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Guest Post: Lessons in leading a multi-generational organization from Bertil and Edward Hult of EF Education First

Posted by Kate Faughnan on September 26, 2018

At our Leadership Forum in June, EF Education First founder Bertil Hult and son, Edward Hult, CEO of EF North America, spoke together in public for the first time about their experience leading a multi-generational company. 

After having grown EF into the world’s largest international education company over the last 50 years, and as Bertil prepares to fully transition the management of EF to his sons, Bertil and Edward shared three key lessons they’ve learned along the way about hiring, retaining, and growing an organization.

Hire the people you’d want to welcome into your family

Bertil started EF by hiring several of his friends—until he realized that his pool of friends who could work at EF was limiting. He reached out to a psychologist and professor at Harvard Business School to learn about hiring, and he taught Bertil some important lessons. One big takeaway: hire someone you’d want to be part of your family. “Would you like this candidate to date my brother or sister?” Bertil asked. “If the answer is no, don’t bring them in, no matter how good they are. If the answer is yes, you welcome them into your family. This is so important because this is where you keep the culture, you welcome them into your family.” 

Build a culture that lets you be yourself

Edward explained his theory that maintaining a strong company culture is by having employees who can be themselves at work. “If you get it right, the rest kind of falls into place,” he explained. Edward said that it’s normal for people to wear a work hat and a personal hat, but for him, it’s about being your whole self at work. He shared a story about how, when he was growing up, EF was always around the house; Bertil brought that passion home. So when Edward started working at EF, he didn’t see it as a job so much as a part of his home. “When I come to work, I feel like I’m at home, and when I’m at home, that’s home, too,” he said. He encourages his staff to look at working at EF in the same way, by being their whole selves both at home and at work. 

Be open to new perspectives

Edward and Bertil credit EF’s success with its ability to grow big while staying small. Edward acknowledged that, as you grow, it’s impossible to remain flat as an organization—but if you lead with that mindset, it’s easier to make decisions. Edward encourages everyone at EF to bring their ideas and feel empowered to make change. “If you see something’s broken, but it’s not technically in your role, fix it! Why wait for someone else to fix it?” he said. “I tell people all the time, I’d rather have 100 bad ideas, where five or six are really great, than to just have one good idea, because then you’re missing out.”  

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Bertil Hult
Founder, EF Education First


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Dr. Edward Hult
CEO North America, EF Education First