We’re back again with another rendition of Between Two Palms, our fireside chat series  where we talk to our Leadership Team to learn more about them and what makes them tick. This time, our moderator Jonny sat down with our CPO Johann Jenson to talk about his love of surfing, his experience working at the United Nations, and how some of his daily habits shape his leadership style. 

What is your go-to-drink?

JOHANN: An Old Fashioned with mezcal or a green smoothie. 

What is your favorite book?

JOHANN: Now that I have Blinkist I don’t read very much anymore. But my favorite book  is actually a cookbook — it’s called Raw: the Uncook Book. It’s a raw food cookbook, written by Juliano Brotman and Erika Lenkert in 1999. It’s made up of really complex raw food recipes. 

What’s your favorite surfing location?

JOHANN: I found it in February of this year. I guess surfers aren’t supposed to talk about the locations because then lots of people go there and spoil the place, but it’s on an island off of Sumatra. It’s paradise. They’ve built a sort of cement path along the shore so it allows you to walk back to where the waves break instead of paddling out. It’s a really beautiful spot, especially in the off-season.

Walk us through how you got to this position. Was there one defining moment?

JOHANN: In the mid-90s, we got cable internet at home, and I just loved the idea of downloading stuff for free. So I downloaded everything: movies, apps, Photoshop. I even downloaded Autodesk (an architecture software product), even though of course I wasn’t an architect. I got really into the “Warez” community, which is what the software sharing and distribution scene was referred to back then. People were transferring and downloading all sorts of stuff. This is what got me into web design. Since then, it’s all been about web design and development.

You worked for the United Nations in Nairobi for 4 years. Tell us about that.

JOHANN: I was a Programme Officer for the Great Apes Survival Partnership which was led by the UN Environment Programme and UNESCO. We were essentially taking money from high income governments and funding conservation efforts in low income countries or emerging markets where they had apes — so chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans. There are 23 countries around the world where they have these species. We were trying to protect their habitats, which in turn protected the habitats of other species that depended on the same. 

Working for the UN, you meet incredible people and it’s the human connections that are the most valuable. It’s not so much the organization that you sit back and look at in awe, because it’s very bureaucratic, it’s really the people. A lot of people that have worked for the UN go on to do incredible things. And I think the UN is going to evolve into a better institution over time as they figure out how to restructure and which technologies can help them do that.

If you look at your past, Hilti doesn’t seem to fit the vibe. So tell us about the decision to join Hilti.

JOHANN: Hilti sells high-end power tools and it’s a really great organization in terms of what they’ve managed to achieve. They’ve been around for 75 years and they have almost 30,000 employees in 130 countries. For me, half the fun was living in a Bavarian village. I went down there for an interview during Oktoberfest and some people were wearing Lederhosen in the office. So it was a big cultural shift, but it was also really interesting in terms of what they were doing. They pushed through some great business model innovation where they shifted their focus from selling power tools to a rental model. They started shifting their business model in the early 2000s and now half of their power tool revenue comes from rentals. 

How would you describe your working style? What motivates you? 

JOHANN: One of the people I look up to is Jane Goodall. She’s this beacon of hope and she’s been everywhere. She’s 80 something now, and still travels 80% of the year, meeting people and communities. She pioneered research on chimpanzees early on in Tanzania, and then went on to build organizations that not only support conservation, but also support livelihoods around the world. She says that what motivates people is getting up and doing the best with what they have everyday. And I think that’s what motivates me as well. It’s just to do my best. There are so many external factors that can demotivate you, but if you just focus on doing the best you can everyday, with the tools that you have, that’s the most motivating way to look at life.

Our chat with Johann really demonstrates the importance of human connections and how smart business model innovations can reshape entire industries. At Grover, we aim to hone both of these things and create the best experience possible for our team and for our subscribers.