Thomas Falkenstein

Co-founder and Member of the Board

FollowYourTalent Foundation

To understand what my motivation for founding the FollowYourTalent Foundation was, I would like to tell something about me, my childhood and youth, as well as my professional career and my life:

I was born in 1968 in Ludwigshafen am Rhein and spent a very beautiful carefree childhood in the Palatinate located in the southwest of Germany. As a child, I was very reserved, almost shy, you might say. My self-confidence first matured during puberty and I developed a great passion for music and audio-visual media. During school, I played in several bands, later self-produced LPs and worked for advertising agencies, radio and television stations. After graduating from high school, it was therefore relatively clear to me that I would undertake vocational training in this profession. However, it was harder to decide which path I specifically wanted to take: music, journalism or TV/film production? I did internships in all fields, which helped a great deal in making my decision. Above all because afterward I knew what I definitely DIDN’T want to do.

My parents allowed me to choose freely to a great extent; however, in my rather conservative family, there was no doubt that my fields of interest were seen as being rather “non-lucrative”. I was not completely uninfluenced by this and therefore I ended up listening to a somewhat older friend of mine, someone I had got to know through my jobs in the field of radio. He recommended that a I choose “something in between”, as he himself had done: marketing & advertising. Here, I was able to unite all fields of interest, still combining them, however, with a solid foundation of business administration. And hence, I studied business administration with an emphasis on marketing and advertising at the University of Mannheim, Pfortzheim University and Southbank University in London. I have never regretted that decision.

The late 80s and the beginning of the 90s were the time when so-called “new media” was rapidly developing. The ‘personal computer’ got more and more computing power and soon, technology, music, photography and film began to merge together more and more. This enabled me to become self-employed already during my studies and to create multimedia presentations for friends and acquaintances with my first one-man company, “procom”. The more individual and interactive these presentations got, the more important software and programming knowledge became. Since I had absolutely no idea about software programming myself, immediately after my graduation, I looked for partners who could do this part for me. Together, during the mid-90s, we founded the multimedia agency “Concept!”, with which we have developed interactive presentations and advertising applications for the first companies that availed themselves of this technology.

With the beginning of the commercial use of the Internet, our young company finally evolved into one of the leading German Internet agencies, in which the largest advertising holding company in the world, the WPP Group plc, became a shareholder in 1999. From that time on, I assumed the position of “Member of the board for International Expansion” and was responsible for the establishment of our international network. A great adventure, because none of us had ever had management experience with these dimensions. In retrospect, an extremely beautiful, exciting, thrilling, but also challenging and stressful time.

Almost at the same time as this high flight in my career occurred, according to how I felt at the time, a spoke was put into the wheel of my life. Of all the times, during the heyday of our company, I was diagnosed with cancer and the doctors predicted that I would not live for very long. A few months, at the most, a couple of years.  Month-long hospital stays, operations, chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem-cell transplant followed – the full program. Quickly, I realized that my life on the roller coaster had to urgently be led to calmer waters, if I wanted to have even a chance of a cure.

So, together with my partner, I decided to completely sell the company at the end of 2002. From today’s perspective, a great decision. I was able to completely “reinvent” myself again – I tried new business ideas in a variety of branches, sometimes had success, sometimes failed, worked with students at my old university, developed and managed a big film festival together with a friend and was involved in numerous charitable products on a voluntary basis.

However, the very special luxury I had was time. Time for meeting people who made a satisfactory and balanced impression on me and having conversations with them. I began to gain an interest in why some people always seemingly ended up on the sunny side of life, and others apparently didn’t. Certainly, there are external circumstances that at least make a carefree and happy life difficult for people. For example, from my own experience, I think of severe diseases. But ultimately, my satisfaction as a person especially depends on the way I view my life and my role in it. Here, identifying yourself, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, your own needs and limits, but also boldness and “letting go” play an important role.

Today, I believe that a person can also “learn” happiness.

In 2013, I founded the FollowYourTalent Foundation based in Breisgau with my long-time friend, Martin Behrens.