The Moodie Davitt Report brings you the latest instalment in our popular series Ten Easy Pieces*, in which we get up close and personal with leading travel retail personalities via ten snapshot questions.
Meet Happy Socks Global Travel Retail Manager Björn Buddenbohm whose career in travel retail was touched by a certain Swedish tennis ace namesake.
1. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Germany, in Minden, some 200kms south of Hamburg where I have been living for the past 13 years. I am an only child. My mother, Marion, was a bank teller and my father, Herbert, was a baker and later in management. He was also a semi-professional tennis coach and a great fan of Swedish tennis player Björn Borg. Hence my rather unusual ‘German’ name.
I started playing tennis when I was quite young and kept that up until I was 14. I was talented but nowhere near talented enough to succeed Björn Borg. I was also good at track and field, mainly triple jump and long jump. I believe I still hold a school record for the long jump.
As a youngster and teenager I got involved in several other sports, including handball, basketball and volleyball. However, I stopped everything when I started working.
2. You studied Business Management at Osnabrück University. As a teenager and young man, did you have a set career path?
No, not at all. I finished high school and, as we had to in Germany, went straight into an alternative civilian service programme at an institution for the protection of the environment.
I really enjoyed that. One minute we were rescuing injured hawks, eagles or owls and the next we were out in the surrounding nature reserves on a tractor or armed with a pitch fork. I think at that time I wanted to become a falconer and gardener, at least for a little while.
After 14 months that experience ended on a Friday. I had the weekend to prepare myself for a two-and-a-half-year apprenticeship with Dresdner Bank (Commerzbank today). I went from boiler suit and an outdoor lifestyle to a suit and tie in just two days.
I worked as a bank teller but it definitely was not for me, even though I learned a lot about people. I headed to university to study business management as I had no idea what else to do and it seemed a logical move after working at the bank.
At that stage I had no interest in travelling. Honestly, my English was poor and I really had no wish to see the world. Then I started feeling jealous of friends who were heading off all over the place; especially when I received photos of Patagonia in Chile.
I applied for a semester abroad and I went to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. That was probably the best thing I have ever done and the basis for what I do today.
3. So you decided you wanted a career which would combine work and travel?
Before I finished my degree I did a six-month internship with Porsche Leipzig. I really enjoyed that; I’d always dreamed of driving a Porsche. Since I was organising sports driving events on a race track, and became an off-road instructor, driving became part of my daily routine, at least for the duration of the internship.
I guess you could say that’s one off my bucket list. Today I prefer not to have a car at all; I love my racing cycle though.
Years later I had a dream job offer from Porsche as marketing manager for the 911 series. But by then I was immersed in the Montblanc travel retail department where I did an internship after I finished university. I ended up staying seven years and travelling extensively to some pretty interesting places. I was opening up travel retail markets from India to the former Soviet states. On top of that I was responsible for Europe, Israel, Turkey and Southern Africa.
My first major project was the opening of a Montblanc standalone store at the then newly-built Terminal 5 at London Heathrow. At that time, I even got a permanent pass for London Heathrow and could open staff doors inside the terminals. That was pretty cool and I still feel connected to the airport and UK in general, since it was basically the start of my career in travel retail. Until today I prefer to fly British Airways when I go to London so I can pass through Terminal 5.
However, after over seven years I was ready for a change and resigned. I took a sabbatical year to travel the world and to find out what to do next with my life.
4. And that led to another position in travel retail?
Even though I had a great time in travel retail at Montblanc, I never imagined myself going back into the industry. I wanted a major change. I started my around-the-world trip in Iceland in November and attended the Airwaves Music Festival as a photographer (semi-professional at that time). Then I headed down to Florida, Central America (Nicaragua and Panama), South America (Chile and Argentina), followed by Hawaii, Japan, the Philippines and Hong Kong.
I backpacked. While I had been used to staying in fancy hotels through business, I opted then for hostels and camping. The best time, and still kind of the loneliest, was travelling and camping throughout three islands of Hawaii in the off-season. I was often the only camper. On Maui I’d rented a Mustang convertible but camped out. The lady at the car rental thought I was crazy.
5. When did you develop an interest in photography?
I did a photography workshop at high school. And when I came back from my trip, I bought professional photo equipment and became self-employed, specialising in music and event photography.
I love to capture special and emotional moments. Because of their passion musicians are perfect subjects.
6. What prompted your return to travel retail?
As mentioned before, I thought I would never go back to the travel industry; I was happy working as a photographer for a while. However, I also knew that it was not something I wanted to do forever. I could feel that the more jobs I did, the more my passion for photography faded.
I wasn’t really looking for a job but I have always loved funky socks.
At the same time Harding Retail was looking for a business development manager in cruise retail. I got the job and learned a lot about the travel retailer’s side of the industry. After almost two years, a friend of mine sent me a link for Happy Socks; they were on the lookout for someone to set up global travel retail. I wasn’t really looking for a job but I have always loved funky socks. I immediately thought of the potential in travel retail and applied for the job.
I flew to the first interview in Stockholm and had one of those moments when you feel it was all meant to be. In the baggage area of Arlanda airport there are photos of famous people from Stockholm. And there was my namesake looking at me. Björn Borg was the first photo I saw. I reckoned it must be fate so I signed on with Happy Socks… and haven’t looked back.
Happy Socks’ business in travel retail is building up in a big way and I am very pleased to represent the brand in global travel retail. Of course, I could take advantage of my existing network, even though I was gone for almost four years. I figured that it is still more or less the same people. By attending all major travel retail events in 2018 and 2019 I grew my network and shared my enthusiasm for the brand.
Happy Socks had a stand for the first time at the TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes last year. On top of that we have some amazing ambassadors, including The Moodie Davitt Report’s Founder Martin Moodie, within the travel industry.
I am still very much involved in photography and that’s great as I don’t have to make my living from it anymore. It remains a passion.
7. Which goes well with another passion, right?
Exactly. I love music; I love the festival season, be that in Germany or across Europe (e.g. Roskilde in Denmark, Sziget in Hungary). Fortunately, I was able to fulfil another bucket list dream of photographing my all-time favourite band Pearl Jam in Berlin in 2018. Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine and some others are also on my list but I have yet to tick those off.
I have another pastime/passion as well. I’m a news addict; really into history, world politics and global affairs. I read The Guardian and The Washington Post online every day and I love listening to podcasts such as Pod save America or Hardcore History by Dan Carlin.
Moreover, I really admire the American linguist Noam Chomsky and share a lot of his views. I want to understand what is happening in the world, particularly in the areas of society, digitalisation and global politics.
8. Would you consider going into politics?
No. I believe there are a lot of skilful and smart people who go into politics for a good cause, really looking to change things. I admire that, but that comes at a price which I am not willing to pay. I couldn’t stand the intrigue behind the scenes and I’m probably not diplomatic enough. I’m too busy to get involved with politics anyway.
Happy Socks is my project now. It’s a fun brand and I love the crazy brand approach and the freedom I have in my position. I enjoy what I do and I love wearing the socks.
Of course, it’s a challenge for relatively new brands to enter the global travel retail market, even though Happy Socks is already established and sold in almost 100 local markets on five continents. In travel retail there is no socks category as such yet and we are still trying to find our position in fashion and gifting.
However, travel retail is a fun business to be in and it offers huge opportunities in terms of sales potential and global visibility. I can’t think of another business which offers you the same amount of contact with very different people of various backgrounds. It’s kind of a global family, but at the same time it’s also politics on a business level.
9. How important is social media in your professional and personal lives?
Social media gives you the opportunity to connect with people who share the same interests, whether in business or private life.
Personally, I always try to stay under the radar; my personal footprint on the internet is rather small. I usually don’t share anything personal (except here), just my photos, in order to get some appreciation. Isn’t that what we are all seeking? I choose to keep in touch with my friends through messages and other apps, but rarely post a photo of myself. I prefer to stay behind the camera.
10. Marketeer, developer, news addict… are you always so focused or is there a wind-down time for Björn Buddenbohm?
Of course there is. I love good entertainment. Who doesn’t like watching a good TV or Netflix series? My favourites so far are True Detective, Breaking Bad and Mind Hunter. I also like the late night shows from John Oliver, Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers, and not to forget Jimmy Fallon. We even did socks for him a couple of years ago.
Travelling became a passion after my semester abroad. I try to explore some new countries by backpack at least every two years. In 2020 it’s going to be British Columbia for a month.
And I started playing tennis again, even though it is too late now for the Wimbledon trophy. However, it is fun and I wonder why I stopped some 25 years ago.
*PREVIOUSLY FEATURED TEN EASY PIECES PERSONALITIES INCLUDE: