“A summer dropout”: Sabbatical at a Cabin

Senior Consultant goes Cabin Host: In an alpine idyll of cowbells, flower meadows and snow-capped peaks, our colleague Max Hoffmann is currently spending his sabbatical at the Lizumer Cabin. At an altitude of over 2,000 meters. In an interview he reveals how this came about and what exactly he is doing up there. 

You’re doing a sabbatical in a mountain cabin. The first thing we think of, of course, is total isolation: no telephone, no internet, no Netflix. How do you survive that?

MAX HOFFMANN: So naturally, you’re a bit cut off from the rest of the world. Yesterday, for example, there was complete silence, internet and telephone were simply off. But that’s kind of cool, because something like that just won’t happen to you in a big city like Munich. Simply by having limited reception up here, you get such a feeling of self-sufficiency. 

It’s also funny that small, everyday things suddenly become complicated. Two weeks ago, for example, I needed to go to the hairdresser. In the end, I was on the road all day – just to get there. In situations like this, you realize that life here is much more rudimentary than in the big city. At the same time, that’s sometimes a reason why you’re up here at all.

And how did you get the idea to do a sabbatical so far up in the mountains?

I grew up in the foothills of the Alps in Bad Tölz and spent lots of time in the mountains from an early age. I wanted to work in a cabin for the first time between my A-levels and my civilian service, but unfortunately that didn’t work out then. After that, my childhood dream got a bit lost because I went to Munich to study. But I never lost touch with the mountains. Last autumn, friends of mine finally decided to lease a cabin from the Austrian Alpine Club (Österreichischer Alpenverein). I found that exciting right from the start. At the beginning of the year they asked me if I would like to work there for a while and also assist with my business background. And so, the idea of a mountain cabin sabbatical was born.

How did your bosses and colleagues react when they heard about your plans?

That came as a surprise at first because a sabbatical in the mountains is not the classic step for a management consultant. But in the next moment, the reactions were very positive, open and encouraging. Ideally, at the end of the day I can also take a few experiences from my cabin career change with me into my everyday professional life – even if the business models or the type of work are very different. Of course, there are also similarities: For both jobs you need to have a good sense of people, empathy and good networking skills. The development and implementation of sustainable, practicable solutions also plays a central role in day-to-day project work in management consulting as well as in the operation of a mountain cabin.

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What are your duties at the Lizumer Cabin?

In the end, three areas are important here: the kitchen, the service and everything that has to do with the back office – i.e. accounting and other administrative tasks. For each area we have one to three people in charge.  Because I am only spending three months on site, I support them, depending on their needs, in all three areas. But above all in service and guest catering. In addition, I help out with the bookkeeping and when it comes to making our internal processes more efficient. In particular, communication between the three areas was not optimal at the beginning.

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Can you bring your focus in the area of digitization to the cabin or is that not such a big topic there yet?

Of course, digitization doesn’t stop at the mountains either. The Austrian Armed Forces, for example, are currently laying fiber-optic cables here. Together with a friend who is a programmer, I’ve already thought about a few things for the cabin, for example at check-in. The guests are always asked which room and which food they want. Our goal is for this information to be entered digitally by us and then automatically forwarded to the kitchen. In the step after next, it should also be possible to automatically calculate when the next shopping trip is due based on this information. At the moment, everything is still analog. But as with every company, the same applies here: Only when the essential processes and procedures are right, can they be digitized.

Describe a typical day at the Lizumer Cabin.

They are definitely long days. Breakfast starts at 6:45 am. I’m usually there around seven, half past seven. After breakfast, we give the guests a prognosis whether they can make a certain hike due to weather conditions or not. From 9 o’clock the cabin is almost empty and then we start cleaning. From 11 to 1pm I take a break. Either I strike out on my own or lie down in the sun. And in the afternoon, I do bookkeeping and paperwork. Starting at 4pm the first overnight guests come again. Sometimes 80 people show up within one to two hours. From 6:30pm on there is dinner. Three people take over the kitchen, then. I am mostly outside serving, and give, among other things, an estimate for the next day’s weather and which tours I would recommend. Starting at 10pm there are quiet hours. Then we get everything ready downstairs and sit together again. The whole thing is exhausting because you are on your feet almost the whole day. But it’s fun to have an exchange with the people; that’s why the time passes quickly. I have one day off a week – I use it to explore the area and switch off.

What is the biggest difference to working in the Munich Nunatak office?

The surroundings, of course (laughs). It can happen that a piglet, a cow or a marmot crosses your path on the deck. In addition, there is the remoteness as well as the fact that you don’t get to see so much of the fast-paced everyday life of the outside world. 

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What are you looking forward to the most after your sabbatical?

I always like to tell people: I’m a temporary dropout. A dropout for a summer. And that’s great, but I’m also looking forward to the “intellectual stimulus” and internationality in the context of digitization that I have in my work at Nunatak. In other words, the challenge in daily business and in projects. But before I return to Munich in January, I will spend a few more months in New Zealand.