Leaping into the unknown

Journalist: Olivia Kinghorst | Photographer: www.foto-shooting.ch | Magazine: Trust engenders courage – October 2022

Petra Ehmann has had quite a varied career. She’s a digital manager, citizen of the world, ambassador of diversity and engineer, all wrapped up in one. However, there’s a common theme to her work. In every one of her roles, she questions the status quo. Ehmann talks about where she finds the courage to take this path.

Petra Ehmann is German and lives in Switzerland, but her story actually begins 10,000 kilometres away in Bolivia. Most of her early childhood memories are from South America, a particular one being the first time her parents’ car broke down in the middle of the Atacama Desert. “Having my father repair the car and explain to us how the engine works was a common occurrence,” she says. “For me as a child, it sparked an extremely early interest in technology and the sciences.”

Her childhood in South America seems far removed from our chat today in the centre of Zurich. The 36-year-old, considered one of the leading digital voices in Switzerland, sits across from us at a trendy Greek restaurant. But these adventures of hers around the globe continue to shape her approach towards work and life, even today. “It was extremely courageous of my parents to drive us across the vast expanse of South America, where there’s no civilisation on secluded roads in remote areas.”

Ehmann is well versed in living a life off the beaten track. When she was 19, people’s frequent advice was to study business or do an apprenticeship. Instead, she decided to study engineering at ETH Zurich – surrounded by male classmates. “I got plenty of strange looks and it took a lot of courage for me to do it,” she remembers. In the end, it was that same courage that took her around the world. First to Bosch in Mexico, then to Hilti in Shanghai and eventually to São Paulo in Brazil.

Bossard is a global specialist in high-quality screws and fasteners. It started in 1831 as an ironmonger’s in Zug before being listed on the SIX Swiss Exchange. Since then, Bossard has grown to around 2,700 employees and is currently active in 32 countries. The company is being run by the seventh generation of its founding family and generates sales of nearly CHF 1 billion per year.


Ehmann is now back in Switzerland. She most recently headed up the global product partnerships for augmented reality (AR) at Google, where she was employed for nearly a decade. The first step was a bold one. There were only a few AR prototypes around and there was no shortage of sceptics. “Will it really take off?” Ehmann wondered. “It’s easy to dismiss each new technology, each new innovation, each new idea simply because there’s hardly any evidence that it’ll work. But it takes persistence to find out which idea is really going to take off.”

“Will it really take off?”

The willingness to dive into the unknown is something Ehmann learned from her time at Stanford University and her work in Silicon Valley. “You get the feeling that you can solve any problem in the world if you just think big enough, use the best, most suitable technologies and talent and approach the problem with your sights set high enough. You also need to have the right vision.” The oft-quoted mantra of “fail fast, fail often” made an impression on Ehmann. “It definitely influenced me. How can you stay flexible? That’s part of Silicon Valley’s DNA and some of it rubbed off on me.”

Petra Ehmann was born in Germany and earned her bachelor’s in machine engineering at ETH Zurich and her master’s degree in management science and engineering at Stanford. As a citizen of the world, she’s lived in Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, the US, Germany, Switzerland and China. She joined Google in 2013 and most recently headed up the global partnerships for augmented reality. She’s also a member of the Board of Directors of Bossard (a listed Swiss family-owned company), the Advisory Board of We Shape Tech and the Board of Trustees of Technorama. In September 2022, she stepped into her new role as chief innovation officer at Swiss media company Ringier.

Ehmann has an exciting time ahead of her. She’s venturing into a new role as Chief Innovation Officer at the Swiss media company Ringier, while remaining on the Board of Directors of Bossard, the fastening technology company. Her job there is to help bring about a comprehensive cultural transformation. There are many fascinating examples of companies that have already trodden this path, both regionally and internationally, which Ehmann is using as inspiration.

“I want to encourage other people to stand up for their points of view.”

And it’s not just on the executive floor that Ehmann has to prove her courage. In her capacity as diversity ambassador and member of the Advisory Board of the “We Shape Tech” diversity platform, she continues to advocate for equal oppor­tunities for women and men in the tech industry. “I’m committed to providing a stage for these role models from the tech industry so that they can inspire others and take them along with them.” As with every other milestone along Ehmann’s career path, it’s ultimately about having a clear mission. “Courage is changing the status quo,” she says.

Petra Ehmann – In the spotlight

The first thing I think of when I hear the word “courage” is …
standing up for my values.

For me, the colour of courage is …

My role models are …

This animal embodies my personal courage the best …
a leopard.

If you want to make courageous decisions, you have to …
be quick.