Talk to Max Mariel – Sustainability

“Sustainability is more important than almost anything else”

Max Mariel founded the company Hakuma with two best friends in 2016. They have been very successful with their hip iced-tea drinks. At the “Talk to THE FUTURE OF WORK”, the meaning and purpose of work were important to him. Sustainability is a particular priority for Mariel. Not only in respect to the product itself. The follow-up talk took place in the meeting room of the Hakuma headquarters in Vienna’s Neubau district. The menu of the video projector, which the founder uses to screen the first commercial for Hakuma, says “Entertainment Room”.

At the talk you mentioned several times how important exchange with your colleagues is, direct contact. That doesn’t even have to take place at your office but can also be in a lodge on a mountain, for example. Do you leave the city regularly?
MAX MARIEL: It would be nicer if it were more regular. Usually we only actively take time for something like this if there is something to celebrate or if you’re facing a big challenge. We haven’t managed it yet as a “jour fixe” once a month or so.

What is different outside the office?
MAX MARIEL: Our friendship is the foundation of this company. When we’re directly together like this, we can go even deeper. You’re much more focused in such a constellation. We have also done some classical teambuilding things with employees who aren’t part of the inner circle. The distance is very different there.

Will hierarchies still play a role at work in the future?
MAX MARIEL: We wanted our hierarchies to be as flat as possible from the start. But after a while you notice that a lack of clearly defined roles also comes with drawbacks. Because people’s motives are totally different, especially in such dynamic companies as startups. As a founder I have very different reasons for spending time here than a freelancer does. Someone who just wants to make money, which is also okay. So the hierarchy is less important than the definition of various roles.

Roles create clear rules?
MAX MARIEL: They define responsibility and require skills. You can learn this from people who managed companies for decades. One should look at how it worked in the last 70, 80 years.

Do you have experience with structures like that?
MAX MARIEL: My background is in architecture; I have worked in offices that had a more or less traditional organisation. With our Hakuma project, we’re moving in the old economy, the food product area. We negotiate with very many established companies and corporations. If I want to diffuse the situation, I walk into a meeting and just introduce myself with my first name. Usually the people are so thrown off that they have to accept an entirely different level.

Of course you also have a lifestyle project that goes with this.
MAX MARIEL: Definitely, I don’t want to appear with a suit and tie there. From the start, the goal was that we could continue living our lifestyle.

You said that it was initially difficult to criticize each other as friends.
MAX MARIEL: Yes. Especially when the topics were personal, for example working hours, or money, our salaries. Suddenly you encounter barriers. And sometimes we really clashed with each other.

How did you resolve this?
MAX MARIEL: We sat down with a mediator. Since then, we visit a coach once a month. This also affects the company: you talk about relevant things but also have time to articulate your own needs.

Focusing on and solving problems with professional help – is that also part of the “new”?
MAX MARIEL: This process is very expedient for our company. But it can also have a positive impact on society. If you do it skilfully, solving problems can become the core of the “new work”.

Sustainability is such a buzzword right now. But what’s behind it? Paying fair wages, environmentally friendly production?
MAX MARIEL: A positive life-cycle assessment is essential for our economic practices. For us as economic partnerships, it is equally important to have a sustainable and fair organisation, whether with employees or external partner companies. Sustainability is a value that we have also defined as a corporate value. It’s more important than almost anything else. I can be an example for someone. And when I have a good time doing what I do, I’m convinced that others will respond similarly. For us this is the great motivator for why we’re trying to be seen as truly global with a product.

What is the future of work?
MAX MARIEL: We’ll see. Above all, the necessity of work is different than it was 50 years ago. With the digital revolution, the long-established economic system is starting to fall apart. As a result of the freedom of information, digitisation and globalisation, the rules are redistributed. We’re undergoing a dramatic change and the issue of sustainability is becoming increasingly important. A lot has to happen here in the next five to ten years. The topic of work will also have to present itself differently than it did 50 years ago. Currently there are many touchpoints where you can dock and co-organise. The overarching goals have to be reconsidered. If company X is fracking in Canada, this must be scrutinised just as much as the fact that growth is defined as the indicator of a company’s success.

Then it’s no longer just a consumer decision but also whether you make your work capacity available to company X or Y. Can everyone afford to do this?
MAX MARIEL: Something like the unconditional basic income would be a partial liberation from the prevailing pressures. I can imagine that our society would analyse such ideas and experiment with them. Of course it takes time to evaluate this.

There is no pressure from the uncertainty, the possibility that you might not have a nice, large office anymore some day?
MAX MARIEL: Not at all. But I also don’t define myself through a large office. Our first campaign was called “destroy create”. Personally, I consider the temporary very appealing.

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