Wilko Reinholz, a German native and avid world traveler, joined Gildan in Barbados just over one and a half years ago as Director of eCommerce, with the responsibility for overseeing the consumer experience and website optimization of the company’s brands.
Prior to joining Gildan, Wilko was living in Portland with his wife where he worked at adidas. In May 2017, the opportunity to build Gildan’s ecommerce presence came up and Wilko felt that it was just too good to say no. Without any hesitation, he and his wife packed their bags and embraced the adventure of moving to Barbados.
Shortly after joining, Wilko took on the challenge of teaching a masters course at the University of West Indies (UWI). “I had just started working here and I was looking for a way to give back to community,” he says. “I love teaching and helping students reach their full potential.”
We sat down with him to find out more about his passion for teaching and his profession:
What interested you in getting involved with the community when you arrived in Barbados?
My travels have shaped a lot of who I am today. In 2011, I had the chance to visit Myanmar. There, I met a monk who invited me to visit his school. As I walked down the campus, the energy around me was contagious! I got introduced to the principal, teachers and students, and was amazed by their hospitality and curiosity about me and my culture.
Afterwards the teachers and principal asked me if I would be willing to teach some classes and mentioned it would be helpful for the kids to get an outside perspective. The next day, I moved onto campus, and became an English and Business teacher. Soon after, I started a German course for orphans and monks after school hours.
I think that’s where my passion for teaching and giving back comes from. Through my travels, I realized how fortunate I was, but not everyone gets the same chances in life. Education is one of the key pillars for a prospering and equal society, by giving back through teaching I hope to help level the playing field. When I told my story to Jason DeHaan, CIO at Gildan, he and HR helped me get in touch with the UWI. Gildan already had a great partnership with the school, especially for their Summer Internship Program, and both parties were looking to solidify their relationship.
I met with the Dean & senior lecturers of the Mathematics, Physics & Computer Science department and discussed various possibilities to get involved. In the end, they gave me the opportunity to create a full eCommerce course for a master’s class. It was very exciting.
How did you balance your full-time job and being a lecturer?
It was a challenge. Lectures were two to three hours long, three times a week. It was exhausting.
Thankfully everyone at work was very supportive. Preparation was also the key. I would assemble my course material on the weekends and then grade projects and tests at nights. For me, the most challenging part was to create a curriculum from scratch and ensure that the students gained theoretical and practical knowledge. Without the right preparation, the lessons wouldn’t have gone as smoothly and successfully as they did.
But even if it was hard, I loved it! My students were passionate about the subject and they had a willingness to learn which motivated me through the long hours.
What is your proudest moment as a lecturer?
There was this one student who really stood out. She was from an indigenous tribe in Dominica and couldn’t join the course until the middle of the semester because of travelling issues.
When she finally made it, she had a lot to catch up on. I was worried that she wouldn’t have enough time for her final project, but in the end the quality of her presentation was on par with the rest of the group. I was proud of how much effort she put in despite the late start.
During her presentation, she even had some technical issues, but she stayed calmed and met it all with humor. She was a real trooper! It was really touching.
I’m also very proud of the growth of all my students. Seeing their final projects come to life was truly rewarding.
Where does your passion for eCommerce come from?
With eCommerce, pretty much everything you do can be backed up with data. So, you can take out the subjective opinions which makes work a lot more efficient since you’re basing all your discussions on clear facts.
It’s also a very dynamic field. With the rise of AI, voice search, automation, and much more, the field is changing at an incredible rate which keeps it interesting. There is always a new challenge or a new skill to learn and that keeps me on my toes.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about a career in eCommerce?
Today, knowledge is available at your fingertips, so don’t get too hung up on not having all the hard skills from the get-go.
Personally, I think that people who want to pursue a career in this field need two skills: First, is the ability and the willingness to learn. ECommerce is ever changing and gets molded by the rise of new technologies, so you will need to continuously be learning new skills throughout your career.
Second, you need to be a problem solver. You need to be the kind of person that can approach a challenge with the right questions, like “Why am I doing this?” and “How can we do this better?” and then find the right solutions.
Wilko’s course was so successful that the University of West Indies asked him to come back and teach the course again in the fall as well as asked him to develop and teach new courses.