Jaime Gerner
Jaime Gerner

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From social worker to entrepreneur

When people ask me if the leap from social work to the private sector was not huge, I answer with a clear "yes". Yes, it is a change.

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About me

My name is Jaime Gerner, 29 years old, living in Züri Unterland, but my heart beats for the city of Zurich (apart from my wife and my family). I am a happy husband of 1 (Jackpot), middle brother of 2, proud godfather of 3. I need sports, conversations with friends, time with family, good food and lots of sun to regulate myself. My passion is making music together with my band.

Striving for independence

Overwhelmed by the range of possible career paths, I decided as a teenager to complete cantonal school and thus the Matura. This was only to postpone the big decision of choosing a career and to emulate my big role model, my older brother, who also completed the Matura. At that time, I financed my free time with part-time jobs in a call centre, at Mc Donald's and as a runner at concerts. At that time, there was no question of an "enterpreneurial mindset". Independence and earning my own money, on the other hand, were very important to me.

From social worker to Head of Operations?!

Through the advice of my family, friends and career guidance, I decided to train in social work. Since I often enjoyed the contact with people more than the subject matter itself, even in my part-time jobs, I decided to study social work at the ZHAW. My first experience of shy leadership was as the head of a youth club and as the coach of a boxing project against youth violence. I discovered that leadership functions, especially in working with people, aroused my interest. Besides youth work and studies, I drove a taxi in our family business. After youth work, I managed the socio-educational services at a psycho-therapy ward for young adults aged 16-25. Shortly afterwards, I received a job offer to do youth coaching for the Youth Advocate's Office, to accompany foster families and foster carers, and to look after young people in a youth residential home, where I eventually took over as deputy divisional manager. At the same time, our family business grew in the taxi industry, my role in it was rather passive, I was active in the background. The management was in the hands of my father and my brother.

In October 2023, I was allowed to take over the operational management of our family business and finally join the executive board.

Focus on people remains

When people ask me if the leap from social work to the private sector was not huge, I answer with a clear "yes". Yes, it is a change. However, I still deal mostly with people. Of course, the work and decisions as COO are more influenced by aspects of a business that functions as well as possible. Also, in direct comparison to social work, the work with employees seems less substantial at first glance. However, appearances are deceptive - the training and professional experience in the various fields of social work prepared me very well for my current role and position. Now I am responsible for 170 employees who secure their livelihood by working in our family business, and they and I repeatedly encounter profound socio-economic issues. My current job does not exclude social work at all.

When I look back at my relatively young professional career so far:

At no point did I have a classical "entrepreneurial career": I never had an exotically innovative brainwave for a completely new start-up or product to reinvent the wheel. But that wasn't important to me either. More important to me were the values of the working attitude that our father strongly influenced: giving oneself with passion, with all my heart and as a human being.

When it comes to people (whether in social work or in the private sector), I was not satisfied with "service by the book" and minimum performance. Every now and then it requires going the extra mile.

Not to be misunderstood, I am not an advocate of "hustling". In my opinion, more does not equal more.

If it's not necessary, I don't see the point behind plastic and principled 60h+ work weeks: as a workaholic, I would be hardly available for family and friends, my health would be damaged in the long run and my work would not be sustainably productive. I rather take the position that this is detrimental to efficiency and quality of work. The story of the woodcutter by Jorge Bucay from "Come, I'll tell you a story" was groundbreaking with regard to this topic. I would like to emphasise that in my work I have met many people who were forced to work double shifts and 60+ weeks to keep their heads above water due to low-paid jobs, difficult living conditions, securing childcare, strokes of fate, etc. In my presentation, I am referring to the fact that the work of the woodcutter is not efficient. I am not referring to such destinies in my elaboration. I am talking about the still widespread business- and profit-driven attitude that you have to work 60+h weeks if you want to be "successful" or "achieve something". To go into what "success" means to me would go beyond the scope of this interview and get philosophical. I'll spare you that. But it has little to do with business. But: I am very lucky to be happy in my job, to be able to work with my brother, that is luxury.

Our father taught us that a stable and healthy business must live a healthy culture. He often stressed the importance of honesty (sounds romantic, but it is - and he followed through).

Towards employees, with regard to taxes and finances, and in general. That commitment to employees, partners, business colleagues and other stakeholders is of great value. That handshakes and agreements are valid. That the people in the company are the most important thing and that satisfied employees are close to our hearts. It's not always about the best deal, the biggest profit. If you do business properly, you need patience. It is not that there are no short-cuts. The price, however, would be that one would have to disregard one of the values just mentioned. That was never an option.

No flashes of inspiration or groundbreaking start-up ideas, but rather repeated smaller ideas that would serve the work processes, the business and ultimately the employees, customers, clients and the business.

The importance of collaboration

Today I work with a great team and very closely with my brother. It wouldn't work without these great people. Or without the people who saw potential in me, encouraged, supported and challenged me - without them, I probably wouldn't have been able to develop the way I have.

I am not a lone wolf who develops my own ideas and implements them independently. I love working with other people who have different perspectives on different issues. I love it when different ideas crystallise out, they "cross-fertilise" each other, synergies emerge, negotiation processes take place and the conceived idea can be checked and evaluated in the practical everyday work.

I like teamwork, the freedom to try out "new" things, not being afraid of mistakes, change and innovation, and listening to, seeing and supporting people and their ideas. I don't pursue strategies, don't apply learned methods, but try to put people in the centre and to take on your concerns, to support them where possible. So far, this has also proved to be promising for the business.

My values

If I were asked for advice on productivity, responsibility and innovation, some of the points I mentioned can be summarised:

  • Putting people at the centre:
    - Listen to staff, take concerns seriously, offer support.
    - Accepting ideas from the whole team, working them out, trying them out, evaluating them.
    - Not wanting to do everything myself: I don't have to be an expert in every area, I can admit to myself that there are great people who can do most things better than I can - synergies and partnerships are worth their weight in gold.
  • Thinking beyond my own nose and asking myself what far-reaching consequences my decisions (can) have for people and the environment.
  • Take responsibility for your own decisions, admit mistakes to yourself and others, be able to apologise.
  • Honest business is sustainable(er)
  • Being patient
  • Not being afraid of mistakes - I find it liberating to admit to a mistake. Trying to hide one's own mistakes costs a lot of energy.
  • Take responsibility for your work-life balance and health instead of "hustling".
  • More does not (always) equal more
  • Commitment and handshakes have great value
  • Put your heart and passion into it

I have a few ideas in the pipeline that I can't talk about yet - but always eager to find enthusiastic minds, motivated peers and inspiring stories!

Yes, sometimes I want to go the extra mile. But I am not an advocate of "hustling". In my opinion, more does not equal more.


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