At Home All Over the World
June 25, 2018
By Robert Stephens
When he’s at work, Pierce Neinken ’06 ’08MBA pretty much has the world at his fingertips.
It’s tough to tell where exactly Pierce Neinken ’06 ’08MBA is standing at this moment. He’s in an open cluster of office spaces where the world has literally converged. Amsterdam, Moscow, Buenos Aires—it’s all here inside the Airbnb headquarters (which is, physically speaking, in San Francisco). This is a different kind of company, with a different kind of mindset: to make the entire world—even the office—feel like home.
“The culture here makes you think differently than you would at a traditional Fortune 500 company,” says Neinken, who graduated from Rollins with a double major in political science and international business before earning his MBA from the Crummer Graduate School of Business in 2008. That’s the same year Airbnb was launched to widespread skepticism as one of the first crowdsharing business startups.
No one is skeptical now. As Airbnb’s global portfolio manager since 2015, Neinken locates office spaces to help service more than 2 million listings in nearly 200 countries. He always seems to be somewhere really cool, even when he’s at work.
What’s the story behind the office design? “Two of the founders are designers by trade, so yes, it’s different. Our conference rooms are designed to look like places we have listed on our Airbnb site. So you feel like you’re in Paris or Bali, when you’re actually just in a 2 p.m. meeting. There’s also a conference room that’s a replica of the very first Airbnb listing—an apartment with an air mattress on the floor.”
Is there a purpose to all these different looks? “It changes the way you go about your work. Our focus isn’t office spaces, it’s living spaces. This type of environment makes you think of being in a home. The casual dress code blurs the line between work and home too. So do the dogs in the office.”
You won’t find that at most Fortune 500 companies. “The culture is one of the things I love about working here. Nothing we do is hindered by legacy systems. We’re encouraged to bring something fresh to our work every day because the world economy is changing so fast, and we want to stay ahead of the change. There’s a lot more inspiration to be creative here than in a whitewashed office.”
Have you experienced anything like that anywhere else? “Actually, I saw the value of design at Rollins. I’ve been all over the world and there’s no place like the Rollins campus. The Spanish architecture, the Mediterranean influence, being on the lake. It’s one of the most beautiful campuses you could possibly find, so diverse. And it’s a tangible way to inspire a meaningful worldview.”
How did Rollins prepare you to work in a “sharing economy?” “There was no such thing 10 to 15 years ago, but we were always working to find solutions to problems in small groups. I’d be with students from all over the world, every one of them bringing different perspectives. That experience has been beneficial throughout my career—working together to make the world better.”
You seem to thrive on being a part of change. “We’re in a constant state of change, like it or not. We all have a choice on how to respond to it—I choose to enjoy it. At a small school like Rollins, there are all kinds of opportunities for anyone willing to venture out. I volunteered, studied in several different countries, took advantage of school government, did an internship. All of it prepared me for just about anything.”
Including a career with a business that didn’t exist 11 years ago. “One of our core values at Airbnb is to ‘embrace the adventure.’ If you accept that, you’ll come to work with optimism and joy, instead of fear. That’s true anywhere.”
Your workplace sounds like a daily adventure. What do you do away from the office? “As you might expect, I love to travel. There’s a lot to do within driving distance of San Francisco. Skiing in Tahoe. Exploring wine country. Taking in the energy of Los Angeles.”
Let me guess: You use Airbnb to find places to stay. “I do. And I focus on the reviews and look at the pictures, just like everyone else. You never know, a listing might inspire an office space someday.”
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