Lucy von Sturmer: From Amsterdam to Aotearoa
After years building her consultancy The Humblebrag in Amsterdam, Kea spoke to Lucy von Sturmer about her decision to move herself, and her business, back to Aotearoa.
Can you tell us a bit about your professional background? How did you end up in Amsterdam?
A very quick recap starts with an undergraduate and postgraduate in international relations, media and politics at both Auckland and Victoria University, where I later tutored for some time while working as a radio and news presenter for Wellington’s RadioActive FM.
I graduated in a recession, and at the time, couldn’t see a lot of opportunities for my career so I decided to take a gap year and work as an English teacher in Italy; this kick-started my love affair with Europe and later saw me move to The Netherlands.
In total, I made Europe my home for almost 10 years, and climbed my way up the career ladder working as a communications expert across the worlds of media, sustainability, the creative industries and also in NGOS.
During these years, I built a really strong network in The Netherlands and across Europe, and finally, gained the confidence to launch my own business.
What were your motivations behind setting up The Humblebrag?
I had started writing regularly for The Huffington Post and other media titles, and had been commissioned by a few CEOs to carve their personal ‘thought leadership’ strategy helping them to build their reputation as inspiring, visionary leaders.
At the same time, I witnessed the world of business and brands turning towards social impact and sustainability, and I realized – having spent more than 10 years working within civil society, and also advertising and media – I was well placed to offer something unique: a consultancy focussed on helping brands enhance their positive impact, and specifically, working with their leadership team to drive a strategy as purpose-driven leaders.
Having worked in corporate social responsibility and seen the rise of ‘business as a force for good’ I realized that having an inspiring leader, a Paul Poleman (ex Unilever) or a Rose Marcario (ex Patagonia), could not only give a brand a competitive edge, but give voice and a much needed sense of vision, courage and bravery, to reinvent “business as usual.”
Many leaders are still hesitant to get personal, and take a stand on the issues that matter, but staying silent is also a risky strategy. The Humblebrag is a strategic communications agency focussed on courageous leadership – and putting diverse voices and stories in the spotlight.
How does The Humblebrag advocate for business as a force for good?
We dedicate a lot of time to our own engagement and commitment to positive change. We founded a non-profit global network called Creatives for Climate, and I personally have a strong commitment to doing all I can to be a part of a sustainable, circular and regenerative world.
When people come and work with us, my profile as a change-maker, and a feminsit, is known from the outset, so that sets the tone for a lot of our engagement.
Practically speaking, we have two profiles of clients – those already working in positive impact looking to amplify their visibility and voice, and those looking to become more purpose-driven, so our process really depends on their starting point.
Either way, we provide a critical voice and become a trusted partner to help them navigate a new landscape.
What was the catalyst for you in deciding to make the move home?
I see this more of an adventure than a permanent return, but we’re moving for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, living with COVID-19 took its toll, but secondly, I realized a lot of what I was doing could actually be done from anywhere.
With all my clients working at home, and many conferences and events turned online, the possibility of retaining my career from New Zealand started to open up.
I still have a team in Europe, so clients are reassured someone is there to answer their calls immediately, and I’m confident I can still work on a global level from Aotearoa.
I also felt some kind of ‘calling’ back to nature. I work deep in sustainability, but my lifestyle in Amsterdam was still very ‘busy’ and urban, and I felt a calling to start living at a different pace; my goal is to live a little off grid if I can; starting each day with a swim or a surf.
What were your motivations behind bringing The Humblebrag back to New Zealand, and what is interesting about New Zealand that makes you think it’ll succeed?
Growing up in New Zealand, I always felt disconnected from the rest of the world and eager to work on a global stage and participate in global conversations.
Recently, watching ‘back’ from Europe, I’ve felt that a lot of innovation and future-forward leadership is actually occurring here down under.
What I’ve noticed is that New Zealand is increasingly at the forefront of a lot of discussions that I really care about so my mindset has shifted from thinking that New Zealand’s so far away to asking myself; how can I bring my career home with me so I can get involved?
I know my global network and community is invaluable for kiwi businesses looking to make an international mark, so I’m looking forward to seeing how I can help them to grow.
Who are your favourite Kiwi changemakers that you’re looking forward to engaging with?
Bearing in mind I’ve been gone for almost 10 years, here is a short list. Comedian Janaye Henry who finds accessible and nuanced ways to bring complex local issues to light.
Tracey Lee is a global Kiwi that just returned to New Zealand and launched the “Every Kiwi Votes Counts” campaign which has been really successful. Julia Arnott-Neenee who is doing amazing things to enhance Maori and Pasifika participation in ICT and tech; and is a fellow female entrepreneur.
Auckland political representative Chloe Swarbrick, who I think is an inspiration for my entire generation. And the entire community at local initiative for the love of bees who have been leading the urban regenerative farming movement – and is led by change-maker Sarah Smuts-Kennedy, who also happens to be my mum.
What are the advantages for New Zealand business in having international companies such as yours open up shop here?
First of all, we’re bringing our own income into the country. Second of all, we have international experience, so we can help New Zealand companies amplify their visibility on the global stage. Enough said!
What are your hopes for the future of The Humble Brag?
I’m keeping an open mind as I return, knowing that while I made my mark overseas – this is an entirely new landscape. So on a local level, I’m not yet sure what to expect.
For now, all I know is that I have some very exciting global projects on the horizon in social impact and sustainability, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds!
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