Egresntrepreneur of the month: Astrid Uthmann-Rothkötter

According to a study published in June 2013 by the European Commission, Europe still lacks childcare provisions; only 30% of children under the age of three are enrolled in formal childcare. Germany lags behind this already low average with only 25% .
An inspired leader with intelligence, foresight and a big heart, Ms. Uthmann-Rothkötter has taken it into her hands to provide employees and neighbors with the opportunity to combine family and career, by creating an establishment that not only provides a caring and fun space for children in the Emsland area, but also inspires the German community at large to learn and grow together with their youngest generation.

The first notable thing about Ms. Uthmann-Rothkötter´ charming simplicity, is the witty cleverness that transpires behind her humble demeanor. Everything she tells is well thought-through, meaningfully original, precise and essential; her message is all the more impactful as it is offered with a smile. Everything she wears is simple and classy. Everything she does speaks of a mind dedicated to quality and a heart in love with design. Everything she realizes, she lets it speak for itself; when it comes to her own achievements she is the queen of understantements.

Thus very few people would suspect her formidable determination, until they get to know her better and are presented with the results of her realizations. Like the “Little Chicken and Friends” day-care center, created to fulfill a social need, but designed to go far beyond: to be an experiential center and a mind gym where each child discovers its own path of learning and growing through activities that stimulate its curiosity, strengthen its confidence and increase its social fit via proper eating and language support.

Probably the greatest of Uthmann-Rothkötter´s leadership skills is the ability to influence behind the scenes; she can engage and inspire by simply being passionately authentic and respectfully demanding. Around her, people feel compelled to be and to give their very best.
In a business era when we are starting to learn how personal egos and charismatic personalities may in the long run endanger the sustainability of our businesses, Uthmann-Rothkötter is a refreshing example of what Lao Tzu defines as truly effective leadership: “A leader is best when neither seen nor heard; not so good when adored or glorified; worst when hated and despised. Of a good leader, when his (or her) work is done the people will say: We did it ourselves.”

Ever passionate about quality of life at home and at work, Uthmann-Rothkötter initiated employees surveys at the family poultry processing plant, earlier as a board member, more recently in the newly created position as CSR manager, mapping aspirations and needs. She then launched several initiatives to respond to such aspirations and needs at all plants and locations, including improving ergonomics on the production lines and posting information as well as calls for ideas on large monitors in the canteens. Encouraged by a “best minds” competitions, ideas flocked in, many uncovering a burning need for combining family life with work. It was the seed that eventually led to the creation of Küken & Friends (Little Chicken and Friends)
On 1st of December 2010, the Küken & Friends day-care center opened its doors to an excited crowd of kids, parents and local authorities. It included two nurseries and one kindergarten class with thirteen educators, supplemented by various family activities, courses for parents and events with educators and speakers

The notes of Christian Hüser´s especially composed “Little chicken are cool” added a cheerful touch to the opening ceremony.
Then the crowd stormed from room to room marveling at the simple beauty of a perfectly functional and fun design. Both indoors and outdoors the realization reflected its vision – order, clarity and beauty – as well as its mission: to make it easier for company employees and neighbors to combine career and family.

Most amazing of all is the simplicity of the innovative solutions that make the space perfectly safe and fit to engage, stimulate and entertain the children in each age group, so that “Little Chicken and Friends” looks not like a typical day care center, but rather like a children´s own “research and development” arena where to experiment and learn together with fun.

Uthmann-Rothkötter brings the same persistence and thoroughness in the designing, negotiating, planning and driving of her current initiatives as she always had in all previous endeavors of her intense personal and professional life, from putting herself through biochemistry studies to making a career in a male dominated technical field, from leaving the city of Münster and her professional independence to setting up shop in rural Emsland supporting her husband in his own entrepreneurial adventures; finally becoming an inspiring role model as a mother of two accomplished boys in their twenties, a catalyst of many a charitable institutions and one of the most innovative and influential CSR entrepreneurs in Germany.

Of all the people that she influenced and mobilised to get her day-care project moving, she states that the hardest to convince was her own husband, Franz-Josef Rothkötter, the majority owner of the company whose employees are the primary beneficiary of the center.

Winning his initial hesitation required love and persistence, the acid test of any fine negotiator being the ability to preserve relationships and create positive change through conflicts.

More than ever proud of his beloved wife, he is now a huge fan of the day-care center, which is both of social value to the Emsland community as well as bringing business benefits in terms of employees loyalty, productivity and engagment.

Laura Lozza © 2013