It’s an overcast late morning, and we’re standing on the rooftop of Leipzig’s most famous business offspring – Spreadshirt. Overlooking the busy Gießerstraße while sipping on espressos, Stefanie Nobis and I reflect on Leipzig life and chat about the company, where she’s head of recruiting. At a mature 17 years of age, it has grown into about 900 employees worldwide, delivering its printed-on-demand merchandise to more than 100 countries.
Four hundred of those staffers are based in Leipzig, most working on the digital product, a fourth of them being developers. The facility at Leipzig West doubles as a printing site, one of five production facilities Spreadshirt runs in Central Europe and the United States. Leipzig has remained the company’s nerve center since its inception as an early-millennium startup in the basement of the local HHL university, from co-founders Lukasz Gadowski and Matthias Spieß.
Nobis is proud of this: “That’s what I think is special. We are a Leipzig company that made it into the world. I think it’s cool that Spreadshirt is an international company but stayed here.”
She attributes the success of Spreadshirt especially to its diversity – 33 nationalities at its Leipzig headquarters, with English (rather than German) as the working language.
Spreadshirt’s CEO Phil Rooke is actually British. While most of the company’s employees are not native English speakers, they speak it to each other because it tends to be their common language, and Spreadshirt even offers them English classes.
“We grew with this culture and saw the advantages in being international and being diverse,” Nobis explains. “It gives you more opportunity to hire the right skillset, a bigger pool of talent to hire from.”
The cosmopolitan, supportive and positive office atmosphere is definitely a draw for employees.
“Spreadshirt has a great company spirit and culture,” says Felicitas Kermarec, the company’s head of localization. “You will find people from all over the world here, and we all share the same values: being open, respectful and relaxed with each other.”
Another priority of the company is accommodating the needs of families, Nobis adds. She emphasizes that women account for 50 percent of Spreadshirt’s managers and directors and 20 percent of top executives. Many of Spreadshirt’s employees are young mothers.
Art Director Do Laux says it is precisely the company’s family-friendliness “with perks like work-from-home… and the casual environment” that make working there so enjoyable.
Spreadshirt, whose Leipzig offices are bright and airy, does a lot to promote work-life balance and, as Legal Counsel Nicole Helms points out, “to make us feel comfortable as employees, for example with food offers, joint events and flexible working hours.” She describes her colleagues as “open, friendly and committed” and her tasks as “varied and exciting.”
Originally from Saxony-Anhalt, Nobis has been working for Spreadshirt herself for eight years. She is a travel enthusiast who spent some time living in Granada, Spain, and understands first-hand the struggle of trying to live life abroad with a language barrier. Since returning to East Germany, she has dedicated a lot of time and energy to helping colleagues and friends overcome obstacles settling in locally.
She recommends Spreadshirt both to international-minded people aiming to find their footing in Leipzig to enable the pursuit of their passion and those eyeing long-term career prospects with the corporation.
As an example, the head of recruiting recalls a former employee who supported herself by working for the company while building up her business on the side. The woman was eventually able to open her own shop in Leipzig, and left Spreadshirt. And then there are people like Rooke, the current CEO who has been with the company for a decade.
Nobis tells me it’s hard to find an employer quite like this: being so respectful and understanding of its employees’ goals and ambitions, operating globally but keeping up a startup environment, welcoming and valuing diversity not only in terms of ethnicity but also of style.
“You can totally be yourself, wear what you want, including multiple tattoos and piercings and blue hair if that’s what you’re into,” she affirms, also noting that you don’t need a background in the position you’re applying for in order to work for Spreadshirt. Just come in with transferable skills, an open and flexible mindset, motivation, and original ideas and solutions you are willing to share.
At our first job fair, in November 2018, a graphic artist spontaneously gave the company the title of coolest exhibitor. Nobis says she wants to get this kind of love again, and will bring an even funner exhibit this time around. You won’t want to miss it…