I recommend being curious, trying to learn, opening our hearts and going for it!
Her professional sports background taught her many lessons. “I always had to be sure that I had done everything in training. That gave me confidence for the tournament,” says Gabriela Teissing. With the same determination, she took on the role of CEO of corporate venture builder Creative Dock, in which she succeeded company founder Martin Pejsa. If you go through her CV, you can definitely tell that she always chooses the more challenging path. But if you ask, Gabi will probably tell you that she doesn't see it that way. And that she definitely believes in dreams. Only she's also convinced that you must work hard to achieve them.
Words by Barbora Klarova, Photos by Creative Dock archive
You became the new CEO about 4 years after you joined Creative Dock. And in that time, you've been in charge of pretty much every major department in the company - finance, innovation, technology, marketing... Was that a good preparation for the new role, or do you think it’s not necessary for a CEO to know the company in such detail?
I’m not really sure I would recommend my own path to every CEO. (laughs) No doubt becoming CEO means you should know the business and the daily operations you are in charge of and also understand the clients and their needs.
I feel secure when I talk to people and understand exactly the work they do, what challenges they are facing, and the possible opportunities. It helps me see the solutions easier then.
The type of CEO might have something to do with the kind of person you are. In my professional sports career, I used to spend a whole lot of time practising, and only then did I know I did my very best to prepare for the tournament. Without sufficient training, I wasn't so self-confident and did not really perform that well. However, some people may feel confident even without mastering the given discipline (be it sports or leading a business role) to the last detail. And they manage just fine.
“I need to make sure I know exactly what I am doing to be sure I can deliver the best to the company.”
And is there any position you have never tried yourself and would like to – in general or within the Creative Dock company?
I have always followed what I felt was important for me to know and understand and what I was completely fascinated by. But it is difficult to say because every single activity we do in Creative Dock is interesting.
I have a marketing background, so the whole Innovations section is very close to me. However, Big Data and all the technical parts are interesting because it provides sufficient food for thought. Because you cannot be a good innovator without understanding technologies.
Do you have a recipe for an ideal relationship between the employees and the company?
There is a theory saying that within the team, you should have people who are creative with no boundaries, then the ones who are more down to earth, and then also some people who can address all the weaknesses of what has to be done and bring it to light. However, throughout my experience, I decided to skip the last group. Because it means a huge waste of energy from my side.
I realised I wanted to work with people with the same vibe. And such people don't necessarily have to be similar to me from a general point of view (nationality, culture, etc.), but more in the sense of sharing similar ideas, opinions, philosophy and life set-up. Only then can such a team think as one person rather than a shattered mind of ten different people, just making things impossible to move forward. Even though I admit the latter approach might also bring a lot of good stuff to the table, I prefer delivering at a fast pace while sharing the same vibe.
And how about hiring new people?
And when it comes to hiring new people, we have been working on the process for the last 11 years of the existence of Creative Dock, and we have developed quite a few techniques. That is why we organise Bootcamps, we started using the Predictive Index Methodology for senior roles, and we set up a proper recruitment process this year. But not only that! It’s also about the development of the structure internally. Therefore, we also set up the HR Business Partners programme, which was launched in January this year. We really try to focus on the hiring and onboarding processes, because the company can only be as good as its people are.
Right now, during this conversation, you are on your way to Berlin - as Creative Dock has grown internationally and has branches not only in the Czech Republic, but also Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Saudi Arabia. How do you make sure that no office feels neglected by its CEO?
I try to do two things. One is to have a great team of trustworthy people so that I don't have to do everything by myself. Really, it may sound easy: just provide them with space, responsibilities, and competencies and let them do the work. Of course, it’s a bit more difficult than that. I am fortunate that the management of our company consists of people who cherish such opportunities.
I'm in charge of the general management of the company, so I naturally need people who are better than me in the innovations area, let's say. I can make the big decisions, but I want them to come up with recommendations and make decisions on their level.
So that would be one thing, and the other thing is that I prefer meeting people face to face. So I travel a lot to be able to speak to people in person. It really helps me understand what they are doing.
It might even be a necessity now that Creative Dock has grown to international proportions. Do you have any interesting or even funny stories from these multicultural meetings?
I am not sure about a funny one. (laughs) The best stories I have are definitely connected with our branch in Riyadh. Once, I asked my Saudi colleague, Rasha, about the most obvious cultural differences. She surprised me: “First of all, not every Saudi person is a terrorist – there are bad people, but also many good people here, like in every nation. And also, we don't have camels on the road.” I laughed and could not believe it, but she assured me that some people from different parts of the world are actually not sure what to expect here.
“We live in an extremely interconnected world, but we still know very little about each other.”
Working for a multicultural company is a great opportunity to get rid of prejudices and stereotypes in thinking. It is natural to be cautious, even scared, but fear should never freeze you. I recommend being curious, trying to learn, opening our arms and hearts and going for it! This should actually apply to everything we do in CD.
Embracing humanity is one thing, but let's talk about robots for a while. How does a person from the management of a company that implemented AI in its venture-building business strategy a long time ago see the future of this phenomenon?
A few days ago, I heard a podcast discussing GPT-4, commenting on the language module. It’s almost like the face of a god! I think it is amazing to see what technology can do. And of course it is scary at the same time.
But it gives me shivers all over, because it is a major breakthrough. And I see this will change the way we work, and it will change it very rapidly. Creative Dock already runs a significant project on AI language modules, and I have a real dedication for Creative Dock to become an AI-obsessed company. Because this will change a lot in what we live today.
Of course, the first common reaction is: oh, so I am not needed anymore, I can go to my cottage and spend the rest of my life there. But the thing is more about figuring out how we can use AI in the best way, how we can improve everything that we do. How we can improve our clients' work, how we can deliver more, how we can change ourselves, the way we work, or even how I personally, as Gabi, work.
We are used to certain ways of working; we’ve been doing it more or less in the same manner for a long time. Now, all of a sudden, a huge change appeared, so we also need to change – rapidly, and entirely.
We mentioned that Creative Dock has acquired four companies in Europe and the MENA region in the past year. Integrating several companies is certainly not easy. Do you have any advice or lessons learnt for other CEOs in similar situations that you've gained through acquisitions?
That's a terrible question, seriously. That's for a special interview – just for that. No, that would take a book! But if I just take, for example, the large things – when we integrated all the companies, I tried to read books about such processes, connect to all the people, spend time with them, and at the end of the day, I still thought to myself: I should have known so much more about it all!
So my lesson learnt from this is: I was very much focused on what happens after the deal is done, how we actually integrate the companies from the project management point of view – if it's fast, we don’t lose people, we don't make people hesitant about not knowing what is in front of them, not knowing what their role is, and so on. But now I know that the most important part comes actually prior to the deal.
Okay, so let's go back to the easier questions. You're the new CEO of an international company. But do you still have any unfulfilled dreams? And the last one - a question we all hate in HR interviews - where do you see yourself in ten years?
OMG! Are those the easier questions? (laughs)
I am very thankful for my current role within the Creative Dock company, so I am actually living my dream! Of course, it has a lot of challenges, but I really like the way I live.
Although come to think of it, I do have one dream: I love to travel. I still want to visit as many places as I can and encounter many different cultures. And it may sound a bit crazy, but if I could still do it in my life, I would love to travel to space. Gaining yet another perspective on human life.
As humans, we are unable to tackle global challenges from a global perspective. We still tend to think within the small boxes of separate nations, having a very narrow perspective, just looking for quick wins rather than long-term impacts.
“So, if you ask me about my dream, I would love to go to space and see our planet from a bigger perspective, that would be something amazing!”
So is that where you see yourself in 10 years? On Mars? (laughs)
OK, for me, this “HR” question is not about the job that I would like to do, it’s more about the personal objective I would like to fulfil. I'd like to stay more on top of things; I sometimes feel torn to pieces by different emotions and circumstances.
One woman told me once that there is actually a difference between ageing and becoming wiser. Some people age while being unable to learn from their experiences and draw these lessons into their daily lives. And suddenly, they only begin to see many negative aspects of their lives. But people who are actually able to learn the everyday lessons become much wiser. And that is what I would like to achieve: to become wiser and more on top of things. I would simply like to become a better version of what I am.
LinkedIn profile: Gabriela Teissing