In our first “Between Two Palms” fireside chat of 2021, we sat down with our VP Operations, Stefan Röbel. He spoke about the importance of building solid operations processes, what led him to Grover, and revealed an unusual morning ritual which he attributes his track record of zero sick days to.

 

What is your go-to drink order?

STEFAN: A gin and tonic.

 

What is the weirdest food you have ever eaten?

STEFAN: A scorpion, in China. It was weird but crispy.

 

What is your favorite book?

STEFAN: At the moment I am reading Gung Ho! by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. It’s about motivational theory, so it’s an interesting book to read if you’re leading a team. It has some seriously weird references, but it’s good fun. One example is the recommendation to “be like a squirrel”. Squirrel-like behaviors, such as building and setting yourself up for bad days, are conducive to high-performing teams. 

 

Walk us through how you got to your current position. 

STEFAN: Before I started at Grover, I worked at ASOS (an online fashion and beauty retailer) for four years, as their Logistics Lead for Europe. One of the biggest projects I worked on was to unlock the European mainland for ASOS from a supply chain point of view. So we built the biggest warehouse we possibly could and fully automated it. It took us three and a half years to set it up and it ended up performing super well – In the last year, we shipped over one hundred million units. After four years in fast fashion and six years in e-commerce, I had the desire for a more sustainable business model. So I left a great team behind and decided to move on. As a passionate outdoor person, surfer and father, I wanted to work in a business that focuses on reducing waste. 

At that point I knew I didn’t want to work for a big corporation. I wanted to build something from scratch, so when I spoke to the recruiter that contacted me from Grover, I was immediately interested. The next day, I was speaking to Michael (Founder & CEO) and Thomas (CFO) at the Grover office over a beer. We spoke for a couple of hours, and at some point Michael and Thomas looked at each other and said, “Alright, we’re good, you have everything we need.” So that was how I got the job. What convinced me was Michael’s vision of impacting the entire market, changing customer behavior from the ground up, and going circular instead of just selling stuff to people.

 

What kind of advice would you give your kids when it comes to (career) development? 

STEFAN: Resiliency. That’s the main thing I want to give my kids and also my team. If you put in the work, you will achieve something. 

 

What is one thing you think we should know about operations itself? 

STEFAN: There’s a fundamental statement that we always got told at logistics school: “Logistics is nothing, but everything is nothing without logistics.” There’s all the fancy stuff on the front end of a business, but if you don’t manage to ship products on time and ensure the right quality, you’re really not delivering. Understanding the importance of nailing this bit of the journey is key. Operations is not a fancy job. It’s a lot about processes, management and also about dealing with unhappy customers. Chances are you’ll get negative feedback every day and that might make you feel like all you do is bad, but it’s only reflective of a very small percentage of customers. 99.9% of customers are actually quite happy, but you’re only dealing with the 0.1%. You can’t take things personally and need to focus on improving the customer journey. 

 

How would you describe your team’s working style and motivators? 

STEFAN: To put it in one word: Empowerment. I feel like empowering people is kind of like doubling their brain size. My objective is always to enable the team to do things by themselves. So what I do is build the frameworks for them to operate in. I give them clear responsibilities and the freedom to move within that framework. And for the second management layer, I encourage them to build another framework for the more junior teams. 

When I get asked in interviews what my superpower is, I always say that I build high-performance teams. I try to make myself redundant. If I end up not being needed anymore, I have completed my job. You can really tell how good a manager is if you see the results of their work when they’re not around. If everything goes smoothly when they’re not there to (micro)manage things, then you know they’re a good manager. 

 

What are some daily habits within your personal life that you find really support your professional life?  

STEFAN:  I get up in the morning and take my kids to daycare. Then I usually go ice bathing in the nearby lake. This is the half-hour I take for myself. Then I get to work. It’s just a couple of short minutes in the freezing cold water, but it works wonders. I’ve had zero sick days so far at Grover.

 

What’s a message you would love to punt to future Stefan, five years from now? 

STEFAN: Stay humble. Don’t take things for granted. We always need to keep in mind that we are very lucky to be in the situation we’re in. It’s about the small things – whether that’s stopping your car to let pedestrians cross the street or helping somebody else with their day-to-day. 

 

Thank you, Stefan, for sharing your experiences and stories with us!