistical about my job. We are a team with flat hierarchies where everyone’s opinion matters, and all of us benefit from receiving direct and honest feedback from one another. The CEOs and I as the COO all see ourselves as ‘arrangers’, as the people who bring everything together and offer direction.


So, what does ‘female entrepreneurship’ mean to you – both in the fitness industry and overall?

Susanna: To me there is no such thing as ‘female entrepreneurship’. The gendered German word for this underscores the discrimination inherent in drawing such a distinction, and the paradox is that this is the exact opposite of what is intended. As a member of the Women in Fitness Association (WIFA), I strive to promote women supporting other women. It is an area where ‘we’ can learn a great deal from men – because in our industry, equality is still in its infancy.


Have you had to combat stereotypes during your career?

Susanna: Not so much in the fitness sector, but in the field of corporate consultancy, women’s successes were frequently seen as luck, and women were not taken as seriously. Women’s salaries are also lower than those received by men, and it is an unfortunate fact that far too many women continue to accept this circumstance. 


What advice can you offer for ambitious women who are just starting out in the working world?

Susanna: If there is anything that has been a game-changer in my career, it has been sharing ideas with other people. That has made all the difference for me. From the moment in which my idea was no longer simply floating around in my head, but had actually been spoken out loud, a great deal happened. Not only did listening to different opinions and obtaining advice help enormously, but suddenly I was able to establish a presence in other people's minds, people who kept their eyes open for me and who thought about me and my plan when suitable opportunities arose. People have really been eager to help, and it goes without saying that I want to do the same for others. I want to encourage other women and let them know that they can really do it! They must simply trust themselves to define their goals. There is no other way to make it work. Once a goal has been set, the drive and the ‘why’ – the meaning of it all – will follow. After that, ‘all’ that is necessary is the courage to get started and the ability to trust in the knowledge that when things get difficult, help is available. One must simply be willing to ask – and to accept it when it is offered.


Many thanks for the interview.

Netzwerk für Frauen in der Fitnessbranche

Die WIFA ist ein Netzwerk, das Frauen aus der Fitness Branche zusammenbringt, um sich gegenseitig zu inspirieren, Synergien zu schaffen und wertvolle Beziehungen aufzubauen. Eine WIFA Mitgliedschaft gibt dir die Möglichkeit, mit einflussreichen und ambitionierten Frauen aus der ganzen Welt in Kontakt zu treten, von ihnen zu Lernen aber auch dein Wissen und deine Erfahrung mit dem Netzwerk zu teilen. Mehr Infos gibt es hier: www.wifa.org/wifade