Greetings from Bayeux, France! We are wrapping up a fantastic 12-day motorcycle tour across France with the Edelweiss Bike Travel motorcycle touring company.
Starting with two bikes, Werner Wachter and his wife, Coral, founded Edelweiss in 1980 in Mieming, Austria. Today, they have a fleet of nearly 200 bikes, 55 tour guides, 23 office team members, and run tours on every continent. It’s a great small company that has been global since Day 1. We are on our second tour and will definitely go again.
On this tour, dubbed “Paris to Omaha”, as in our past tour (“Sicily to Rome”), we had excellent guides: Malcom Brunelli, originally from Italy, now hanging in Austria; and Anthony “Tony” Fairweather, an Austrian native. One night over dinner, Tony said something so profound, he didn’t even know it was profound. “We used to hire great riders and tried to teach them to be great tour guides. That never really worked very well. So now, we hire great people who fit Edelweiss’ culture and then we teach them how we want them to ride…. Our new CEO had never even ridden a motorcycle when we hired him.” What blew me away was how matter-of-factly Tony made this comment…. as if it made all the sense in the world. Of course, it does make all the sense in the world, but far too few companies follow this philosophy.
Edelweiss’ Core Values.
If you go to the Edelweiss website, www.edelweissbike.com, you will not find a section called “Our Core Values”. Excellent. Core Values are observed behavior, NOT marketing slogans. But from watching Tony and Malcom, it’s pretty easy to figure out the Edelweiss Core Values. After observing our great guides over our 12-day trip, my best guesses on those values are:
- Safety First. The first thing our guides told during our orientation was “Safety First”. No drinking and riding for either the driver or passenger. Non-negotiable. You drink, you go home. No passing each other in the group. Keep a safe distance apart. Stagger bikes whenever possible. Turn signals for every lane-change. (By the way, French drivers are great and really respect motorcycles! So do the Italians.)
- Teamwork. It was easy to see teamwork was just both natural and ingrained for Tony and Malcom. They helped each other, smoothly counterbalancing each other’s strengths to work together and assist their rider guests. They consistently went the extra mile, both for us and each other.
- Embrace Local Culture. On both of our trips, the tour guides educated their riders on the uniqueness of the local culture. Riding across France and Italy, we learned there are huge intra-country cultural and language differences, just within a few hundred miles. (Don’t call Brittany’s Bretons French, and definitely don’t call the Sicilian’s Italian!) As Americans, I think we have a tendency to compare another’s culture against an American standard. The folks from Edelweiss taught me to work harder to understand and embrace the qualities of the culture and people we encountered.
- Pay Attention to Detail and Be Prepared. Whether it’s knowing the best bathroom in every little village, or remembering the needs of specific guests (gluten free, non-dairy, non-GMO, whatever it is), it was amazing to watch how Edelweiss consistently got the little things right on our tours. Considering their customer base ranges from New York investment bankers to Brazilian educators, doing small things right is absolutely essential to a successful tour experience. Tony and Malcolm described what new hires (not so affectionately) refer to as “Hell Week”. This week isn’t some meaningless hazing ritual for new hires. Instead, new hires are put through a series of hands-on situations meant to replicate potential tour scenarios, to prepare them to handle just about any situation a tour or tour group might present. (Example: The new hire shows up at a hotel and finds no reservations exist for her group of 15 very tired, hot, and hungry bikers.) As you would imagine, not every new hire makes it through Edelweiss’ Hell Week.
- Don’t Fear the Customer or the Customer’s Power. Our whole group made a big faux pas (which could have had disastrous consequences) at a toll stop when each one of us (think buffalo over a cliff) crossed over into the next toll stop traffic lane without signaling. Our guide got off his bike, faced the group, and respectfully but forcefully told us our error in a way we all remembered…. and it didn’t occur again. We also heard a couple of fascinating stories about how particular groups or individuals were incredible guiding challenges and how the guides dealt with those situations to a positive outcome.
Small companies are special. They are living examples of the culture and values of the owners/founders. Werner Wachter and his wife Coral can be truly proud of what they have built. The values I’ve ascribed to Edelweiss, via my immersion in their culture, serve as great values for any company, small or big. When great values are inculcated through a company, and demonstrated every day through its employees, everyone can truly enjoy the ride!