Based in Munich, Germany, Markus Kessler was formerly the CEO of one of Europe's largest private label manufacturers of beauty and household products. Now, Markus is a social entrepreneur, investor, consultant—and most recently co-founder (with our very own Russ Stoddard) of Humanista—a social impacting consulting firm. Markus is passionate about the circular economy and invests his time and money in businesses that take their environmental footprint seriously.
What life lessons did you learn from your parents?
Choose work and a career that you truly enjoy. Status and material things are not important—just be yourself. Stand up for your opinion, but also keep an open mind.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an entrepreneur and someday run a company. And that’s what I did!
How’d you catch the social enterprise bug?
Being a part of the traditional corporate rat race for many years, I realized that this cannot be the point of life. I had been living in a sort of vacuum so it took me a while to realize how many more exciting things there are besides business. To discover concepts like cradle-to-cradle and the circular economy or how to run an organization without hierarchies makes life so much more interesting, inspiring, enjoyable, pleasing, and challenging. At the end of the day, everything we do involves or depends on people. People are so much more worthwhile than chasing KPIs. It’s more challenging, but in the end, it makes us better people when we treat everyone with respect, and it also paves the way for a brighter future for subsequent generations of this incredible planet in the great orbit.
How did a German CEO and an entrepreneur from Boise happen to start a consulting firm?
Believe it or not, we were sitting in a pancake house in Boise for Sunday brunch, it was the first time we met in person. I was very much interested in Russ' business model at Oliver Russell, and how he had evolved the company over nearly 30 years. This was (and is still) an amazing accomplishment. I didn't know anything like Oliver Russell in Germany. It struck me that social entrepreneurship was where I wanted to direct my energy and was truly the future of business. And here I was sitting with someone who has been living it for over two decades. At the same time, Russ was thinking about going into consulting and shared his thoughts and ideas with me. I liked this idea so much that I said, “let´s do it together and start a social purpose consultancy here in Boise and in Munich.” We looked at each other and shook hands and started to work on it. This is how we started to think and form Humanista!
What was the inspiration for Humanista?
The belief that people and consumers want to buy a product or service because it comes from a brand that is doing good in the world. People want to buy in accordance to their values, and as consumer knowledge grows, they are empowered to do what’s right according to their own moral compass. This change is happening at the same time as digitalization is progressing in our society. Companies, investors, and local governments aren't all ready for this change and need help navigating what people want today and will want in the future. Only a few leaders are ready to embrace this change, and we want to help all leaders to be ready. This starts by bringing one’s personal purpose into alignment or balance with one’s business purpose. When this happens, you can lead and guide a team on a journey toward social purpose.
There are a lot of consulting businesses out there. What makes Humanista different?
We are hands-on business people who believe in the power of employees and strong teams. Russ has been living this philosophy for over two decades. The success of his team says everything. I have been on the other side and have learned, experienced and understood that the traditional corporate way is not the right way. I also know what fears and hurdles exist for traditional corporate leaders to overcome. Humanista will operate as a consultancy along with our operational social impact labs—including recycling plastic and producing wood from textiles. Clients can come and see how a socially responsible business model works and even spend some time working within these organizations to experience the feeling and success.
In addition to Humanista, you also have several social enterprises that you’re working on. Tell us about them.
I am working with Organic Essence from Crescent City, CA and their packaging company EcoVision Packaging. We are trying to develop an automated packaging machine for their lip balm. The packaging is made of compostable paper.
Then, there is manaomea GmbH in Munich, Germany. They have developed a material, which is made of cotton or old clothes. This material is in the density between wood and tile and can be used in many applications like furniture, housing, floor panels, pencils, etc.
And to round it out, I am working on an organic lifestyle detergent that allows the consumer to vary the scent of their load depending on what is being washed. We’re working on different options for holding the detergent now, sustainability being the most important factor.
Why is the circular economy so important?
Nature solves its challenges using integrated circles, each output becomes a new input, so surely, we human beings should be able to do the same.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Muesli with fruit, self-made granola and Greek yoghurt.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To be more patient or speak more languages.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
That human beings would spend their energy helping each other instead of constantly striving to be bigger, higher, faster than others.
What are you reading right now?
A Brief History of Time by Steve Hawking.
What are you listening to right now?
Joe Bonamassa—British Blues Explosion.
Rock, paper, or scissors?
How should people connect with you on social media?
You can find me on LinkedIn or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.