We talked to Lorenz Illing about how TAM Akademie trains people and transforms cultures, and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Lorenz Illing: We are doing pretty good. Everybody is fine. Although my uncle has currently been tested positive for COVID, he is still okay. He has been a vast entrepreneurial role model for me since I was a kid and is still a great advisor under challenging situations, so I am pretty happy about him being able to cope with it that well.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded TAM Akademie?
Lorenz Illing: Well, it all pretty much started in 2006, when I won the world championships in Latin American formation dancing. That changed my perspective on life forever. I started focusing all my work ethics on at least ten years ahead of me to learn from them. I figured out that learning from the best in a class day in and day out is the fastest accelerator for any competency out there. So I started working for Bodo Schäfer (the German Version of Tony Robbins at that time) to learn sales. After that, I worked for Stefan Menden (a serial entrepreneur and ex-CEO of Secret Escapes) to learn how to build a startup, and before starting my own company, I worked for Constanze Buchheim (a German agency owner and leadership expert) to learn how to build an agency and how to grow your network correctly.
After that, I tried being a freelance business coach and trainer (which didn’t work out as expected) and started thinking about how to scale my passion for enabling others. I started looking for training- and Coaching-Academies to join or re-build. I found the TAM Akademie, one of the oldest business academies in Germany founded in 1974 by Roland Berger. The company’s history was huge – but the business was gone. The company was almost bankrupt and ran dry. For me, the company’s history was too good to let this former German market leader die. So my business partner and I bought the company in January 2017 and completely re-built and modernized it. With sweat, blood, tears, and luck, we turned this old ship into a new Startup, and now, four years later, the company is healthy and growing, although we have a global pandemic going on.
How does TAM Akademie innovate?
Lorenz Illing: We live the lean startup approach in almost every aspect of our business. We launch new products fast and learn through our customer’s feedback. We talk with alumni, current participants, network, trainers, and potential customers to directly adapt to the market needs. Moreover, we love the “MAYA”-concept (Most Advanced. Yet Acceptable). This means that it makes no sense to be 500% ahead of our customers with all the fancy models, tools, and hyper-modern organizations’ ideologies. It could overwhelm them and become a misfit with market-needs. Instead, when we innovate, we try finding a balance between “scientifically proven,” “easily understandable,” “fancy new,” and “inspirational.”
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business, and how are you coping?
Lorenz Illing: The first Corona-wave here in Germany was quite brutal. We used to do 100% of our seminars and workshops offline since we are still convinced that it is the best way to teach and learn soft skills, openly discuss serious topics and build a trustworthy and connecting environment. From one day to the next, we had to switch everything we do to “100% online” and adapt our products to the new circumstances. We built new online training not because we found them great ourselves, but because we had to adapt our business model. Within a short period, we managed to enhance our training and our new products became better and better. Through that, we were pretty well-prepared for the second pandemic wave and fought our way back to the pre-corona revenue-level. We were even able to grow our team and rent new office space. We used lockdowns in Germany to build more solid processes, evolve our products and services, and switch our CRM-tool. Although Corona is not over yet, we are using the spare time by switching to online training to become better in what we do and sharpen our minds and tools to absolutely rock 2021 even more.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Lorenz Illing: Corona got me to make the most difficult choices and decisions of my entrepreneurial career. The first wave brought us phases of no transparency, irritations, and lack of leadership. My Co-founder and I were not on top of our game and decided to go separate ways (we are still friends, but we couldn’t agree on which way to go at that time). In the end, the hero on the white horse was nobody else than our extraordinarily robust and resilient corporate culture. Our team fought for the culture and protected the company from within. It was incredible to see how firm culture can be and how much it can prevent a company from falling apart. This is probably one of my biggest learnings as well: If you build a company, also focus on building a relentless strong culture, and it will protect itself – even from the founder’s situational wrongdoing.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and TAM Akademie in the future?
Lorenz Illing: It might sound a bit like an entrepreneurial stereotype, but calming down while playing golf is my new therapy. I started practicing a lot in August and instantly got hooked. It feels kind of like back at the time I was in the German dancing team. When I am passionate about a sport, I have to concentrate so hard that there is no brain cell left for thinking about business questions or open loops. It’s my sportive kind of meditation.
Additionally, I am convinced that we are a great way to become a known player in high-quality training and modern leaders and new work facilitators’ qualifications. Several institutions have awarded our programs, and our participants are more than happy with what we deliver. Therefore, I am confident that we are looking into a bright future, although we are just getting started.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Lorenz Illing: The training and coaching industry is often lacking transparency and is also quite fragmented. The profession of training and coaching is not protected like other professions, e.g., the craft industry. Everybody can call himself/herself a trainer or coach.
In Germany, we also do not have the only association where everybody is forced to be a member, stick to the quality measures they made up and is collecting industry-relevant data. Nevertheless, in the end, I kind of like it that way because transparency leads to the old logic of recommendations. How do you find a good lawyer or a good doctor? By asking people, you think might know one! Therefore, we are not focused on competitors. We are focused on making our clients and participants happy. The need for training and coaching is big enough. There is no “the winner takes it all” mechanism in this industry. The mechanism is more like “the best gets recommended.”
Your final thoughts?
Lorenz Illing: 2020 was a rough year, but it forced us to think harder, do better, change faster. In the end, I am thankful that my team and their families are healthy and that the TAM Akademie is now stronger than ever.