Times of change are always very interesting, and role changes are no different. They are bittersweet as they involve both exciting hellos and sad goodbyes to people who have played a pivotal role in the development of Land Life as a company. Willemijn Stoffels has been our Chief Operational Officer and worked for Land Life since 2015, overseeing the planting of millions of trees and building out the operations of our company from 300 hectares in 2016/2017 to planting more than 3000 hectares a year. She passes the baton over to Jessie Hurst, who brings enormous expertise and experience with her background in fintech, data analytics, client acquisition and supply chain management. We decided to chat with them both about this reshuffle, reflect a little on the role Willemijn has played in shaping the company and look forward to how Jessie will fill those shoes.
Willemijn, you’ve been working with Land Life since the beginning. As one of the founding members, what have you been most proud to see as the company has evolved?
There are two things that are great sources of pride to me. First of all, the fact that we have planted millions of trees. I was in Spain and Portugal recently for a visit to hand over my role to Jessie and it continues to be an amazing feeling to see forests growing because of the work we do. I can’t wait to go back to these places in some years from now and see a healthy forest in place. The second thing I am proud of is that we have managed to show the world that it is possible to build a business doing something that is inherently good for the planet. We spend such an important share of our time on work that I hope we can inspire people to apply their talents to making the world a better place.
Can you tell us the part of being COO that you have enjoyed the most?
Time spent in the field is always a fantastic part of my job – who can say that when they travel for work they get to wear hiking boots and spend their time outside in stunning landscapes. And what I love about the work, in general, is that we get to work with people with very diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise, but all with a shared passion. Whether it’s the people designing the plantations, the software developers, the finance professionals or the marketing team, everyone is in this business for more than just the paycheck.
Any particular stand-out experience?
Too many to count! In the early days, we had some of the most adventurous trips: from planting trees on the Galapagos islands or in the Atacama desert in Chile, to crossing the border from Cd Juarez (MX) to El Paso (US) on foot. And more recently, our company off-site in Burgos last year where we got everyone together for the first time – that was definitely a proud moment as we realized that we were now really a company and no longer a gathering of a few enthusiasts.
Advice for Jessie as she takes on this role?
Remember that we work with nature! That means you are never completely sure what will happen and you should always consider all options. Especially with the climate changing so rapidly, I think we need to be prepared to adjust the way we work all the time. Fires are a bigger threat than ever, planting seasons are changing, extreme weather events are more common every year. This is not meant to discourage Jessie from continuing the important work we do to bring back nature, but more the advice to never assume you can control everything. And to make sure you enjoy the ride – this is such an exciting role and you will be surrounded with a great team, so have fun!
Jessie, what drew you to this role?
I have been looking for a role where I would be able to make a tangible impact using my skills and experience from the tech industry, and this role at Land Life was exactly the solution to that search. Not only does Land Life deliver large-scale reforestation as a solution to combat climate change, but they do so using data and technology solutions at scale.
What are you most excited about moving forwards as Land Life’s COO?
We are preparing to scale both in scope and size, which provides an opportunity to adjust our operational strategy and operating model for the next phase. I am excited about strategizing for the opportunities and challenges that this next phase holds, but most importantly to set our teams up for success.
What past experiences do you have that will help you fulfill this role?
In previous roles, I have had the privilege of helping teams scale fast while operating in fast-changing environments, which will help us move into our next phase of growth. Leveraging existing knowledge with technology and automation will be a key focus for me. In addition, our knowledge and talent at Land Life is a huge competitive advantage, therefore setting our individuals and teams up for success is a main priority.
Can we expect a new direction moving forwards?
There are natural changes expected as we transition, but the focus will be on sustainable growth across all areas of operations and delivery. The priority will be to ensure high-quality delivery while optimizing across all areas for efficiency and scale.
Any ending remarks?
Willemijn has done outstanding work in building this team up from when Land Life started, and she leaves behind a great legacy. I am beyond excited to lead the team during this next phase of growth and look forward to the impact we will be making worldwide.
Thank you both!