Positive Mindset: It is absolutely critical that no matter the state or situation, that your company’s leaders always see the glass half full. Even IF, they’re naturally inclined not to (like so many are) — as part of representing you and your company, showing a positive mindset to those who look up to you is extremely powerful. My father is a great teacher of this, and I’d highly recommend it too.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jürgen Himmelmann, CEO of The Global Work & Travel Co. Jürgen Himmelmann is the Co-Founder and CEO of The Global Work & Travel Co., a one-stop shop for travelers seeking meaningful travel experiences and gap-year working holidays. A natural-born entrepreneur, Jürgen co-founded the company at just 19, after starting and experimenting with numerous small businesses from the age of 15. A decade later, The Global Work & Travel Co. is one of the world’s fastest-growing youth travel brands servicing the US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, and UK markets. They assist over 10,000 travelers each year and offer vacations and experiences to over 40 countries. The Global Work & Travel Co. team is made up of over 100 passionate travel experts globally.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Well, I was raised with entrepreneurial parents who traveled a lot to hustle partnerships around Europe, so travel has always been something deeply rooted. I was studying property development at university with the aim to become a property developer. As a side job, I was helping my parents’ business at the time in a similar-but-different field with some bookkeeping and then sales.
After they had a falling out with their business partner at the time, I proposed my vision of this company and its potential and struck a deal with my father to give it a shot with their support. They didn’t have much money, so there was no seed funding or other financial “hand-outs” to get the business going, which some people assume, but there was a lot of mental and emotional guidance.
We started in September of 2008 with no business plan just a vision and worked out how to execute along the way with a lot of trial and error. The rest is history, as they say.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
As a 25-year-old CEO at the time, the company and I were the target of a poorly-researched, tabloid-style negative press piece which had my face blasted all over Canadian national television in prime time for 2 days. I was 25. Can you imagine how scary that is at that age (any age!)?
It was a mentally and financially tough year that followed, but I tell you what, it was an education you simply cannot buy no matter what business school you go to or what your degree costs, and in hindsight, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Very few people get to experience that, in fact, it’s like getting a public relations degree, for free, and now I consider it quite a fortunate event in my business experience.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Ah, the beauty of the internet and the speed at which technology moves. We’ve got loads of exciting projects, but I’m limited to how much I can publicly reveal! What I can say is we build, develop and own our own technology (our main platforms), and that allows us to do some really awesome things that our customers will enjoy and can’t find anywhere else.
Today’s business, in general, is putting a lot more priority and care-factor into developing ‘community’ for its customers, and smart businesses are creating their own eco-systems to keep their current customers engaged and loyal to the brand. We’ve got some unseen-before tech being developed that will bring our customers closer to not only us, but one another and ultimately make the world of gap year work and travel something a lot less scary for the often-solo traveler.
Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
There’s a couple of things I can easily identify. People chase “jobs” and not “passions”.
9/10 people are working because the system forces them to, and they end up doing something that pays the bill just to live. Either chasing whatever pays the most at the cost of their enjoyment, or they don’t pursue something that genuinely excites them. There’s also such a “self-entitlement” culture where a lot of people think they’re owed whatever it is they want and don’t believe they have to earn it first.
My least favorite day of the week is Sunday as I still have a whole day to go until the office reopens, and that’s where I get nearly all of my joy and adrenaline from, and thus I don’t believe I’ve “worked” a day in my “Global Life” yet (in this business at least, I DID work in retail and in a cafe washing dishes whilst at school and I definitely did not enjoy that most of the time!).
Apart from blaming individuals, there’s also a ton of crap employers, businesses and managers out there. If your CEO, manager or workplace has a lazy, stagnant or complacent attitude/culture, it’s hard to draw joy from your job when you’re not feeling it’s doing something of value to society or for the team you work in. That’s why they say culture is so important in business and I couldn’t agree more. People need to love coming to work, otherwise, it’s a chore to wake up each weekday.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
A. Negatively B. More negatively and C. Extremely negatively.
Without much explanation needed, an unhappy workforce isn’t going to care about its workplace. When someone doesn’t care about their workplace or their job, they’re not going to be engaged and putting much effort in, which means low productivity out the other end. In a record-low unemployment market, employees know they can find new work relatively easy, so the fear of losing their job is also at a record low, thus the typical driving force/fear for (unhappy employees) putting in the effort is also lower than it’s been for years.
It’s bad for business to have high staff turnover, so without keeping a happy workforce, you won’t have a strong productivity level, both from effort and from turnover. Productivity equals progress which equals growth and eventually profit. They all tie hand in hand and if your workforce isn’t happy, it spreads like wildfire to any new person who joins the team and keeps spiraling until you may need to do an entire clean out and rebuild the team again. A toxic workplace is one of the most expensive things to fix and greatly threatens the existence of your enterprise, much more than ‘bad reviews’ or what government is in power, which seems to rank higher by many business owners when thinking of threats to their company’s success than employee happiness.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
Definitely, without any order of priority:
1. Positive Mindset: It is absolutely critical that no matter the state or situation, that your company’s leaders always see the glass half full. Even IF, they’re naturally inclined not to (like so many are) — as part of representing you and your company, showing a positive mindset to those who look up to you is extremely powerful. My father is a great teacher of this, and I’d highly recommend it too.
2. Leading by Example: We were taught this in school already. Be the person you want your team to be. It’s largely a ‘monkey-see monkey-do’ world, so show your team how they should be handling challenges, wins and uncertainty and you’ll do wonders for your culture. Before long, your staff that care will be following their leader’s suit.
3. Engage with your Team: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from new staff how their last workplace manager didn’t know their name, showed no interest in knowing them and simply just didn’t care to get to know them. Your team is your team. Managers need to know them inside out to not only understand them best but to also know what makes them tick.
4. Personal Development Initiatives: Now don’t get me wrong here, it sounds fancy but it really isn’t. You don’t (but can if you want) need to create a formal program for staff to educate and develop themselves. All it really takes is your managers taking an active interest in their staff and genuinely wanting to develop them by giving advice, mentorship and unbiased neutral feedback that helps them reach that next level. This is something I try to do with the managers that report to me and encourage them to do with their subordinates
5. Staff Parties!: At the end of every month, we hire a DJ who jumps on our decks in our reception foyer, and we ship in a few cartons of beer, cider, and prosecco, and while we’re all finishing our last few hours we celebrate a successful month with one another over a few drinks whilst a DJ mixes a new house music mix for the staff. Once per quarter, we go really big and get a DJ for 4 hours, offer drinks, catered food, and everyone gets to mingle with each other outside of their “professional-selves”. We find this really helps strengthen the ‘community’ aspect of our culture as suddenly everyone from Sales knows everyone from Tech, etc. It isn’t expensive to do, the staff loves it, and the weeks that follow everyone is suddenly more open and friendly to other departments.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
Tough question. I’ve never actually labeled my own management style and I know for sure it’s changed a lot. 5–10 years ago I used to micro-manage a lot because either A. I didn’t think anyone could do it as well as me or B. I didn’t think anyone understood or cared about the vision as much as me.
But today it’s very different. Today I know I have a team that cares just as much or knows even more than me about something. I think your “management style” changes with your hiring criteria and their pay-grade. These days, I and my senior team are one and the same working side-by-side and on the same level. We’re friends, we’re colleagues and we’re business partners at the same time. Whether totally true or not, I’ve personally found this the best formula.
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?
It sounds corny, but it’s hands-down both my parents, Caryl and Pierre. They really had to hustle whilst my brother and I were at school. We spent countless evenings forced by teachers into “after-school care” because our parents couldn’t leave their office early enough.
My brother, Thorsten, and I are happy to drop this point regularly to stir the pot, but, I think that grit and work ethic my parents showed us as being “normal” in our eyes prepared me for what corporate business life is often like. For that, I’m eternally grateful. I see so many of my school friends who were picked up by their non-working parents the minute school finished, and their life hasn’t progressed at all since then, over 10 years ago.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m glad you asked! My family and I LOVE animals. I was raised as a vegetarian, I love animals, respect them in all shapes and sizes, and feel it’s very ignorant and primitive for humans in this day and age to still support their exploitation and abuse. A few years ago we started an NGO in Hua Hin, Thailand, called Rescue P.A.W.S. which feeds local street dog packs, neuters them, rehabilitates the injured, educates the local community and even tries to rehome certain dogs into families in Canada, USA, Europe & UK.
In 1 year alone we rehomed over 170 homeless, sad and emotionally-deflated dogs to new families across the first-world where they’re living out the absolute jackpot of the century in dog terms.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
”If you don’t pay the price for success, you pay the price for failure”
Somewhere in your life you’re going to be pushed into an uncomfortable zone, whether that be poor, lonely, sick, stressed (financially), or something else. This quote has been one of my favorites and hangs on the wall of my home office. As the saying goes, if you don’t make some sacrifices today in the name of seeing your business (or whatever your dream is) succeed, you’ll suffer some sacrifices later in life instead.
Somewhere along the line, if you want to live a life above average, you’ve got to make some sacrifices to get there. I’ve made so many in my twenties that a lot of other people couldn’t cope with. I lost most of my high-school and university friends, I’ve lived and breathed the business at the cost of my family and girlfriend’s relationships. And I’ve spent a lot of my career traveling the world (sounds WAY better than it is) at the expense of most friendships. But do I regret it? — No.
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!
As I’ve mentioned, I was lucky enough to be born into an animal-loving family and raised as a vegetarian, which I couldn’t be more grateful for. I think the world’s torturous slaughter of innocent animals for literally a 20-second taste in your mouth is the most primitive (and selfish) thing mankind is currently doing.
I really feel that in 50 years from now we’ll look back on our inhumane treatment of other sentient beings and realize that true superiority as a race comes from empathy for all living beings, not just our own children. I love the movement currently happening in the plant-based meat alternatives from companies like Beyond Meat. This is a movement that I think is well overdue but am very glad to support.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!