Colleague: Sabine Zdunnek

Photo: Manuel Arnu
»Human resources« does not sound particularly adventurous, does it? Sabine Zdunnek has a different opinion. She went through her baptism of fire two years ago when she had to build a team for the new Globetrotter store in Munich out of a colourful bunch of new employees.

It was a cold winter‘s day in December 2010 when Sabine Zdunnek started her job. The sight was sobering: Globetrotter Munich was little more than a draughty construction site. The Riegerbau at the Isartor, once a fur shop with 32 intertwined levels, had been completely gutted. It was hard to believe that – only three months after Sabine’s first working day – a brand-new beautiful Globetrotter store would open its doors. There were no products, no decorations, no sales people. Instead, there were holes in the ground, bare walls and tangled wires. Everything was covered by a thin layer of building dust. Zero hour had just struck for Sabine Zdunnek.
Unlike the skilled labours at home on the construction side, Sabine‘s job was taking her into virgin territory: As a human resources manager, she was responsible for putting together a strong sales team from more than 100 new employees. Globetrotter had never faced such a daunting challenge before – and Sabine had never managed such a task either.

»Other Globetrotter stores have grown slowly and when they expanded or moved to other locations, they could rely on existing experienced staff. In Munich, we started at ground zero«, she says. Only a few long-serving Globetrotter employees – amongst them store manager Jens Holst – moved from other locations to Munich. Most of the staff was recruited in the Bavarian metro­polis. All staff had to be keen on adventure and the great outdoors, but most of the »novices« did not have any sales skills or precise industry knowledge – let alone excellent know-how on the 25,000 products that would soon fill the shelves.

 

Welcome to the construction side!

A twelve-year travel marathon ...
Jens Holst knows how important it is to have the perfect combination of know-how and atmosphere within the team. In 1982 he became the first apprentice ever at Globetrotter. Prior to »Mission Munich« he had been manager of the Globetrotter store in Frankfurt for many years. He had complete faith in Sabine and assigned her the task of building the team and setting up an apprenticeship program. Sabine only had four weeks time to get the training program ready. And it did not help that neither phone nor internet were working…

Compressed air hammers were still pounding away as the first employees arrived one by one on 3 January 2011. Sabine’s tasks necessitate her to be able to motivate, understand human nature and possess an air of pedagogic and psychological sophistication. And she needs to keep abreast on retailing and store logistics too. Most important of all: improvisation skills. Sabine welcomes the new employees with a handshake and explains why they can only use three rooms at first. Nevertheless, on-the-job training has to start: Not only should the store open in two months, but the team should be ready as well. »The first three days were crucial.«, says Sabine. »Just like in a relationship: either you mess it up or something clicks.«

She breaks the ice with experiential education with tasks such as pitching a tent when blindfolded and outdoor memory games. The basics follow soon enough: »everything about the company’s philosophy, structures, the dos and don‘ts, how do I clean a coffee cup, how to treat colleagues and on to why is it important to be punctual…« It is not the easiest task when, at the same time, only a few metres away diggers and trucks are ripping out 900 cubic metres of reinforced concrete.

Next step: sales and product training. The employees train to deal with customers and update their knowledge on materials and brands. Many workshops are held by representatives of the manu­facturers – they cannot escape breathing in the building dust either. Then there are outdoor off-site tasks and appointments for a nice change: Sabine sends them off to go ice skating and ice climbing in the alps, to fairs and to the store in Köln to gain sales experience.

Meanwhile, the Munich store begins to come alive: the biggest hole in the ground turns into a canoe test area, the altitude chamber gets set up, bare concrete disappears underneath wooden floors. And finally, the phone is working! »That was indeed a parallel development«, remembers Sabine. »Out of nothing grew a great new store, and in our three rooms a mix of individuals gelled into a tight-knit team. The excitement increased from week to week and exceeded all expectations. We wanted to fan a fire – and we created an inferno.«

 

Looking for reverse gear

... and now based in Munich. | Photos: Archiv Zdunnek/Manuel Arnu
So why did Sabine start her job by basically lighting a fire instead of following her dream of becoming a travel journalist? This story has something to do with a faulty laptop in the Himalayas. Her CV seems to be as entwined as a Nepalese mountain trail as well. After her Abi (School Leaving Certificate), she had a dabble with some outdoor magazines and wrote with quite a pointed pen. After a very ironic article on canoe polo, Kanu-Magazin (»canoe magazine«) received protest letters and subscription cancellations! Sabine then worked for a local radio station in Augsburg and published little newspaper articles. Then, the voice of reason drowned the dream of travel journalism and she enrolled for pedagogic studies at the University of Augsburg. After doing the undergraduate program, she got to know Audi’s pin-striped world. With a diploma in her pocket, she started as a project manager at a business consultancy, later on she moved to an academy in Westerwald as an education officer. However, something did not feel just right. »It felt like I had taken a wrong turn at one point, and I was looking for the reverse gear.«

The news of the opening of a new Globetrotter store in Munich reached her at the right time. »It suddenly became clear to me, that when I started my career I was in the right place – in the outdoor industry.« Sabine sent an application off to Jens Holst and goes off to Kathmandu, a long planned trekking tour. Jens’ reply reaches her on the road, »on the last computer before the Tibetan border«. The computer crashes every few minutes, but Sabine sniffs a chance: »In the light from my headlamp I scribbled a reply on a tissue and typed it super fast into the PC before it could crash again.« It worked. Jens answered immediately: »Please first finish your trekking tour. Interview afterwards.« A few weeks later they meet. After three hours, Sabine got the job.

Sabine plans her travels similar to her work: when she was 18, she decided that she wanted to do ten big overseas tours by her 30th birthday.

A magical moment on her very first tour convinced her that she had made the right decision. A writing assignment for the Kanu-Magazin lead her to the Inside Passage in Canada. Suddenly, a fully grown killer whale rose out of the depths to be beside Sabine’s sea kayak. A majestic orca, nearly close enough to touch, and then it dived and disappeared as a dark shadow. In the evening, when Sabine was sitting in the Camp and freshly caught pacific salmon was sizzling on the fire, an orca pod swam through the ocean in the moonlight. »At that very moment, I was never closer to what we think of as happiness.«, says Sabine. »I had found my destiny. Whenever I had enough money, I went off travel­ling again.«
She made it to more than 50 countries: Canada, USA, Central America, Venezuela, Argentina, from South Africa to Zambia, Egypt, Jordan, Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal, Singapore and almost all of Europe. Habits are part of her travels. Before each take-off, Sabine likes to listen to »Leaving on a Jet Plane« by John  Denver. She always takes with her a necklace with an amber crucifix, as well as her good-old backpack. When her loyal Lowa shoes even­tually lost their hiking life in Yosemite Valley on her ninth trip, Sabine did not throw them into a bin: »It was an emotional moment when I buried the shoes. I was close to crying.«

 

10 big tours accomplished by the age of 30

Globetrotter igloo workshop, Zugspitze. | Photo: Archiv Sabine Zdunnek
Despite university and jobs, she held on to her travel goal. In 2011, she got off the plane in Singapore, three days before her 30th birthday. Trip No. 10 – Mission accomplished!

And now? Did she feel at a loss after all that? Or will she keep on travelling? »No«, says Sabine. »I was in the Andes Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, the Himalayas. I have seen the temples in Angkor Wat, the Iguazú waterfalls, the Grand Canyon and I danced Tango in Buenos Aires. Everything I dreamed of as a child in a Swabian village has come true. I experienced it. However, it was at the price of constant restlessness, I had to organise my life around my travels. I have finished this chapter now and I am very happy.«

She is now based in Munich and no longer has a very emotional relationship with her hiking shoes. She has since moved up the ladder to human resource manager. She carefully watch­es over what Globetrotter founder Klaus Denart claims to be the the most important reasons for the company’s success: employees, employees and employees. Part of the task is to help to solve conflicts in the team and to support personnel with their life planning. Meanwhile, there are now 160 Globetrotter colleagues in Munich.

Only recently, she says, she read a beautiful quote by Randy Pausch, an American professor who celebrated his life with humour and charity just before he died of cancer: »It’s fantastic to realise childhood dreams, I’ve been very fortunate in that respect. But it‘s even more satisfying to help others realise their dreams too.«

 
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22.08.2012ArtikelEnglish Articles

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