Commonly carrying a negative connotation, the adage betwixt and between depicts an inability or hesitation to make a decision, or to be caught between two opposing forces. Neither condition is welcome since they force us out of our comfort zone. You could say Sandra Hunke’s comfort zone is precisely betwixt and between. And she doesn’t just sit there. She is extraordinarily active and extraordinarily successful. In her own words, “Success is not a matter of luck!”

At our 5th Think Tank on February 6th, Sandra Hunke’s presentation was enthusiastically received by our guests. Reason enough for us to print her talk here in our blog. Enjoy!

“Success is not a matter of luck”

Sandra Hunke, plumber and international model


“Greetings my Friends!

I know we have already seen each other today, since I have the honor of taking part in this event. Still, to start, I would like to formally introduce myself. My name is Sandra Hunke. I am 26 years young and a professional plumber and model. Growing up, I had little interest in Paris, London and Berlin, in Vogue and Elle, in modeling at all. At school, my classmates wouldn’t give me the time of day – too gangly, red-headed, a thousand freckles. Not a high school ideal. Tall, slim, unconventional. Very few of today’s top models were beauty queens on the playground. The boys who once took pleasure in mobbing me are now writing ardent love letters via Instagram.

Times change, people change. Me, for example. Like everyone in my family, I began my professional life guided by the “trade in hand finds gold in every land” principle, and completed a three-year apprenticeship as a plumbing and heating installer. What profession could be further from fashion’s catwalks? At some point, a girlfriend put my name up for the annual Miss Handwerk contest and I won second place. In the meantime, I work part-time as a plumber and the rest of the time I’m a model. And I don’t mean for our local fitness studio in our 800-soul village, I mean, for example, for Berlin’s Fashion Week.

That arouses interest. Inquiries pile up. A carefree country lass in the shimmering world of glitter. RTL2 (German private television station) just had to have me for their Cinderella Experiment. Pragmatic as I am, I did the math. I needed a new saddle for my horse and saddles are expensive. I’ll do it! In the Cinderella Experiment, I was to play the unprepossessing, mousy counterpart to Rebecca Kratz, who played the princess. An error in casting judgment with far-reaching consequences. I gained the sympathies of all viewers and ended up as undisputed winner. Model agencies called and RTL2 wants me for a variety of platforms.

But I never turned my back on my trade. Even though I live well on what I earn as a model, I am always happy to get back on the job. I have a passion for turning old bathrooms into wellness oases, I simply love it. This is my media image – the carefree country lass who accidently became a model, and although she earns good money modeling, she is happiest at her trade. I now work at my plumbing installations half of the week and the other half I travel to modeling projects. 

And so, gradually, I earned a piece of fame. But to remain popular and successful I have my own golden rules – stay authentic, approachable, ambitious, reliable and grounded. All of which comes easily to me. That’s how I was raised. I was given some nicknames such as Baumädchen (Installation Girl) or the magazine BUNTE called me Plumber-Model and 30,000 people were now following me on Instagram. No teenagers, mind you, but predominantly middle-class men, tradesmen and businessmen, which soon led to corporations taking notice of me. 

Thus, I attained step two for my company, the Sandra Hunke brand. Companies were now offering me money to represent their products, advertising myself in the process. This is where many people make a fatal mistake. They sell themselves to the highest bidder. Not me. I took the time to research the company and their products. Are they a successful business with promotion-worthy products? Is the product top-quality, sustainably manufactured? What is the company’s image? Actually, work similar to yours Mr. Liscia 😊. And then came the hardest decision for a journeywoman in my trade with a monthly income of €1350. Countless single portals wanted me for their TV advertising, even though I wasn’t single. I had celebrated my engagement at Fashion Week. BILD magazine was there and mentioned it in their report. “No problem,” they replied. “Just register with us for 3 months.” If there are still some singles among you, forget Parship and suchlike. They’re only after your money😊. I turned them down. Another offer came from a sex-toy manufacturer. They wanted to pay me €8000 for a YouTube spot. I was supposed to pose, fully dressed, next to a toy that was about the size of a ten-liter bucket and say, “The best things come at you from behind.” I sincerely hope no one tried it out. The only one that will come is surgery 😊. 

I turned down all of these offers and concentrated on top-level companies and long-term cooperation – at least a one-year contract. And that’s a win-win situation for both parties. When I want my advertising to convince people, I have to be convinced of the product, promoting it over a longer period of time. I can’t say Coke is great today and Pepsi is the best tomorrow. I’ll only lose credibility, and so will the products I advertise. I currently advertise Hansa tapware installations, Kaldewei bathtubs and Mascot work clothes. Each product is the best in its field. Kaldewei, for example, is consistently among the top 50 premium luxury products in Germany. By promoting top-line products, I become associated with their quality.

I not only promote my products on Instagram, at shootings, on video or at trade fairs. I also promote them regularly on television, what I call hidden product placement. Furthermore, I connect the product to my everyday modeling work, lending them a special glamor. During the last Fashion Week in January, for example, I renovated another well-known model’s bathroom. Naturally with Kaldewei and Hansa products.

Authenticity is the secret of my success. I don’t know whether you can learn that or not. I always used to have it. For example, I cannot lie. If someone makes me feel upset, I tell him! That’s not always an advantage 😊 I keep working as a plumber because I love it. I just need the silence there to balance my model everyday life. The media then always say, I am so incredibly authentic. But in the end that is only me. 😊 

I only promote what I find great myself. I would rather buy my own Mercedes than ride in a Citroen the agency sent. When I had my first meetings with companies like yours, I was still driving my old Polo. I would park three streets away and then arrive on foot. Then, now be honest, if I were to drive up in my 20-year-old Polo and then tell you a year’s contract would cost you €50,000, you would most likely think I hadn’t had much luck procuring contracts. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be driving that jalopy. So, you’d offer me €10,000 and believe I’d take it.

In the meantime, my worries have shifted elsewhere. Money isn’t everything, but it saves my back and gives a sense of security. Still, I give a good part of every day to making sure the wheels keep turning; that my clients and followers are happy and remain loyal. Sometimes I catch myself spending more time than usual thinking about my response to a post. Decisions are becoming more difficult to make. I struggle against this trend daily, to not to become sluggish. What made me popular were fast decisions, the love for craft and the job I do as a model. To remain just me is the key to my success. The range of people I deal with in my job became wider and wider. I always meet a lot of top models at the place to be in Berlin and half of the management of the Axel Springer Verlag (big German publishing house). Gucci here, Louis Vuitton there. Almost all of them are vegans and talk about the global problems. It is good that these people exist, but the plumbers have different problems. To buy food for the family at the end of the month does not always allow to buy organic food! After eight hours of physical work just to have a schnitzel for dinner! And instead of discussing the global climate warming you exchange tips where to get your car repaired for small money. And this is how I grew up as a plumber girl: We do not write yellow press, we read it. And since then I am familiar with both these worlds: The vegan luxury Italian restaurant in Berlin and the German Bratwurst just around the corner. And I can tell you that living the life of a craftsman is worth living. To have some French fries with your colleagues who have just torn off an old bathroom with you is for me often much more refreshing than the vegan truffle pasta after a meeting. I want to keep this light-heartedness for me. Not to become sluggish!

What could you learn from me, aside from the facts that singles markets often cheat, and sex toys shouldn’t exceed a certain size 😊? You are all better educated than I am, speak more languages and earn three times as much as I do. What can I tell you that you don’t already know?

I’ve thought about this. Do you know the film in which Eddie Murphy suddenly wins a bet and goes from homeless to stock market broker? Of course, it’s just a Hollywood film, but it mirrors my naiveté four years ago when I first saw how larger companies work. Since then, I work closely with the marketing departments of several corporations. And every marketing department works differently. Each has their own strategy, some of which are less than successful. 😊

And from all of my corporate experience, there are a few things that have caught my attention and I’d like to share them with you. Whether it’s right or wrong, whether it’s clever suggestions for improvement or utter bullshit, is up to you. You’re the ones with diplomas.

What drove me nuts from day one is how long you take to make a decision. I have often been approached by two companies with the same product. The faster one got the contract. Three months are gone in a flash. The business that needed four months to decide still claims they want a piece of the pie, too. I make my decisions within seconds. There are two cameras on the red carpet, and both want an interview. While you’re looking into what is best for your company, waiting to have your decision approved, then preparing for the interview, I have long since made my choice. My interview is aired the same evening on ZDF (German public television). Sure, it might be only 90% positive, whereas yours is 100% positive. But by the time you’re ready to face the camera, they’ve packed up and gone home. Be more decisive, you don’t have to weigh and approve every decision ten times over, the competition never sleeps. 

And when I write an email to all 30 marketing employees I work with, 20% are answered with automated notifications: I’m on vacation, I’m out of office, I’m on maternity leave, etc.

You could write to me on Christmas Eve or during my wedding and still get a response within 6 hours. I wake up twice every night and check my mails, Instagram and the rest. I don’t consider this work. This is my life. I did not create a product; I am the product. And if your employees are not 100% behind your product, if they don’t carry a torch for their jobs, then they’re in the wrong place. If you want to compete around the globe, you have to be in front. Always.

When I was in Hong Kong last year, I encountered an elegantly dressed man at the harbor at midnight. He had rolled up his pants’ legs and came toward me at a brisk pace, looking toward the ocean. I said, “That was a long day.” He answered, “I just jogged along the shore for a moment to clear my head. I’m headed back to the office now.” All over the world, people are hungry for success. We can’t be lulled by our wealth. If you want to earn a lot of money, you have to work hard and long. 

And to keep pace, you need the best employees. Which brings me to my next topic: winning over employees.

It may be that your recruiting is on a different level than hiring craftspeople, but the stipulations are the same. Over the last few years, many mid-sized trade establishments have had to learn how to win over employees. Until recently, there had been enough applicants. You didn’t need abitur (13 years of school) back then. Many students finished school after 10 years or even after nine without being socially frowned upon and went on to apprenticeships. Master tradespeople could pick and choose their apprentices, were actively involved in the apprentice’s learning process and gave their journey people a proper salary, advanced learning opportunities and even words of praise. Recognition is important to an employee. As leaders, your recognition is the next commission. But it’s your journeymen and women who carry out these commissions. The newspapers report on your company’s growth, but don’t forget your employees and show your appreciation. Ten years ago, you could still find master tradesmen who mistreated their apprentices when they dared to make a mistake. Unimaginable today. Few young people want to go into one of the craft trades and businesses have to downright woo apprentices. That’s karma, the trades have a bad reputation when it comes to treating their apprentices with respect and appreciation. The result? No apprentices. I met a master tradesman once who couldn’t understand why he couldn’t find any apprentices. Right in front of my eyes, he raked a box of screws onto the floor and screamed at his journeyman, “Get in here and clean this mess up!” You don’t need a consulting company to see where the problem lies. I could have told him why no one wanted to work for him. “Because you’re an asshole!”

If you want to win over and motivate employees, share your success and appreciation. Reward perfect attendance with €XXX at the end of the year. When our business turns over €XXX annual profit, the employees receive a bonus. If you have problems, my door and ears are open. No matter how big your corporation, do your best to lead as if it were a family business.

And the last thing I’d like you to take to heart is, speed up your procedures! If you have the best employees and your company is growing and growing, you must delegate! Nothing is worse than bloated machinery. If I have to submit an application for a new pen and have my paper supply approved in duplicate, the no-name pen costs you more than if your employee just went out and bought herself a Lamy fountain pen.

Coming from the installations trade, I have prepared an example for you. I always understand things best when I can see them with my own eyes and feel them with my own hands. These two faucet fittings are to me what a Power Point presentation is to you. They both do the same thing: they allow you to choose between warm and cold water and to turn the water off when you’re finished.

Figuratively, they are two completely identical companies, with one essential difference. The faucet on the left needs only one employee to keep the company on course and make decisions. The one on the right needs quadruple approval, which is why there are four different parts which must be mounted one after the other, or, metaphorically, processed to make a decision.

I now invite two teams to compete and we’ll see which (method) leads to success first.”