Strength in diversity 12/06/2009

Cornelia Schultheiss starts her own consultancy after business start-up training with the European Social Fund.

Born in Esslingen, near Stuttgart, Cornelia Schultheiss studied linguistics and then went to work for a world-leading automobile manufacturer in Berlin. Initially engaged as a translator, Cornelia distinguished herself by proposing and developing her own specialised service in the company, providing unique ‘intercultural’ training to help staff from around the world work together. 

“Europe is a crossroads for so many peoples and cultures,” she says. “It's a source of opportunity, but also a challenge.” Working in a huge and varied company, Cornelia realised that there was more to teamwork than just following orders. “People from different countries and cultures have different habits and expectations, and they don’t always understand each other, even when they speak the same language.” 

Unfortunately, the company she worked for went through some drastic changes and, in 2007, restructuring forced her to choose between keeping her job or staying in her favourite city. She chose Berlin, where she had been living with her partner for 15 years. 

“It was a tough decision,” she says. “Leaving my job meant starting a new career, finding something to do.” She decided to try to start her own business as an intercultural coach and trainer, but while she saw a market for her specialised skills, she didn’t know how to exploit it, with no experience of her own in creating a company. 

The 'Human Venture II' project, co-funded by the European Union through the European Social Fund, gave her important insights into what it takes to start a business, as well as concrete advice on commercial rules and regulations. 

The project, which ran from August 2006 to September 2008, was aimed at improving participants’ abilities to start their own businesses and included group discussions, workshops and training sessions. Activities covered various topics related to the formation of a company, helping Cornelia to prepare her own start-up. 

“I got a lot of information on topics I didn’t know much about,” she says. “This allowed me to avoid a lot of possible pitfalls. But I also simply enjoyed the experience and the chance to build a network of contacts with the other participants. 


Today, Cornelia runs a successful consultancy, providing highly specialised instruction to people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, helping them to band together, share experiences and better understand each other. “Losses due to ‘intercultural friction’ are minimised,” she says. “Teams meld and are able to work more efficiently.” 

Cornelia’s clients include both individuals and groups working or living in an international environment, people from places like India, Russia or Japan, Germany and many other places. 

“My intercultural workshops, training and coaching sessions focus on building a successful and trusting working atmosphere, where different traditions, communication styles and so on are bridged and synergies can be developed,” she explains. 

On some days, Cornelia works in her office, just one door away from her flat in historic West Berlin. On others, she takes her services to the client, in Berlin, in Germany, across Europe and around the world. 

“I couldn’t have done any of this without the help I received.” She says. “The training I got through the European Social Fund showed me how to prepare and work independently, and I learned a lot about myself in the process. It was a great experience.”