Philipp Hardenberg tells about his life, his ideals and his Thanyapura way of thinking.
Philipp, what made you want to become the CEO of Thanyapura? What have you done before?
I think we have to look at what qualified me for my job at Thanyapura and what brought me to Thailand in the first place. After I graduated from business school I started a career in hospitality. I didn’t want to start studying in hotel schools but gain practical experiences as I wanted to understand how people do their jobs. So, for example I worked as a chef, a waiter, a manager of night cleaners, in sales and marketing and various management roles – basically all positions in a hotel. I did all this because I wanted to manage hotels and wanted to be able to understand what make employees successful in their jobs. When I was 27, I became General Manager of the Ritz Carlton in New York City, then managed several Ritz Carlton hotels. In the end, I became Senior Vice President of Development and Operations for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia. At that time the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company was quite small and I enjoyed being part of the executive team. So, I moved from the USA to Australia and to several countries in Europe. All these experiences qualified me for my roles at Thanyapura.
Living in Germany, and having always been interested in education, I managed Stephen Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation. The purpose of the foundation was to record stories of people who survived the Holocaust and preserve them. 55 thousand testimonies of survivors were recorded. We produced education materials for schools with this materials to inspire young people to think about pre-justice in the world they live in. It was through this work that I learned how bad our German school systems were. Steven Spielberg’s project was how I got interested to do my humble small part into reforming education systems.
As a result of my involvement in education, I become Chairman of the board of the Berlin International School and of one of the top three boarding schools in Germany, called Stiftung Louisenlund. My thirst and experience in the education field also qualified me for my responsibility in Thanyapura, as we are linked with the Phuket International Academy (PIA), where I serve on the board.
During my involvement in education in Germany, I met a friend who was building up a school for poor children close to Chiang Mai, Thailand. I agreed to help him with administration and marketing and visited him three weeks after the Tsunami in January 2005, which was my first time in Thailand.
This visit made me “stay” in Thailand and start my own school project for the children of the poorest of the poor in the south. Six weeks after the Tsunami we bought 126 rai of land, close to the village of Kapong. We started a school there called Yaowawit which I have been running for the past ten years.
The founder of Thanyapura and PIA got involved in Yaowawit and that is how we met. In 2013, he offered me a partnership. So, since February 2014 I have been in charge of Thanyapura.
My family and I used to move around a lot and we thought that it was time to settle down. With the opportunity at Thanyapura, it wasn’t a hard decision. It’s one of the few places in the world where body, mind and soul come together.
Who inspired you to be charitable?
To be honest with you, it’s my family heritage and upbringing, I come from an German aristocratic family. When I was growing up my father inspired me. He always told me that nobody is better than anyone else. I was lucky to be born into a family that was privileged and educated, so I feel that it’s natural for me to give back to people who are not as fortunate as I am.
Following my upbringing, I met people along the way who further inspired me. One of these was Steven Spielberg because besides being a great professional, he genuinely cares about disadvantages people. People like Gandhi, Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama are my idols.
What is success to you?
Success is happiness – but happiness has nothing to do with wealth. When you wake up every day, you must enjoy what you do. It doesn’t mean everybody likes you, and it doesn’t necessarily mean your bank account is full. Everything society tells us about success, for me has nothing to with success.
What I firmly believe is summed up by Sir Ken Robinson, the author of the book “The Element”. He said: “You can only be successful if you are in your element. When you do something where you feel energized and comfortable.” So I believe, people should do what they really want to do, where they feel, they are in their element and not what they believe others think they should do.
And for students and adults, don’t forget the things you have to do, but spend enough time doing the things you really want to do.
What is your advice for people with real problems who find it hard to follow their dreams?
For adults, I suggest to look in the mirror, recognise yourself and don’t pretend to be somebody else. Accept yourself with all your strengths and weaknesses. Recognise your weaknesses and turn them into strengths.
For children, it basically is the same. Recognise yourself and don’t let models, musicians, and other created superheros influence your choices and your life. Believe in yourself. If you want to dance, dance.
What are some of the obstacles you’ve come across in your life?
There were many and I believe that obstacles are really important in life. The obstacles and mistakes you make are important to your own growth. I had cancer when I was 27 and they told me my survival chance was slim. I had operations and one year of treatments, which was a tough time but I always kept my positive attitude.
Another tough time in my life was to work in an environment which was very negative and discouraging but I decided to stay on board for much longer than I wanted to be fair with investors and employees. So these and other obstacles made me stronger and without them I wouldn’t be where I am now.
How do the ideals of Thanyapura match your own?
Thanyapura is about body, mind and soul. It’s about “Optimising your Potential”. This mission matches my ideals. I believe in getting up in the morning, and striving to make the day a little bit better than yesterday. I think one of the important things is that you as a person come here and really push yourself, to help improve yourself. What really intrigues me here is that this is a place where you can find everything you need for a good heart, a balance mind and a healthy body.
You’re very positive, is there anything in this life you’re ashamed about?
There’s no one big thing that I am ashamed about. I have made many mistakes in my life, as we all do, and I am not scared to admit them. First of all I should have spent more time with my children when they were growing up instead of working and worrying about a career. Then, dealing with employees in the past when I was inexperienced, I worry if I always was neutral and fair enough in my decisions. I’m not ashamed about these or other mistakes. I learned from them and my philosophy is that everybody is allowed to make mistakes because they are an important process for learning.
I am very positive and always have been. Even when I had cancer, as I mentioned before, when I was 26 years old and the doctors told me that my survival chance would be 80 to 20 I was positive. I am positive about believing in myself, and that I can make it. And I sometimes do not understand why we focus and deal in our lives so often with all these negative things. We should definitely not ignore them, but do I need news and newspapers only focusing on negative issues? We are bombarded with problems and catastrophes, why not with positive stories and happiness?
I believe you have to always be ready to face challenges, you cannot go blind folded through life. But for me there are no problems, there are challenges which I try to approach with a balanced and positive state of mind.
(Short questions, short answers) How old are you in your passport?
How old are you in your head?
What’s your favorite movie?
Dead Poets Society
When was the last time you danced?
About 6 months ago with my wife.
What’s your favorite song?
Satisfaction by the Stones.
Who is a person in this world who you would like to meet?
What’s your favorite cocktail?
A glass of wine.
Red or white?
It depends, but not on food. I can drink white wine with a steak and red with fish.
What’s your favorite cuisine?
I think a mixture of French, Italian and Thai. Sometimes really down to earth, German, simple food. It always depends, if you’d asked me six months ago I would have said Nuernberger sausages and sauerkraut but now I’m here in 33 degrees, always depends.
What German things do you miss a lot, being in Thailand?
I can buy anything in Thailand that I can buy in Germany, so the only thing I’m missing is more eye to eye contact with old friends.
What is your life model?