Christoph Borschein is one of the three founders and CEO of the German agency and boutique consultancy for digital business “Torben, Lucie und die gelbe Gefahr” in short “TLGG.” With offices in Berlin and New York, he and his team counsel international companies and brands in the strategic use of digital technologies, building out new organizational innovation infrastructures and the development of new business models. Even public authorities and NGOs seek the expertise of Christoph in dealing with the digital change around topics like single market integration, investment taxation, and education. He has authored numerous essays and articles on digital change and is a renowned speaker at global conferences. Christoph is actively facilitating change as a mentor and investor to startups around the world.
Can you tell us about your journey to becoming CEO?
Being an entrepreneur often means becoming the CEO by default. The question in my life often hasn’t been whether I’d make it to the top, but if I would prove myself as a good leader, accountable for sustainable and long-term success in growing organizations? Proving the ability to grow your capabilities and leadership faster than the growth of the organization becomes the crucial factor that is putting pressure on many CEO’s.
TLGG, over the past 10 years has without a doubt been my best venture to-date. Seeing discussions pop up about “management-as-a-service” as the new philosophy, proves our method is state-of-the-art because this basically is what we have established with the leadership with TLGG.
What is your definition of success?
Success for me is comprised of a triangle. Having a team, clients and shareholders all aligned and satisfied with what we’re delivering and how we’re proceeding on our mission of becoming the (boutique) advisor for digital value creation, globally. In addition, seeing companies I’ve built or invested in, growing and delivering on their mission brings me extreme happiness and is a great indicator of success.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Having the opportunity to not only meet but also advise the German Chancellor surely was one of the most interesting things that happened over the course of running TLGG. I was invited to join a cabinet meeting in the beautiful Castle of Meseberg as an expert for digital and technology. The result was a six-hour meeting where in the end I found the Chancellor and me standing in the garden and discussing cybersecurity and what it takes for a nation to be competitive all alone. We were the last two people left and that only happened because I had to tell her that I needed to leave for another meeting. This meeting was unique, as she proved to be the inspiring and smart leader you’d expect with an in-depth knowledge about topics that I didn’t expect.
What failures have you had along the way? How have they led you to success?
Many founders underestimate the transition from being a founder to being a manager. Leading a small team in a startup where everybody knows each other requires a completely different skill set than leading a big company, building structures, an organization and most importantly a culture that is independent from the founders. All failures I made are connected with the statement above, underestimating the change growth brings to a company and how it leads to new capabilities. These have continued to propel me on the steep path of becoming a CEO.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Gender and almost more importantly neuro diversity has been at the core of our company from the beginning. My co- founder, Fränzi, has recently been appointed as Germany’s youngest female supervisory board member and our New York office is probably the only consulting company with 70% of female staff. Hiring and supporting people from diverse backgrounds, nationalities and educational backgrounds is what differentiates TLGG and makes us successful.
Supporting gender diversity as a male CEO means more than just hiring smart women. It also means that you need to question your own behavior: where am I subconsciously biased? Where am I creating structural disadvantages without realizing it? There’s a lot of talk about women having to “lean in” at the workplace, but men have to do their part, too.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
I always am, but currently I am working on a range of projects, from the future of brick-and- mortar retail, mobility, and the future of banking, etc. Here in Europe we’re in the process of building an association dedicated to European competitiveness (Competitive Europe Association), bringing together stakeholders out of policy making, society and the economy to discuss a progressive agenda for Europe’s future — this is the most exciting and yet complex thing to do that is on my current agenda!
Is your company working to be more sustainable? If so, how?
Understanding sustainability in a broader sense as a balanced way of enhancing both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspiration, sustainability in its core essence is our business. Not only are we helping the incumbents in diverse industries to remain successful and improve and sustain their business with the help of technology, but we’re trying to do this in the most sustainable and responsible manner. Digital technology is seen as the driver to massive unemployment and societal polarization which is why we’re giving away a lot of our advice pro-bono to unions, politicians and other various institutions. By doing so, it will help to improve education, competitiveness and drive inclusive growth across the organizations we’re working with.
Having full commitment, not only on growth, but also on the inclusiveness of the change we’re driving is what we see as our responsibility to enable a sustainable and human future. We’re using the same measures we apply to client organizations, to TLGG, in building a value driven organization that is aware of the fact that we’re living in times where we’re deciding whether the future is going to be bright for everyone or on the flipside where technology will be used for control and exploitation of nature and the society.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Be a “people first company” and put trust in your employees. At TLGG we hire people not only because of their skills, but because we believe in their potential and judgement. Trust and responsibility is what an organization should be built on.
Push your employees out of their comfort zones — we give our employees a lot of responsibilities right from the start — it creates tremendous opportunities for personal growth.
Don’t just hire smart people, listen to them. A lot of companies hire incredibly qualified people, but their ideas never make it to the top. At TLGG, we encourage our employees to be opinionated- even if that means disagreeing with the CEO.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This is one of the moments you simply need to thank your parents. especially in cases like mine, where both of them have been great sources of inspiration and clear role-models as entrepreneurs!
The two other people in my life that are a constant source of inspiration, never-ending (legitimate) criticism and energy are my co-founders Fränzi Kühne and Boontham Temaismaithi! Without those two, none of the success, spirit and drive would have been possible over the course of the last 10 years! I’m a deep believer that the only reason TLGG has been the success it is today is that we as three founders proved to be the team we are.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Using our network and visibility to build non-profit ventures like the Competitive Europe Association is one of the things that has been enabled by the success TLGG has. Additionally, acting as a pro-bono thinktank to various organizations that drive inclusiveness in a digital age is important for us as they wouldn’t be able to acquire the assessment capability without us. Specifically, in Europe, where unions represent the simple worker, we’ve helped them and will continue to, to cope with the massive change technology is bringing to the workforce
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why?
Stability is an illusion. Growing organizations are changing and so are the capabilities you need to acquire. I can’t count the number of times we, as an executive board, had to reinvent ourselves in order to be the leaders we expect ourselves to be.
Sometimes the C-suite is a lonely place. There are no decisions over the course of the development and growth of a company that somebody can take off of you.
Being in charge does NOT mean that you’ve got full control, especially not over your mornings! I hate getting up before 6am and my take on being CEO was always that I could simply decide when my day starts — not true. My assistant and travel plans are the true determining factors of that.
Don’t judge a book by its cover. The university someone graduated from, or a past employer tells you nothing about this person’s skill set, capability, or drive. Judging people is just the wrong way of selecting the team you want to have.
Prejudice is wrong. Whether it’s in a positive or negative way, it’s always wrong.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Such a big question indeed — what really impresses me is the movement “En Marche” that Macron started in France. Leaving the legacy of the traditional parties behind with no smaller goal than reinventing the state really was what it needed in France. The way he changed the narrative about the future giving digitalization and technology a positive notion really is what a lot of nations including mine, need. I’m not actually planning to go into politics but playing a role in changing the way we think about the future is absolutely what I aim for.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m not much into life lessons nor am I into quotes, so let me share one thing that always helped me cope with whatever happened and what it means to me:
I truly believe that there is nothing that can’t be fixed after 9 hours of sleep — however complicated things were before that, after proper 9 hours of sleep you’ll be able to solve it.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Being born in the 80’s there is only one person I could think of because he was part of so many things that shaped the role of technology in everyone’s life: Bill Gates.