Carole Miltgen brings a unique blend of charm, intelligence and style to every aspect of her life; whether it’s meeting Jamie Cullum, working with the Red Cross or heading up her own thriving business, Prisma. And that’s just scratching the surface. Meet Carole Miltgen, CEO, charity worker and children’s writer!
Carole can call herself a ‘true’ Luxembourger in that her parents and grandparents were all natives of the Duchy. Her grandfather fought for the rights of workers and was passionate about social equality and justice. This made a deep impression on the young Carole; she was to champion worthy causes all her life. She was also determined to succeed:
I remember learning about the old caste system in India at school; how one was usually born and died at the same level in life. For me, that idea was not tenable; I wanted to become something better than my roots. I had a specific ambition at the time, for I had heard someone referred to as a female manager and I remember thinking, ‘I like the sound of that!’
Her first goal was simply to be able to support herself in her own home by the age of 18. Like most of Carole’s goals, she achieved it through a combination of diligence and personal skills. It is also characteristic that her first boss ended up becoming a mentor; under his guidance, she thrived and was eventually head-hunted by one of the clients to work in an international business. She began her climb up the corporate ladder, eventually moving to London to head up a team there. What did she learn on the way?
Working for a big American corporate company meant that more opportunities came my way – the doors to success in business opened. There’s also the experience of being in a large professional environment working with people of the highest calibre. The downside for me was that it was slower to get things done, due to the sheer size of the business. There also tends to be a high turnover of staff, which I felt unsettling; loyalty to the firm and the people were things I took seriously, you see. I did love the London experience though!
But however glamorous and fun London was; when difficulties occurred in her private life, it was to ‘home’ that Carole returned. She felt a comfort in her roots and background that she had not fully appreciated until she went away. Luxembourg’s importance to her was fully realised when she had the opportunity to work in New York. Not only did Carole turn it down, she had a plan to cement her position in her home town. Calling that first boss and mentor, she told him of a plan to start her own financial document management company, Prisma.
Entrepreneurship in Luxembourg
Carole mentioned to me how much the entrepreneurial spirit has come on in Luxembourg. At school, she remembered being encouraged to get a government or banking job, because they were ‘safe’. Safety for Carole has never meant much; she combined an independent spirit with drive and an enthusiasm that was infectious. As a result, Carole found it relatively easy to get people to believe in her; colleagues were willing to work for her and clients willing to work with her.
It wasn’t until the day before we opened that I fully realised the enormity of what I was doing. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in the concept or that I thought that we would fail, but it suddenly dawned on me that I had so many people dependent on this being a success and that they all believed in me. It was wonderful but also a weight! There are many lonely moments in running a business and that is when one can feel panic and doubt.
Fortunately for Carole, the doubt was not to last long; her effective networking and organisation meant that Prisma was an instant success. Starting with 3 people, it now has over 15 employees working both in Luxembourg and Poland. I asked Carole to share 3 pieces of advice for anyone starting their own business:
1. Look after your clients
This is an obvious one, but there are unique ways in which we perform this. Prisma’s strongest asset is that we offer such a personalised service. Our customers are at the forefront of our business and we will tailor a solution to fit their needs, not present them with a ready-made package and expect them to fit.
2. Empower your staff
Someone gave me this advice when I started up: ‘when you run a company, you should make yourself the least important person in the day-to-day running of it’. I have found this to be a result of giving your staff the freedom they deserve in driving the business forward. I ask my staff to be entrepreneurs in the way they handle their individual projects and clients, with the safety net of my being there in the event of any problems. It makes the jobs more satisfying for my colleagues.
3. Enjoy what you do
A cliché, but like all clichés, true! When you run a business, you are taking all manner of risks and responsibilities. The buck stops with you and this means lonely times, tough times, staying-up-all-night times. It can only be maintained if you love the work and love the company. It also helps make it a success, for you must believe in something to sell it; if you are passionate about the work, you will enthuse others with your passion.
Carole’s tips are things that she kept in mind when starting up Prisma; the result is a business that is innovative, interesting and inspiring.
One thing that strikes people fervently about Prisma has nothing to do with its services, excellent though they are. It is the part on the website that speaks of its Corporate Social Responsibility. Amongst many other great causes, Prisma supports the children’s charity, Make-A-Wish®, the environmental initiative SuperDrecksKëscht® and a student internship. Prisma’s CSR provides an insight into Carole’s own personality; she is someone who really appreciates how we are all connected and how we can all support each other. She also takes a personal charitable interest, including working with the Red Cross, taking children with problematic homes out and bringing them home for Christmas. As she puts it, ‘The need to help people is stronger than myself.’
She attributes this need and her values to her experience as a young scout, which she took extremely seriously and remained involved with for 12 years.
The ethos was to leave the world a bit better than you originally found it and that ethos informs my daily life. I also read avidly to keep understanding the world from different points of view. From reading has come writing; I write poetry often and regularly contribute to Delano. I have also drafted a children’s book, which I must get down from the shelf and edit!
It’s not all work and no play. Carole is one of those people that is as comfortable chairing an important meeting as going down the pub with mates. She’s to be found at all the best gigs in town, recently meeting Jamie Cullum and cheering her favourite sports team, beer in hand.
Carole Miltgen has braved the corporate waters and launched a thriving and successful company, but as can be seen, there’s a lot more to her than just her career. She has put her heart and soul into the way she lives her life, whether it be charitable works, writing or working. She mentions a Luxembourgish saying that roughly translates to ‘The way you shout into the forest is reflected in its echo’. Well I, for one, can’t wait to hear what she shouts about next.