“The most important part of the Masters in Management for me was the international exposure”, says Thomas Griesel. Today, as the co-founder of HelloFresh – a global organisation with offices in 11 countries employing over 3,500 staff – it’s coming in handy.
This year, Thomas won London Business School’s first ever GOLD award, introduced to recognise the outstanding achievements of the School’s most recent alumni. As one of only three from the last ten years – chosen for their profound impact in their professional field – he is unassuming about the accolade. “We hardly ever take time to sit back and reflect”, he says. “It’s not like it happens overnight. You don’t wake up in the morning with thousands of employees. It’s a gradual development. That’s why me and my co-founder tend to be humble about it. Keeping a relatively low-profile is our approach.”
Thomas says that the international exposure LBS gives its students is “unrivalled by any other school.” In his group of 108 there were more than 40 nationalities. His study group alone represented five countries: Greece, Lebanon, India, Malaysia and his own native Germany. “You simply don’t find that anywhere else”, he says. He admits that working with people from such diverse backgrounds isn’t always easy, but for him, the preparation for his career and the expansion of his horizon has been worth every bit of effort.
“Business works the same everywhere”, he says. “It comes down to the numbers. But the ways of getting there are what differs between cultures. Having a solid understanding of what differs and being aware of how I communicate and go about things is vitally important.”
Adjusting his style to fit the diverse contexts he finds himself in has been his biggest lesson. “In general, we Germans have the tendency to be quite direct”, he says. “When something is good, or not good, we’ll say so. That did not go down well with some of the other guys at the beginning of the MiM! I was so used to doing things my way that I didn’t think about it. But other people might find your way difficult.” It also works the other way around: he can now see the subtext in the messages of some other cultures. “If a Brit says something has not gone super-well, for example, it probably means it’s gone terribly!”
British/German communication differences certainly haven’t hampered business: HelloFresh launched in Germany and the UK simultaneously in 2011 and now has headquarters in Berlin and New York, a valuation of €2.3 billion and close to 2 million customers. The company’s starting point was a problem that Thomas and his co-founder experienced themselves while working in consulting: the desire to eat healthy food and a lack of means – namely time – to prepare it.
“When we started out the offering was quite simple”, he says. “There were three meals with one delivery date a week. If you didn’t like what was on offer, there was nothing we could do for you! Now we’re a lot more flexible. You can choose the recipes that are right for you and the right delivery date. We’ve worked towards that very hard and will continue to work towards each user being able to get the option that’s right for them.”
Despite his success, Thomas believes in doing less, not more. “If I was to give advice to a new LBS student, I would tell them to do less stuff, properly,” he says. “You need to think about what to focus on. There’s so much on offer at LBS it’s easy to choose too much.” Being in London compounds the situation further: Thomas describes the city as “the centre of everything that’s super-interesting”, with LBS’s own regular Friday night event – ‘Sundowners’ drinks in the grounds of the school – a highlight. “Sundowners was the best”, he says. “To be able to spend time with your classmates in such a relaxed setting after studying hard all day is amazing. Then afterwards, there’s London!”