Convincingly Sustainable – Making the World a Little Bit Better

April 25, 2023

The power of persuasion as a leadership tool

Jürgen Wahl, CEO of GUT GmbH and Global Executive MBA alumnus, understood the important connection between ecology and economy already at a young age. Today, the experienced top manager and entrepreneur is an active consultant on all things sustainability – and his number one leadership tool is persuasion.

Jürgen Wahl's career is filled with tasks and challenges around the topic of sustainability. He shares his knowledge as a consultant with companies that want to act more sustainable.
Jürgen Wahl's career is filled with tasks and challenges around the topic of sustainability. He shares his knowledge as a consultant with companies that want to act more sustainable.

Biodiversity is his hobbyhorse. In his spare time, he enjoys nature. And professionally, he is making the business world more aware of environmental issues and, at the same time, more profitable: Jürgen Wahl, entrepreneur from Upper Austria, advocates for the UN sustainability goals in many different ways. Back in high school, the passion of his biology teacher (who was among the first to establish a wood chip biomass boiler system in his town and whetted his students’ interest in biodiversity and ecological awareness) left a huge mark on him. “Back then, I realized that ecology and economy shouldn’t be in competition with each other,” the former start-up manager as well as top manager and consultant of many years professes.

Around the World with an MBA in His Bag

His passion led him to study at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, and after that at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, where he completed an export management program in 2003 and the Global Executive MBA program at the WU Executive Academy in 2004. Around the same time, he volunteered to complete his civilian service in Bhutan, where he planted trees as part of a reforestation program. Back in Austria, he decided to join the corporate sector: “I wanted to change the business world to make it greener,” he recounts. He landed his first job in the system catering industry, at McDonald’s, where he established a system for collecting packaging materials and kitchen refuse (organic waste, used oil, etc.) to be recycled. This position as an environmental manager set him on a course of promoting sustainability that he would keep pursuing for a long time to come. In 2006, he became a freelance company consultant and started building up start-ups in the energy sector as an interim manager and CEO. He, for example, managed to stabilize the gas trading company Centrex and the Exxa energy exchange via turnaround.

One of his first professional sustainability tasks was to set up a waste collection system at a fast-food chain. Photo © shutterstock - Maksim Safaniuk
One of his first professional sustainability tasks was to set up a waste collection system at a fast-food chain. Photo © shutterstock - Maksim Safaniuk

Back to His First Job – as a CEO

In 2011, he returned to his first place of work as CEO. Just a year later, he bought the company (by then called GUT GmbH) from his former boss at McDonald’s. It took him just five years to pay out the banks and investors and fully acquire the company. To this day, he holds all CEO and management board positions. He also heads Wahl und Partner, an internal consulting firm with four employees, which is closely linked to the consulting segment of GUT GmbH. This way, Jürgen Wahl leads his customers – companies that either commit to greener policies of their own accord or are forced to do so by legal stipulations – to sustainability in a very practical way. Sometimes, it takes a turnaround to eliminate deficiencies.

Persuasion as a Leadership Skill

Jürgen Wahl considers his persuasiveness and a fair amount of tenacity his superpowers: “I am not an idealistic do-gooder who glues himself to the crosswalk – although I do understand the desperation especially young people are feeling,” he admits. “Leadership is based on the ability to convince people. I always try to convince them to engage in sustainability measures in their companies by offering them clear paths and showing them the ensuing process-related and economic benefits,” he says. The issue of sustainability is the driving force behind an all-encompassing transformation process, which will eventually leave a company in a much better place, he states.

Jürgen Wahl Portrait

Jürgen Wahl

  • Global Executive MBA alumnus

By strategically introducing sustainability policies into a company, you will also be forced to comprehensively optimize work processes, helping you, in turn, to cut costs and enhance team motivation.

The Principle of Small Steps

In this process, it is important for consultants or managers not to expect a company to achieve too much of a transformation at once: “Transformation is best served in small doses. Especially for companies that voluntarily commit to more sustainability, this can greatly help along the transformation process. We always make sure to present our customers with best practice examples from the Nordic countries and Germany and help them to identify lessons for their own transformation process.”

Be it in his personal or his professional life: Jürgen Wahl strives to “make the world a little bit better,” as he says. He spends most of his free time in the mountains, where he hopes to continue to enjoy the intact nature. In his home region surrounding Lake Lunzer See, he also volunteers to promote biodiversity. “All of this motivates me to do a good job,” he asserts. As a leader, Jürgen Wahl aims to encourage his employees to get involved: “I involve my team in everything and do my best to create an atmosphere of mutual understanding. One thing is true for both employees and customers: if they understand why they are supposed to do something, they will be more motivated, and change will become much easier.”


What annoys you most about the media?
Sustainability is a complex issue. Right now, I’m annoyed that electromobility is widely viewed as a panacea without taking into consideration the problems associated with sourcing raw materials for manufacturing batteries on a global scale. I also find a hostile attitude towards technology quite irritating. Banning combustion engines, for example, won’t get us anywhere – because the next 20 years will surely bring much advancement in research and development.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My alarm clock. And my morning meditation routine – it helps me to mentally prepare for the day ahead.
Which of your strengths do your employees appreciate the most?
My optimism.
Which strength do you value most in your employees?
The fact that, as a team, we are a well-oiled machine, and I can rely on all my employees.
Which gadget is absolutely indispensable for you in your work?
My laptop, and for about two years now also reading glasses.
If you had three wishes, what would they be?
Good health. That my children will have a good life also in the future. And, in general, a happy and fulfilled life.
What would you like people to say about you once you’ve retired?
I’m not generally one to look back, but I would like them to say: “He made the world a little bit better.”

Click to learn more about the Sustainable Development Goals.

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