As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Gabriel Seibel. He manages EAT’s operations based in Paris and LA. Since the beginning of his tenure as Partner, COO, and Head of Production, Gabriel has successfully executed 400+ projects
for internationally renowned brands, overseeing everything from development through production. Together with EAT’s Founder and CEO, he has expanded the team to the US, Brazil, France, Germany, and Portugal while cultivating a brilliant company culture in which creativity thrives. He is also a TEDx speaker and teaches Marketing at IESEG School of Management in Paris.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Sure! My path began at the age of 17 when I received a scholarship to go to business school where I studied advertising. I was studying with a bunch of people in their 30’s so it was pretty clear that I was the youngest person in my class. At the time, I didn’t know much about advertising or even softwares. Learning amidst these challenges was difficult; however, I pushed through and began to freelance early on. At the time, my grandfather had given me a camera with features to shoot analog films. I come from a humble background and revealing and developing films was very expensive in Brazil. So I found a super cool scanner that allowed me to scan materials for free as long as I was enrolled in the university. That influenced me to study hard and eventually I landed a second scholarship. This brought me to France! When I left for France, I was used to learning everything on the go. When I first moved there, I didn’t speak a hint of French. And before I left, my parents gave me 500 Euros which as you may know, doesn’t get you too far.
So I began freelancing out of necessity. I had a computer and plenty of knowledge on design, coding and research. Eventually I got in touch with other freelancers; we began to create and design presentations, write for fashion blogs, etc but I still couldn’t seem to find a stable job. Then eventually I found Renata, who is now the CEO and Founder of EAT. Our synergy proved to be dynamic! During our beginning stages, I ended up back in Brazil, out to LA and then back to France where I was the happiest. My resilience and willingness to dedicate myself to my work helped to shape my journey. Renata almost acted as my mentor; her being 12 years older than me, she was able to lend a very helpful perspective to my potential. Our organic synergy and perspective on how design should be approached led to a fruitful journey of empowering others while creating a system that allows a team to thrive while working remotely.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
My advice to young professionals would be to be honest with yourself — whether you’re young or just starting out, don’t make yourself out to be someone you’re not. We live in a time that allows for remote working and flexibility — if you have the opportunity to live where you are happiest, I think that life is too short to ignore that.
The funniest mistake I made was not standing up for what was right for me. I worked in LA for a brief time, but I missed Paris so I eventually ended up moving back. But at the time, I would still tell my clients that I was located in LA because I was afraid that me relocating would cause me to lose some clout. Eventually I grew so tired of pretending and taking calls at 3am so I finally broke the news that I had moved to Paris! I was upfront about my need to take calls from 9am-noon my time and everyone was surprisingly super understanding! It became my strength and allowed me to thrive in an environment where I was the most comfortable. And eventually, in 2018, I was invited to share my story on TEDx at Paris Nanterre. For such a long time I hesitated to share this video. I felt ashamed of my accent, I felt I sounded pretentious, I couldn’t even play it. As time went by I realized that I should stand up and be proud — because that might be interesting and useful to others too.
Moving to a different country was an honest but totally crazy move. I arrived in France at 19 years old, I had no money, I spoke no french and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. But it turns out that being in France was the right move for me!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Renata. She has played such a significant role in my journey. Renata has followed me throughout the entire process of my professional and personal growth since my beginning days as a designer. And throughout this, I’m happy to say that we have become close friends :) Our lives are so intertwined with the ways in which we do business. Renata has been my go-to person for advice and instructions and while we don’t always agree on things, our ethos remains aligned. She shares the same need to stay honest and truthful with our employees and the ways in which we run our business. Now that we are older, we don’t always get the chance to talk as much as we used to. But the same level of respect is still there. I’m grateful for our solid relationship.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Luckily in the beginning stages, Renata’s vision of our company’s purpose was fully aligned with mine. We share a similar journey! We are both immigrants as well as latinx people who didn’t know the country’s language where we moved to very well. We both wanted to create a structure and business that allowed our truth to shine. We wanted to use EAT as a vessel to communicate with the world without being bogged down by a business plan that proved too rigid. Eventually the dream started working — we were bringing people in who were so inspired by what was working for us. Renata and I prioritized a positive work environment by putting respect for our employees front and center. This year in particular has also allowed us to continue to align with progressive causes, as long as the purpose maintained representative of who we were at our core. And as we grow, we want to continue to maintain an approachable vibe rather than becoming a non-approachable conglomerate.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Transparency is key. Whenever you’re not sure about what’s going to happen, it’s always better to be honest about the fact that you don’t know so that they can think for themselves. It’s never a good idea to pretend like you know everything. Honesty has helped us to lead our team more effectively than anything else. We learned the hard way that truth and transparency create respect among our employees. We used to be so obsessed with making them happy that we wouldn’t always tell the complete truth in order to shield them from any difficulties or challenges that we were facing. Now, when things go right for the company, we celebrate together. And when things go wrong, they understand it a bit better because we were transparent and clear about our difficulties and challenges from the beginning. To share, when I moved to the US for a brief time, the one thing that didn’t resonate with me was the culture of not talking about money and keeping things so close to the vest. It can cause toxic environments where guessing and gossiping can thrive. EAT is dedicated to maintaining an honest environment so that employees are never left wondering what might happen.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Never — maintaining ambition and self-discipline is not something that I struggle with, even during the hardest of times. This is because I genuinely love what I do. I am always able to get in the continuing flow of production because of my organic passion for design. And I’m always proud of myself; I wake up everyday ready to go. I do have to remind myself of the importance of working smarter and not harder; being mindful is vital to success as well. I need to sometimes be sure that I’m not overthinking and therefore not overworking. I also love our team at EAT. I know I have their trust and I admire them as much as they admire me. I’m appreciative of the synergistic relationships that we maintain at the company. Knowing that I need to deliver good work to them helps keep me motivated. If I were working alone, things might be different. But when there are people involved who are relying on me, I have the willingness to proceed.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Telling people the truth. Give them the truth otherwise you’ll create an environment where they can’t trust you. And once you’ve earned their trust, keeping it is another challenge/exercise. As a society, we’ve seen several run-ins with this during COVID. Politicians weren’t giving us the truth. I understand that relaying the bad news can be extremely difficult, but it’s better than lying. Telling the truth shows a level of respect for the people who you work with. It’s what a leader should do.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
What I do is remind them of the journey that we’ve been through and everything we’ve accomplished along the way in order to get to where we are at. I always look backward to remind them of all of the progress they have made. I’m extremely grateful to be here and very proud of the journey up until this point. I take what I’ve learned and apply it to the way that I manage a team. When they express concern about where they are at, I remind them of how much they have improved in order to get to where they’re at today. Be proud of yourself — you’ll live better. It’s important to face adversity and the pain in life, but seeing the positive side of things will always be your best shot at inspiring people to be their best selves.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Through empathy. Always start by telling the bad news. For example, I always begin by being vulnerable and telling people how I feel about a situation first. I don’t expect people not to focus on the bad side of things, but if I make myself equal to them first, I humanize myself and therefore create a more open environment. In Brazil, it’s much easier to be vulnerable and show emotions. In the US, it’s an entirely different rigid beast that I don’t do well with. Leaving your emotions accessible helps with being honest. Emotions are an important component to professional life.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
I don’t create a forecast that is overly ambitious or potentially unattainable. I calculate that things will take more time than they typically do or that they’ll cost more than they typically will. This always creates the framework for good news. I tell my employees that something will take two weeks even if I know that it’ll only take a week and a half. I tell them to have patience in the beginning and even if I know something will only take a week and a half, I tell them that it will take longer so that when we get it done early, it appears to be an even bigger accomplishment.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Dealing with the truth and being vulnerable. Tell them how you feel about things and where you stand. Make difficult decisions, show up and be present. This way people will trust you and will follow what you have to say.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
One would be making forecasts that are overly ambitious or pushing overly positive comments like “This new product works so well, it’ll save your life!”. Also, don’t wait for the ship to sink. I’ve seen people hide behind numbers rather than giving people your truthful interpretation of something. And most importantly, don’t forget your purpose or why you’re doing what you’re doing. Offer a work/life balance and constantly reevaluate your approach!
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Being flexible is something that I learned over time. I have learned to rethink products and to be creative about what I do, then do it well. But I always leave room for things to improve. For example, at a restaurant they have a formula. There’s the appetizer, main plate and dessert; however, the formula always needs to change to adapt to the person’s needs. This applies to clients. Be flexible in difficult times. Offer good work for a less expensive price if it makes sense to do so. In the beginning, we would offer one standard one-size-fits-all package but now, we’ve become more flexible. We’ve gone very case by case over time. And establish ground rules so that you can customize your approach without compromising the quality of the product.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
Be honest, transparent, empathetic and stick to your purpose. And try to be optimistic, even when it’s difficult. Seeing the positive side of things will always get you far.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Ce qu’on te reproche, assume le — c’est toi” — Jean Cocteau meaning the thing that people judge you for is something you should embrace. That’s you! Having to experience feeling out of place and overcoming that is important. People will always expect things from you that you’re not able or willing to offer. Maybe people won’t take me for what I am right off the bat but that’s ok — I can be myself. Eventually things will begin to happen and people will eventually admire that transparency. It will inspire those around you. So stick to your truth. You are enough.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Also, be sure to check out my TEDx Talk at Paris Nanterre here: https://vimeo.com/479008853