Entrepreneurship & Innovation

"Colleagues are also competitors”

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What stimulates creativity and innovation? What is the secret to a successful company? DLD’s very own Steffi Czerny has a unique answer to this question. It’s friendship. Steffi had noticed that a lot of founders were friends first before they became business partners.

“If you leave, I will go too” is a phrase that Thomas Heilmann and his former colleague Sebastian Turner said, before they left their positions as managers of the successful advertising agency Scholz & Friends. Both made the move into politics at the same time. Not only was this a sign of real friendship but the beginning of a second career for Thomas Heilmann, which he’s devoting to public service. He believes in the secret ingredient of friendship that helps any company or political office for that matter. Currently he is building a team of friends for his office in the Bundestag.

Testimony to Thomas Heilmann’s belief in the value of lasting friendship was another panelist - Stefanie Wurst. She too was at Scholz & Friends before joining BMW as Head of Marketing in 2014. Like Thomas Heilmann Stefanie Wurst talked about her positive experiences of working together as friends. She said she simply enjoys work more if it’s done among friends. The level of trust you need, especially in big corporations, can only be established between people when they are emotionally committed too, she said.

A more sceptical view on the importance or possibility of friendship in the corporate world came from Gisbert Ruehl, from Klöckner&Co: “Friendship in the corporate world is a difficult animal - colleagues are also competitors.” And after a short moment of reflection Gisbert Ruehl added: “I was never friends with anyone while we were still in the same company.” After the laughter from the audience passed, Stefanie Wurst pointed out that Gisbert Ruehl’s view is typical for a corporate culture in an alpha male dominated world, but that this culture can change. In fact “today’s Zeitgeist is all about collaboration”, she said.

Thomas Heilmann supported her argument and added that even children are being taught about teamwork in school these days. Something that was unheard of in the times he went to school. So maybe it is a question of a generational development. Maybe that’s where the trend is heading, certainly in the digital entrepreneurial world friendship has had an impact for many years. Steffi rounded up the session by highlighting that the DLD community is the perfect place to get started and focus on collaborating among friends.