Ski builder, woman of action, superwoman
Everything is moving pretty hectically. Layer after layer is laid down and assembled. A total of eight layers, plus two edges, plus all the small details. Everything by hand, it goes without saying. And all the workers have their places, their duties, and know precisely what has to be done. And in the middle of all this: Karin. Department manager for ski assembly and pressing at Stöckli.
“I like it when everything goes as planned, when it all progresses well, and when we can put the pedal to the medal. Thumb-twiddling is just not my thing,” says Karin. She stands at Work Station No. 2 and is in the process of assembling a ski. If you watch her closely, everything is moving very quickly. It all looks so simple, as if she has never done anything else in her life. She knows exactly what layers come in what order, how the materials must be positioned and how they must be handled. She can do it with her eyes closed. Doesn’t matter which ski model. In doing so, her hand movements are quite individual, and the others don’t do it the same way. “Building a ski is like a signature. Every single one is unique. And that’s how it is with ski building. You orient yourself quite individually to the technology. When I teach the craft to a new colleague, the others know precisely who showed the person the building process.” How does that happen? “Difficult to say, perhaps because I’ve already worked here for 12 years. Over the years, you acquire a very personal technique.
Twelve years at Stoeckli and always the department manager? “No, no. It didn’t come about that I took over the department until a bit later. I started as a ski builder. Originally, I was trained in agricultural as a farmer. I was in my probationary period and after a few days the then-production director came over to me and said, good, you can stay. We sealed it at the time with a handshake.
Karin is not an office person. She’s a woman of action. “I like to work with materials, to create something and, at the end, to have a final product in my hands. Then you know what you did. And the best part of being in this department? We are right at the heart of ski manufacturing. Here is where a ski is created. The other departments in manufacturing often work on just one part of a ski. We bring together all the parts and finish the ski. From zero to 100, so to speak. I like that.”
Department director, ski builder and presser, as well as manager of 15 employees? That’s a lot. But what does that really mean? “Normally I spend less time assembling as I am doing right now. But this is the busy time of the year. Now, we are assembling up to 534 skis a day, including racing skis for the World Cup. A stressful phase, and when colleagues can’t come to work it can be pretty critical. Because winter is creeping closer. So that’s why I’m also doing my part. But I do it gladly. I am of course also a part of the team.”
And how did it come about at the end to move from ski builder to department head? “I always liked building skis, I was doing it for seven years. But over time that got a little boring for me. I like having a challenge in my life and wanted more happenstance. My then-boss left, and I had to take over.” At the time, no simple job. “I worked 12 hours and more everyday, had to teach myself quite a bit, had to figure out a lot on my own. Had to know everything better. Had to assert myself.”
Indeed, that was worth it. Today Karin quite successfully directs a department of 15 people. She always has an overview, knows what’s going on. Always has the answer. “The great thing is that I was basically a product of this department, so to speak. I have learned so much and experienced so much, was always confronted with many situations, and grew stronger from that. This department is now my baby. I don’t see myself as an employee, but rather I see this department more as my own shop. I am responsible for it.” Karin then adds, “It is like my own farm, and these are all my sheep. You have to take care of them everyday.”
When Karin isn’t building skis, then she’s taking care of managerial duties: human resources planning, employee meetings, quality control ,and auditing. She is the first point-of-contact for any issues, meets with those responsible for ski development, and offers feedback about new materials and technology ideas. “I can now judge quite well whether new materials will work or not in the skis, or whether they will function properly together with current materials.”
And about managing 15 employees? “That is a lot of fun for me. I have a fantastic team. In my department there are associates from eight different countries. That makes it pretty exciting and, at the same time, also a bit of a challenge. Because people just have different personalities, and on the other hand here we also have the differences in mentality and language.”
Of course, Karin is not the only one fully passionately engaged in her department. Her entire team, in fact – doesn’t matter whether the person has ever stood on skis or not. “Here, everyone is very proud to be building such a product. For example, we even have someone from Sri Lanka. Every year, he flies home to visit his family. Then I get photos of him sitting with his family in their small home outfitted in the thickest Stöckli pullover when it’s 30 degrees Celsius with extreme humidity. He would just not ever take off his pullover,” relates Karin, laughing a bit. She then adds, “It makes no difference in our department whether somebody skis, what’s essential is that the person loves to do each day what is being done. Meaning, building skis.”
When you listen to Karin, you notice that she is very proud of her team. She talks about individual colleagues, and she appears to know each one very well and looks on each well. Like a farmer with his sheep. Of course she could behave differently, she says. “But when somebody knows he’s made a mistake, it serves nobody any good if I call him out. I offer a critique, of course. But I always try to do this in a motivating manner.”
That’s Karin. Motivating and always seeing the positive. Always making the best of something. No matter what the situation. And doing this day after day. Truly a superwoman.