Markus Kessler

Be more relaxed; don´t take everything so seriously and use your experience as well as the knowledge of others to reach your goals.


Markus Kessler, a German native, has spent more than 30 years in leadership positions in diverse industries ranging from manufacturing automotive supply, paper machines and turbines, to retail to managing the investments of a family office. Most recently, he served as CEO of one of Europe’s largest private label producer of detergent, cleaners, personal care, cosmetics and natural cosmetics, which is where he developed his passion for transforming companies through sustainability and social purpose.

Since leaving the corporate world in mid-2016, Markus has been active as a social entrepreneur business angel investor and consultant for social and environmental impact. He is actively involved in several sustainable production labs and startups, including a used textile to building products manufacturer, as well as a compostable paper packaging for lip balm.

Markus received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and his master’s in international management from Thunderbird’s American Graduate School of International Management in Phoenix. He lives with his family in Munich.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

The idea was born together with Russ Stoddard, my partner, interviewed back in 2012 by IdeaMensch. He has been a successful, serial social entrepreneur for the last 30 years and was thinking of going into consulting, helping companies integrate social purpose into all aspects of operations. I have been a member of the mainstream business rat race for over 25 years and recently started to enjoy being a social entrepreneur, advising and investing in several startups that do everything from upcycling plastic to making building products from used clothing/textiles. Both Russ and I want to help others to experience the success, positivity, and personal fulfillment that comes of social entrepreneurship and show them how to get there.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I start my day either with a run or a bike ride or at the gym. Then, I either have meetings with various business partners or with my clients. If I don´t have meetings, I am working conceptually on my startups or talking to people on the phone. Sometimes I have lunch with my wife or kids, which feels good. To be productive, I set myself goals or milestones I want to reach during a month or week. These I break down in smaller intervals to keep myself on track. I adjust them weekly, depending on the parameters.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I keep thinking and talking about an idea for certain period. After a while, I just take the first step and then the next to transform my idea into a project. At that stage, I recruit others to join me in collaboration to realize the idea.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I see a trend that people start to be more concerned about this planet and actually mean it. Climate change is no longer just something that may happen down the road; it’s happening now. Consumers, especially millennials and those even younger, want more transparency about the products and services they buy, and about the company who sells the products/services. There’s also growing awareness abou the business opportunities inherent in the circular economy. This shift in thinking offers social entrepreneurs a big chance for to make this world a better place to live.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I am getting older, so now I only doing things I really want to do and see sense in doing. I focus and centralize my energy on the important matters, and have great fun and enjoyment while doing them. It’s amazing how having fun increases people’s productivity, which is part of why I’m so hopeful more companies will fully embrace social purpose – happy employees do better work.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be more relaxed; don´t take everything so seriously and use your experience as well as the knowledge of others to reach your goals.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I believe that in future, the only products that will be sold will be those that have been designed, manufactured, and sold in line with the value system that reflects most people’s beliefs. People’s value systems are rapidly improving, in my view, and this will begin to show up in our economy more strongly.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

To read as much as possible – books, interviews, documentaries, philosophy, science, etc. It helps to understand a little bit more of our complex world.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

The first thing is that growth or expansion is not a real goal. I prefer a solid, sustainable goal rooted in one’s personal social purpose and leveraging that to drive a business. Such broad parameters are challenging, but if you are doing it right, the parameters may get even bigger and will depend on cooperation with others. Only together, as a team, can there be true success. This means you must fully trust all the people who work with you. Let them know this and don´t try to control them. They know so much more than you, and they will do it right if they are empowered through mutual trust and respect.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Luckily, I haven’t really failed in business (yet)!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I think every entrepreneur, especially those interested in social impact, should study the circular economy. There are so many inherent opportunities to make money while also doing good by people and for our planet. One recent example is PlasticWorks, a plastic upcycling factory based in Boise, Idaho that I’ve been involved with through my new social purpose consulting company, Humanista. PlasticWorks takes single use plastic material, shreds it, melts it down and then makes it into something new. Right now we are making coasters, floor tiles, and flowerpots, but products will be driven by what the community wants to buy. PlasticWorks’ machines are based on the open source designs available at

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

On books and a good bottle of red wine. The books will help me understand the world better, help me to relax, and the wine is pure enjoyment.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Outlook calendar and the to-do list functionality of it. Daily! Actually, to be honest, the best tool for me is my old-fashioned scribble book, in which I take notes, write down my ideas and business concepts with a ballpoint pen.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

My favorite book I’ve read recently is Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

What is your favorite quote?

I like these two from Albert Einstein: “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere,” and “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

Key learnings:

• Being disruptive and agile starts with oneself. You cannot tell an organization to become disruptive or agile unless you are modeling that behavior yourself as a leader.
• Planning is not for everyone. I like to plan, but I try to balance my desire for control with flexibility. That goes for both sides. In today’s world, because of disruption and agility, you can’t get mired in planning. Things change too quickly in the short term. My business partner Russ doesn’t like planning, and I do, but it’s a stronger partnership for that difference.
• Clarify your personal and business values before you set out to determine your business’s financials. You should adjust yourself to current parameters, and then look to your budget for values alignment. If you are incapable of adjusting yourself, you aren’t capable of budgeting or planning. Numbers are living things, just like you are as a leader. This is even more true for executives than say, a controller. Even answering these interview questions has helped me gain insight into myself, and I will adjust accordingly in my business.