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Sustaining a strong culture in hyper-growth: an interview with USC’s VP People, Felix Berghöfer

With hundreds of thousands of members in 6 countries across Europe, 8 different offices, and an ever-expanding team of employees, Urban Sports Club is well into its hyper growth phase. To support this growth and continue on our mission to inspire people to lead a healthy and active life, we are thrilled to bring Felix Berghöfer, our new VP People, onboard. 

Coming from a diverse background of both consulting and in-house roles, Berghöfer’s operational experience and strategic mindset are huge assets to the team. In this interview, Berghöfer details his journey into HR, what brought him to Urban Sports Club, and the exciting projects ahead. 

How did your career in HR begin? 

My journey began at Berlin’s Humboldt University where I studied Organizational Psychology. I was interested in how people felt in organizations – what they liked and didn’t like about their jobs, what roadblocks they encountered, and how companies could strike a balance between what they needed to be successful and what their employees needed to be productive and happy.

During my studies, I founded my own boutique consultancy firm and worked with small and medium-sized companies offering communication training, conflict management workshops, and leadership coaching. Over time, I started working with founders on higher-level topics like how they wanted to run their company and the organizational structure that would support this. 

This experience proved to be foundational to my career.

Where did you go from there? 

After graduation, I continued working at my own firm for several years. Additionally, I joined forces with the Deutsche Employer Branding Akademie GmbH, DEBA, where I worked as a freelance project manager for several years. At DEBA, I worked on employer branding projects for larger enterprises with up to 25,000 employees. 

I then decided to move in-house, building an HR department from scratch within a Berlin-based consultancy. This role rounded out my experience. I gained a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the operational side of HR. Having thoroughly developed my strategic and operational skills, I moved on to Zalando where I worked as the Head of HR for Customer Care for almost 3 years. I joined after hypergrowth and was focused on right-sizing the team, putting new processes together, establishing guidelines, and managing the team. 

From there I served as the Director of HR at Visual Meta before joining Urban Sports Club in October. 

Why did you choose Urban Sports Club as the next step on your career journey? 

I was very convinced by the founders, Moritz and Ben, when I first met them. They understood the importance of HR as a strategic topic especially in Urban Sports Club’s current stage of hyper growth and wanted to invest significantly in the HR function. I left the meeting excited to put a framework in place that would manage this hyper growth phase in a constructive way. I had previously joined companies just after hypergrowth; so this chance to move in during hypergrowth, when the company is already of good size but still in its early days, was quite exciting. 

I’m looking forward to helping the founders make the right decisions now so they can excel in the long run.

What key projects will you be working on in the next year? 

One of the key projects I will be working on is further developing and defining our global/local strategy in terms of how we want all of our different countries to function both together and apart and having clear guidelines in place to tackle these elements. This will involve determining what’s mission critical — where we need alignment across entities — and what can be taken care of locally. We need to have a good framework that works well globally and locally. 

I’ll also be focused on fostering this great culture and ensuring it continues to evolve and strengthen through hypergrowth. We want to keep the good stuff we already have and make it more concrete. I also aim to establish clear guidelines and frameworks on various HR topics so everyone has what they need to excel. Right now there’s a lot of question marks, and we want to remedy this confusion with greater clarity. 

Learning and development is another big topic; everyone is striving for personal growth and we need to deliver those opportunities. One way we will do this is by implementing a performance review structure. Performance reviews are essential for development, and we need to get them right to be able to develop from there.  

What do you see as the biggest challenge we face at USC? 

The biggest challenge we face is continuing to manage our growth, especially given our focus on both organic growth and growth through mergers and acquisitions (M&A). We need to have a flawless framework for integrating these acquired companies, so every person who is a part of the Urban Sports group feels they belong.

Culture is a huge part of a successful M&A strategy shaping both what the acquisition actually looks like on the ground and how it’s communicated with employees. Over the next year, we will continue asking the question: how can we develop our culture so it can readily accommodate acquired companies and ensure all employees feel at home with Urban Sports Club?

What are your impressions so far? 

I’m happy to see the complexity of the situation here and to have all of these challenges at my fingertips. The more I understand the nuance, the more excited I am to help Urban Sports Club continue growing successfully and make sure we stay on track. I’m also excited to work with the entire team. Everyone I’ve met so far is on fire about their specific topic and full of such love for the product. You can feel that energy in people — they want to see USC thrive, and this attitude is contagious. 

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