Albert Alabau

Chief People Officer, Typeform

1. What seemed like an inconsequential decision at the time, but in hindsight
turned out to fundamentally reshape your life?

Consciously deciding to break up with my group of friends when I was 16. I was raised in a small village, and that meant spending a lot of time on the street, hanging around with friends, most of the time playing sports and having fun. The group of friends I used to hang out with back then, moved from playing football and riding a bike to using drugs over a few weeks in the summer. That was not my cup of tea and, after a period of deep reflection (your friends are “almost everything” at that age), I realised I was a sort of misfit to their eyes too, so I decided to stop seeing them and went on my own. I started reading, a lot. And listening to music as a need, not as a hobby. I soon realised I was devouring books -from fiction to behavioural science- and records -from pop music to jazz- like if there was no tomorrow. This strengthened my curiosity, and I realised I could find empathy as well as questions to my answers on books and lyrics, and later found myself asking questions I had never thought of before. I soon found myself surrounded by a new bunch of people who shared some of my passions, and whose values and interests were better aligned with mine. I learned early that you need to be genuine to who you are, to what you feel, rather than following the crowd just because this is what you are supposed to do. That forged the person I am today.

2. What do you think is true that most people think is false? What do you think
is false, that most people think is true?

I think what is true is a sustainable world is possible today: cheap green energy production, long-range electric mobility with carbon-neutral vehicle production, low natural resources plant-based tasty food production, sustainable housing building, removing plastic usage from packaging, … and a long list are all possible today and I do not understand why all governments aren’t forcing the global manufacturers and companies in that direction.

I think that what is false is that sustainability will come through awareness and a change of habits in people: i.e. recycling. It will rather come through disruptive innovation. I.e. developing bacterias that eat the plastic in our oceans vs making people stop throwing it to the sea

3. When was the last time you changed your mind about something really
important? What was it and what led you to change your view?

I love cars. I would say I’ve been a petrol-head since I was a kid. I loved the sound of powerful, petrol engines. Even the smell of gasoline. At the same time, a while ago I worked for a wind energy company whose founders’ motto was to “make a living out of air”. That started making me pay attention to renewable energy and electric mobility but still thought that was something to come in the future. 2 years ago, my wife needed a car, she wanted a small, city car, and we started researching the option of buying a Smart. We tested it, she loved it, but then I discovered the electric version looking at me in the car shop… while its selling price was significantly higher than the petrol equivalent, we made numbers and realised that, in less than 3 years, we would compensate for the extra cost. That blew my mind. Most people drive less than 80km a day. No electric car sold today has less than 130km range, and most of the new ones go much further without being too expensive if you do the maths (the higher selling price is amortised in 3-4 years if you do 12-15,000 km per year). And this means tones of CO2 saved from intoxicating our cities. And, at least in Barcelona and its surrounding, the street is full of lamps that would be super easy and cost-effective to adapt as night public chargers. Moreover, driving an electric car is a completely different experience: it’s much more fun than the equivalent petrol option.

4. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to
others? Why?

Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (read it for the first time when I was 16 or 17 and it was mind blowing), The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni (learned so much from it and keep re-reading bits of it almost every year), and Ray Dalio’s Principles, which I am about to finish now and it has made me reflect like no other book I’ve read in the last 5 years.

5. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?

That I am an extrovert. Many people get surprised. I am an introvert who opens in close groups but never been the kind of person arriving at a party and high-fiving everyone. That’s also why, while I loved sharing and exchanging knowledge and engaging in meaningful conversations with other people, I refuse to speak to most events I am invited at.

6. What is your untrainable superpower?

Caring about others genuinely, in silence, without others noticing my acts. I’ve realised that most people, even those that seem evil, do care about their loved ones but mostly use care as something transactional outside their closest circle. In HR, when you care genuinely about others, you constantly find yourself questioning what is the best answer or solution to impact the biggest amount of people if it’s something good, or the fewer people possible if the decision will have a negative impact. I learned it from my mum but I do not think it’s something easily trainable. You do care or you don’t. If you do, you can be trained to care more and better. If you don’t, probably you need a life-changing event to help you learn it and then train it.

7. Have you always had the same political beliefs? If so, why do you think you
have held them so long? If not, what event caused you to change your view?

No, and I think they keep evolving as I age. I always kept a strong social and humanist belief but today I find myself hesitating in debates where years ago I had a really strong opinion of. My wife is about to finish a PhD in economic history and, regularly listening to her and her crew talk about historical, economic and political events of the last 100+ years that seem so relevant today, have shacked some of my beliefs about one best way or system to run the world to the advantage of people’s wellbeing and happiness.

8. What do you think is acceptable today but will become taboo tomorrow?

Talking really freely. The line between “being always respectful” and being “a free thinker who does not aim to harm anyone but neither aims to please everyone” is under thorough public scrutiny. It’s a growing taboo today. Although still accepted, I am not sure this will be anytime soon. And social media and the immediateness of reactions without checking facts, data or even pausing to think before reacting do not help.

9. What app or tech product have you most recently fallen in love with?

Insight Timer. I started meditating 3 years ago but I did not manage to practice every day. I recently bought the yearly subscription and I am loving it: so easy to use and so convenient. The amount of varied guided meditations the app offers helps me squeeze a few minutes almost every day, be it early in the morning, after lunch, or before going to bed. And the benefits of it are tangible so quickly. A great investment.

10. What is the best purchase you’ve made recently? Why?

An automatic coffee machine. Since the lock-down, my wife and I have been WFH, which means 6 coffees a day. Being able to grind the coffee and get a fresh espresso without making a mess as we did before, and working with a constant smell of ground coffee is a great experience.

11. If you were to survive the zombie apocalypse, what role would you play in the
new society that would follow?

Something completely different from what I’ve done before but using the skills and knowledge I have today to help others have great experiences. Maybe becoming a cook and feeding people with tasty, healthy food.

12. If you could invite any 3 people - living or dead - to your final dinner party
before the end of the world, who would they be and why?

My grandfather: I did not meet any of my grandfathers and, according to everyone in my mother’s family, my grandfather was a great human being, a great listener, but also very fun.

Thom Yorke: his music with Radiohead has influenced me a lot, and I’d love playing with him before the world would end.

Clara Campoamor: a key woman politician to get the universal suffrage approved in Spain in 1931 and essential to many other women and children rights who a few years later had to face exile. She was a forward thinker I’d love to talk to and do a collective, intellectual catharsis before the world ended

13. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?

Apply “WAIT” (Why Am I Talking?) before talking. There is no need to “talk and show off” unless you are going to make an important contribution that has not been made yet. I am sure I do not apply it enough…

14. What's a skill that isn’t on your resume, but your former bosses would
recognize as one of the reasons you are successful?

Being a good sparring partner. I always tried to empathize as much as possible with my previous bosses and tried to make them better at their job, mostly by being the radically candid, party crasher that was telling them what others did not have the courage to. That forged genuine trust-based relationships that, at the same time, were so meaningful to me and relevant in my personal and professional growth.

15. Who was the best person you ever hired? Why were they so good?

Dani Martos, a great recruiter – and beyond – and a greater person. I hired Dani at Scytl in 2014, then I hired him again at TravelPerk in 2016, and I wish I had the chance to work with him again. On top of being a great recruiter and a forward-thinker, he just gets it, which is so impactful in both early-stage and hyper-growth. He always played that “sparring partner” and “party crasher” role I mentioned before with me and had that amazing, can-do, self-starter attitude, willing to always help and roll-up his sleeves no matter what the challenge was. A person I could always rely on to stay awake and be a better professional and a better manager, and someone I could count on to deliver the undeliverable.

16. Who is the best co-workers or collaborator you’ve ever worked with?

Jean-Christophe Taunay-Bucalo, also known as JC. I hired him at TravelPerk in 2015, when we were around 40 people, to help us built the sales team at scale. He soon became a key member of the leadership team and a crucial part of TravelPerk’s soon to come success and hyper-growth. A great systemic thinker, an incredibly fast learner, a chess player with great human quality, someone who is able to jump from the top strategy to the lowest detail at a speed I’d never seen anyone do before. A great leader, always willing to help others, a great manager too. Also someone aggressive in the most positive sense, super contagious and useful in a start-up/scale-up environment, but humble and down-to-earth at the same time. I learned so much from him. Truly inspiring. I wish I could work with him again.

17. When it comes to our work and industry: what scares you most?

Technology replacing a good human-to-human conversation or interaction. I am a fan of technology as a means to improve people’s life. I’m scared human interaction might be less valued in the future as AI evolves, and people might prefer using simpler tech-based alternatives to more complex, human interactions.

18. What’s one industry challenge you don’t actually think will ever get solved?

Aligning “people’s needs and wills” and “companies needs and momentums” hand-in-glove. It would be amazing to smoothly align what “people are best/passionate at/want to learn about” with what “a company needs and can offer” and review it and adjust it regularly over time as things and needs change. It would be amazing to allow everyone to have a career where they always enjoyed and got a thrill out of their job while making their best work and impact. Lots of efforts are being put into it by both companies and their employees but it’s far from being a friction-less process.

19. Do you have a secret tip, tool or trick that’s contributed to your success?

Never stop being curious. Never think a question is stupid. Better ask for sorry than for permission.

20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With ... ?

Joaquim Campa, HR Leader at Social Point, and a great, disruptive forward thinker.

Thank you to Albert Alabau taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune

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