Weekly Local Biography

  Sabine Zimpfer

How does a girl who trained as a florist in Germany end up as the Administrative Director of Bluechips Microhouse, an assembler of printed circuit boards, in Chiang Mai? “If I need to do something, I can do it,” said Sabine Zimpfer, very straightforwardly, and without any element of boastfulness. She is also a woman who is happy to accede that her life has been a very fruitful partnership with her husband.

Sabine was born in Basel, on the German side, the middle child of three girls. Her father was an office worker and mother, as was usual in those days, stayed at home and raised the family. She went to the government schools, and by the time she was ready to leave at age 17, she was like most children of that age, she had no firm career path mapped out.

Her first ‘job’ was that of a Nanny looking after three children, but she very quickly knew that this was not her idea of a lifetime position. “I realized I would have to do something, but what? What could I do, what would I like to do?”

She thought she might like to become a florist, so entered training for this. In case some of you think this means a couple of weeks snipping stems, this is not the case in Germany. The course is two years and includes botany, sales, flower arrangement and knowledge of pesticides.

So by the time she was 20, she had become a graduate florist and moved to a larger town to follow this career. However, it soon became apparent to her that this was not the right direction either. It was time for a rethink.

The rethink led her to the inescapable fact that she should return to school and get her matriculation, which would open up a far greater choice of careers. This she did, working many jobs, including being a postman, just to keep her going while she went back to the school books. She matriculated (higher leaving certificate) and her next choice was that of becoming a bilingual secretary, undertaking another 12 months training in English.

She took her new skills and worked for two years ‘temping’ in offices, but by now she had married and was looking at having a family herself. “I wanted to have children by the time I was 30, and I was lucky to have two.”

However, after the birth of her second child, Sabine and her husband began looking at going overseas. “I did not want to stay in Europe. We wanted to experience another culture and to live there. I also wanted to raise the children speaking at least two languages.” She had also been to Thailand on holidays and was hoping that something might come up in the Kingdom. Unfortunately, there appeared to be no opportunities in Thailand at that time.

The opportunity finally came with a German firm that was based in Hong Kong that was looking for staff. Her husband was accepted for a job with them and they moved to Hong Kong island. At this stage, Sabine was fully employed as a mother. “My priority was that family came first, up to a certain age.” Mother Sabine also learned how to move apartments fairly often too, with the Zimpfers shifting six times in eight years between Hong Kong and Kowloon!

Her husband decided to strike out in business on his own after a few years, and the time was right for Sabine to become involved in the business of this new trading company. However, the fateful hand-over of Hong Kong was coming, and she witnessed the wholesale exodus from that small country with its cramped city. “We knew we would have to leave Hong Kong, but I did not want to live in a big city again. I traveled to Chiang Mai three times (to investigate the potential).” Part of that potential was the infrastructure and the possibilities of an international standard of schooling. BoI was also offering incentives, although it took 10 months before the approval came through.

They took the plunge and by the end of the millennium had relocated and had set up their factory here, employing 50 people initially. Growth has been almost exponential for it with now 100 employees, and Sabine’s knowledge has almost been raised exponentially as well, taking over the EDP for the company, management and HR work.

So how did she do this? “Once I have an aim, I can achieve it. The biggest problem (for me) has been finding the direction.” Sabine went on further, to explain her methods. “I make up my missing knowledge about management by reading books about this subject and talking to other people in the same situation. Recently we achieved the ISO 9001-2000 and this is also a guideline for management. Every department needs to give objectives and a plan of strategies on how to achieve the objective and action plan.”

Sabine Zimpfer has obviously found the font of all knowledge, but she has also had the necessary application to capture that knowledge for her own education. She does also admit that self-education is harder here in Thailand than in countries in Europe.

She is undoubtedly very happy here. “I have everything I need for myself. A job. A nice home and a family. In Chiang Mai you can live your life in a nice environment.”

She finished the interview with a very frank admission that meeting her husband was an important milestone in her life. “I cannot imagine doing things on my own. This (togetherness) has been one of our greatest strengths. We can push each other. Living abroad makes you closer. You find ways to stay together.”

It was refreshing talking to Sabine. She has achieved much with her life, and has every right to be proud of her achievements, without any touches of rampant ‘feminism’. She has proved that a partnership can be a very powerful medium for success.