Safety First: The Women Who Lead the woom Product Safety & Compliance Team
Brenda Torres and Alexandra Kühnelt-Leddihn are the two women leading the woom Product Safety and Compliance Program. They share an inside look at what goes on in their decisive department and talk about their efforts to make riding on woom bikes as smooth as possible.
When woom was founded in a tiny garage in 2013, little did the two founding fathers – and two young fathers they were at the time – anticipate how their start-up would flourish over the next ten years. Christian Bezdeka and Marcus Ihlenfeld assembled, sold, and shipped 287 bicycles to their friends and neighbors in their first year as bicycle entrepreneurs.
Today, with more than 250,000 woom bikes sold per year, the Austrian children's bicycle manufacturer is an entirely different company. While the initial concept – lightweight premium bicycles perfectly tailored to the needs of children – is still in place, most of the business operations have significantly changed. woom is transcending into a global company fast, hiring specialists from all aspects of bicycle production and sales – ranging from product development, supply, and assembly, to marketing and e-commerce. Tasks single-handedly completed by Christian and Marcus a not so long time ago.
With products sold to customers in more than 30 countries, suppliers and production facilities in three different continents, and a headcount exceeding 200, quality management and compliance are becoming increasingly complex.
This expertise is where Brenda Torres and Alexandra Kühnelt-Leddihn come into play. The two women both have a long professional history in this field and began at woom in 2021. Since then, the two engineers have been restructuring and professionalizing compliance – working hard to make riding on woom bikes a smooth experience.
"We are responsible for making woom bikes as safe as possible," Alexandra says. "We are in the process of scanning every aspect of our production, helping improve systems of quality control, and working hard to ensure that our team knows and understands the regulations for safety in consumer products ."
"Our vision is to make woom the most trusted children's bicycle company in the world," Brenda says.
“Brenda is a detective: she gets to the bottom of everything and doesn't give up until she finds a solution.”
To understand how product safety and compliance go together, it is worth looking at the genesis of a new product. It takes woom product designers up to three years to reach perfection in production. Before launch, every component goes through extensive testing to meet international industry standards. No woom bicycle will enter the market without passing these tests. A system of quality controls in the supplier factories, in the assembly, and in the warehouses completes the process. Any indication that the quality of our bikes might not be optimal is investigated.
“Our product managers, engineers, and designers are mostly young parents themselves,” Alexandra relates. “They want woom products to be safe. Our job is to help them understand exactly what that means.”
Understanding what consumer product safety means is not as easy as it may sound. “The interpretation of what is safe sometimes differs from the U.S. to Europe,” Alexandra explains. “Brenda and I have had some fascinating discussions about this, and now we understand each other’s approach to make sure we figure out what’s safe for riders everywhere.”
The team is quick to note that compliance isn’t where safety begins and ends. Compliance, Brenda explains, refers to the adherence or conformity to the commercial safety laws that permit woom to sell its products. So for woom, compliance is just the bare minimum.
“When a company just meets compliance laws, that alone doesn’t mean the product is safe,” Brenda says. “As a company, we have to prove that safety.” That drives Brenda and Alexandra’s work each day. “My passion is working across the woom organization to evolve safety culture,” she says. “From conducting hazard analysis with the product development team in the early stages of development to working with marketing and public relations to communicate and educate the consumer on maintaining the bikes, I’m there.”
What brought these dedicated pros to woom? It was meant to be for Alexandra, who had previously worked for a testing, inspection, and certification company and has a history in injury prevention and safety promotion.
"When I heard about the job," Alexandra remembers, "everything fell into place. Just like that!" All of Alexandra's past professional experiences prepared her for this role, including her mechanical engineer training and paramedic work.
For Brenda, who previously to woom had been working as a development and safety engineer for over 20 years, her background was ideal for her role at the children's bike manufacturer. But, woom's US headquarters in warm, sunny Austin was also appealing to the Wisconsin resident! "When my husband and I had the opportunity to choose where we wanted to live, I set out to find a job in a city with a warmer climate," she says. "Austin, Texas, was on our list." As a Certified Product Safety Professional, Brenda was thrilled to join a growing company and build up an industry-leading safety program.
At woom, product safety and compliance cross borders. With Alexandra in the woom HQ in Klosterneuburg, Austria, and Brenda in the US HQ in Austin, Texas, they make quite the international team. They found they share a like-minded and complementary mindset: "Alexandra and I hit it off the very first time we met," Brenda shares. "She and I are both very passionate about safety and compliance. Together we cover all aspects of a best practice safety program."
For Alexandra, she values Brenda's resolve to dig deeper into the issues at hand. "Brenda asks the questions that help me discover more on a topic, which is really beneficial," Alexandra notes: "Brenda is a detective: she gets to the bottom of everything and doesn't give up until she finds a solution."
“Alexandra is really a wizard with spreadsheets and databases”
And Brenda admires Alexandra's drive for details. "Alexandra can uniquely domesticate data," Brenda explains. "She's a wizard with spreadsheets and databases, which means we can get the work done more efficiently and easily. "
What makes safety and compliance a cakewalk (or ride!) is communication. "When we have clear expectations and targets, everyone on the team can succeed in what they're trying to accomplish," Brenda explains. "When it comes to safety, you've got to put all the issues on the table so that we can address them and support each other as a team."
With work dedicated to cycling and cycling safety, one would think that this type of mobility would be an inevitable choice for Brenda and Alexandra. However, this is one thing these women do not have in common.
Brenda seizes any chance to hop on her bike: "I like to go 20-plus miles when I can. It's challenging and relaxing at the same time.” And Alexandra, a dedicated sport fencer in her childhood and teenage years, prefers public transportation for her daily commute to the office: "I grew up in a part of Vienna where cycling was not a safe option.”
Nonetheless, there is a decent chance that the two compliance experts may ride together in the future. After all, woomsters occasionally have an opportunity to cross the ocean to visit the other headquarters. "There's a cycling path right next to our office in Klosterneuburg, so I hope to increase my mileage," Alexandra says.
Your office desk looks like:
- Brenda: Three monitors, regulations at my fingertips, and an electric coffee cup warmer to keep my tea warm.
- Alexandra: Working from shared desk space, a poster of all the woom bikes of all sizes and colors.
Three things for a deserted island:
- Brenda: Binoculars to spot any surprises, safety pins or duct tape, and the Bible for passing the time and keeping the faith.
- Alexandra: I'm rather pragmatic, so I'd take a pocket knife or multitool, a water bottle, and a sleeping bag because I don't like to be cold!
One personal Magic Moment:
- Brenda: Crossing the finish line of my first sprint triathlon as a member of Team Phoenix, my breast cancer support group.
- Alexandra: I struggled a lot at University, so when I finally graduated, it was like, 'Yes, I did it!'
One professional Magic Moment:
- Brenda: When I can sit in a team meeting and not have to say a word because the rest of the team is proactively advocating for safety. It validates all that I have influenced and connected.
- Alexandra: When everything fell in place for this job. This job meant finding a connection between all of my experiences that I hadn't realized.
- Brenda: Brené Browns Atlas of the Heart
- Alexandra: The French classic "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry