The president of The American Club of Hamburg, David Zeller, believes in the power of networking and close ties – and knows how to tackle Heimweh in Hamburg.
How many people work for your company in Hamburg? Do you expect this number to change?
Back in 2005, I opted to go solo and incorporate a company to be able to work with partners around the world on a project basis. In this way, I maintain a low overhead, passing on savings to customers, while staying agile to adapt to the quickly changing, disruptive technology landscape.
Are there any technological developments that will have a particular influence on your business development?
The development of virtual communications was long a dream of mine that has become reality, allowing us to speak face-to-face, in real time, regardless of the geographical distances. And now, as AR and VR are developing, combined with the advent of speedy 3-D printing, a client can quickly hold in their own hands newly develop concepts, to give them the next killer applications for their businesses.
How was 2018 for your company and what do you expect for the future?
In recent years, I focused on projects that utilized my global network. In 2018 I successfully completed 5 years of work in the World Cities project for the European Union for sustainable urban development. In 2018 I also completed a project to produce regional conferences globally for the pulp and paper industry, growing attendees by 30% and sponsorship by 40% over the previous year.
Are there any differences between working life between Germany and back home?
My first reaction after coming to Germany was that work here takes very long to be completed. But this seems to fit with the client expectations. In New York, everything is a rush, and the client wants to see first concepts by tomorrow. Anyone coming from the US is struck at how Feierabend is respected in the office!
Which characteristic do you value most in your employees?
Talent, optimism, humor and fun, honesty, professionalism, blue-ocean and black-box thinking.
What do you appreciate in having Hamburg as the location for your company?
Hamburg is a friendly and easygoing city, as far as German cities go. Clients from abroad are always pleasantly surprised with the atmosphere and accessibility around town.
What was the last business achievement that makes you proud?
I was proud to win a recent VW Group tender over 12 competing agencies, to be the Brand Auditor of the new Corporate Identity and Corporate Design for 3000 Skoda dealerships in 30 countries. It was the most successful rebrand in the automotive industry, a complete new lookand- feel for the customer experience. Anyone who has recently seen a Skoda dealership is struck by the beautiful new showrooms, truly the envy of all other car brands.
Where do you consider home?
Well, part of my heart can be found between New York, California and Brazil. Yet, since I have lived in Hamburg for many years, my wife being from Germany, our child born here, I would say Hamburg is my home.
What did you want to become when you were a child?
As a child, my dream was to be an athlete. At university, I did physics, largely because of my childhood memories of the astronauts landing on the moon. After graduating, I felt the calling to work more creatively. So, I went to Manhattan and joined a 5th Avenue creative agency. Later, I decided to go solo. It is the mix of creativity, technology, networking and investment that excites me.
What do you particularly like about Hamburg?
Hamburg has a lot of water and greenery, which are appealing. People are generally friendly and when I return to the city after a trip, I am impressed with how quiet it is. Even in a restaurant, people are not loud. I try using my bike and Ubahn to get around the city as much as possible. It is surprising how nice these two options are.
Is there any charity that you support?
I have dedicated over a decade to supporting The American Club of Hamburg e.V., an association of about 200 members, maintaining close ties politically, socially and culturally between Hamburg and the U.S. The U.S. and Germany fought in two major wars last century. It is my belief that we need to maintain a strong dialogue in order to avoid a repeat of this fate. People are afraid of what they don’t know. Getting to know one another and networking is healthy for reducing international tensions, and good for business.
Your job is very time-consuming … What is your idea of a perfect weekend without work?
On weekends, I enjoy coaching my youth soccer team from Niendorfer TSV. Or taking a short drive to Sankt Peter Ording with my wife, boy and our beagle Sunshine, playing on the beach.
Where do you like to spend your vacation?
Every summer we rent a house on Airbnb in a different location. Either near a beach or with a big pool. The last few years have included Brittany, Corsica, Languedoc, Piemonte. We never fly, because the European road trip experience is part of the fun, overnighting in picturesque places along the way, like Colmar, Baden-Baden and Speyer.
Who would you like to have dinner with?
Difficult, but I’ll name a living person, since dinner is within the realm of possibility: Noam Chomsky. His unique perspective on linguistics, history and the current state of things is amazing.
What’s your favourite restaurant in Hamburg?
There are so many great restaurants in Hamburg to choose from. If I am wearing a suit, then I enjoy Apples at the Park Hyatt for its great food and lovely service. On the weekend, we enjoy lunching on seasonal dishes at the newly opened Hobenköök by star chef Thomas Sampl. And, Mexikostrasse has tasty food – to satisfy my Heimweh for California.