Heads Up with Xenia Barth, CEO, Merz Consumer Care GmbH

Xenia is a highly experienced professional in consumer goods, with a proven track record in global and local Marketing, Sales, and General Management. Over her 23-year international career, she has held key leadership positions, most recently serving as the CEO of Merz Consumer Care. Prior to that, she made significant contributions as the General Manager DACH & Regional Director for the DACH Nordics region at Reckitt Benckiser. Xenia’s expertise extends to her tenure in several prominent roles, including Marketing Director and General Manager positions at Henkel Beauty Care across Europe, the US, and South America.

She is passionate about building high-performing teams and navigating them through challenging business environments and organizational changes. She holds a double degree in European business administration from Middlesex University in London accomplished by a diploma (MBA) from University of Reutlingen.


What does good leadership mean to you?
Good leadership to me is teaching/coaching and empowerment. The degree of each dimension might vary throughout the career, but both elements need to be there to help people grow their knowledge (through teaching/coaching) as well as their experience and courage (through empowerment). An underlying skill that a good leader needs in order to be a good teacher and coach is listening. I find leaders talk far too much and listen and ask far too little. Asking people their opinion and listening to their answers is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of interest in people and the topics those people work on. How can I possibly lead if I do not show this interest?

How did you get to where you are today? Did you take a strategic, planned approach to your career or has it been more opportunistic?
There was a planned part: to become head of marketing, for example, was always a dream, I worked toward it consciously, I communicated it to my leaders and it worked. There was an unplanned part too: I went twice into sales – it was a course correction of my initial plan, so to say. Sales had never intrigued me, but the longer I worked in marketing, the more I understood that I had to pass through sales in order to become a well rounded and good marketing director. Then there was luck that settled like the cherry on a pie on my performance when I was offered my first General Manager role. My plans had originally never gone that far. That was a new spin – lucky but also earned.

Is there anything you wish you’d known when you started your career? And anything you would tell yourself at an earlier stage in your career?
How important it is to look over the fence. Don’t aspire silo careers. Look right and left into other departments. Work there even if it’s not your favorite job – it’s only going to be 2 years out of 30. Use it to learn about the impact that your dream job has on adjacent departments. Use it to learn about the effect of the decisions of your aspired role. Use it to give yourself the chance to course correct on your career path if needed. Use it to become a well rounded leader.

What fascinates you about your job?
The sheer fact that a comfort zone never exists. Every time you think you finally managed to know it all and be able to control it, is when a week later something new comes up that you haven’t dealt with before. That way it (a) never gets boring, and (b) it guarantees you the opportunity to get rewarded once you overcome that new challenge.

As a leader what skills do you continuously work on to keep you at the top of your game?
I keep a semi-small but very active network of people from other companies and industries which provides great impulses as well as good sparring partners.

What keeps you awake at night?
Literally nothing – especially nothing that relates to business. I believe the night is there to recover physically and mentally. No problem should keep us from a good night’s sleep. A clear head in the morning solves more than a restless night full of thoughts and doubts. At least in my case.

What is the best way to switch off in your free time?
I engage in things that demand my full attention. They can be manifold: a sport that demands concentration, work with my dogs, spend time with my small daughter. I also tend to surround myself with people from different professions and lifestyles that provide me a different view on things and different conversation topics as business people like me.