Herbert Hainer: I'd like to be everybody's president

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Herbert Hainer will stand for election as FC Bayern president at the Annual General Meeting on 15 November. The potential successor to Uli Hoeneß outlined for the first time how he wants to lead the club if the fans elect him.

Herbert Hainer interviewed

Mr Hainer, you once said about your former position as adidas CEO: "I have the best job in the world." Is the position as FC Bayern president only the second-best?
Herbert Hainer:
(chuckles) I'll only be able to judge that if the members elect me. But I can imagine I'd have to reconsider my former statement. I'd be very proud to take on the position.

You were born one day before Germany's triumph in the 1954 World Cup final. It seems natural to assume you were born with football.
I can't tell whether it's in my genes because of that day. But my family love football, my older brother studied sport, my younger one played at TSV 1860, I financed my studies playing in the lower tiers. Football, sport in general, was discussed on a daily basis.

Can you mention your brother's spell at 1860, given you're running as FC Bayern president?
(laughing) Well, I can't really deny it. His career is on the record. My first experience at a stadium was at TSV 1860 by the way. My uncle, who lived in Munich, took me to the Grünwalder [Stadion] back then, but somehow it didn't click. Now I could be pretentious and say I was a visionary even then, knowing FC Bayern would be the future. But I do think to this day it was one of FC Bayern's greatest achievements to get going in the shadow of the Lions. Our rivals were in a better position, they're one of the Bundesliga's founding members and won the championship title in 1966. I still became a Bayern fan, in no small part due to a key experience in football.

Which one?
When I saw the young Franz Beckenbauer play at FC Bayern. Let me tell you, this ease, this elegance! Football was hard work before him, until the young Beckenbauer emerged. I always compare it to Cassius Clay in boxing. Heavyweight, that meant big, chubby men beating up one another. Then came slender Cassius Clay, and he was so much quicker with his feet. He boxed in a completely different way. And Beckenbauer was as impressive."

How has football changed since your childhood and youth, and how has your prespective changed?
Football is much more athletic today, faster, a pro runs about twice as much as 20, 30 years ago. Everything around football has become more professional. Commerce has grown off the pitch. FC Bayern's turnover is €750 million today, a global brand where it's a matter of course to travel to America or Asia in summer. But I'm still an old-school fan. I want it to be quiet around me when I'm watching a match. And then I experience the match with absolute passion over 90 minutes.


They say you move away if those around you talk too much.
Correct. I don't like it. I want to focus on football for 90 minutes.

Do you rant at times, saying, 'Ref, you're a clown'?
Well, my word choice has developed with age. But I still get upset with wrong decisions sometimes.

In one of your own matches you supposedly hit out at the referee because he awarded your opponents a penalty when you were 8-0 in front, in the 90th minute. Was that athletic ambition or an attitude you also have off the pitch?
This is down to my sense of justice, which is quite strong, and it doesn't only apply to happenings on the pitch. In that match I was convinced the penalty was a complete joke. And if so I get upset, even when we're 8-0 up in the 90th minute. I don't shy away from criticism, I like plain talking. What I don't like is that someone gets treated unfairly.

You played in your farewell match at adidas despite a broken shoulder. Your arm was in plaster, just like in Beckenbauer's case back then, and you converted a penalty to make it 4-2. That suggests you grit your teeth when necessary...
They say I'm bad at losing, and that's true. It never feels good to lose. I don't remember a single defeat that felt good – how would you imagine a beautiful defeat? Back then I basically couldn't play due to the injury, and I didn't want to suggest Beckenbauer is my role model. But I wanted to be part of it. It was my farewell match, around 4,000 people were present. Of course it was painful, but sometimes  that's just part of it.

"A parallel between Uli Hoeneß and me: We're at our best when we're under pressure."

Herbert Hainer

You're considered a sport fanatic. You once said in an interview you could list the Olympic dressage gold medalists of the last four decades. The stage is yours!
Oh, I knew them back then, I enumerated them all, from Josef Neckermann to Dr Reiner Klimke, ­Liselott Linsenhoff and Isabell Werth. But I can't do it for recent years.

Where does the passion come from – do you watch TV 20 hours a day during the Olympic Games?
If possible, yes. I watched every international track and field competition live in Munich back then. Germany against France or England. It was a huge event when Rita Wilden ran the 400 metres 30 years ago. I watched everything and was glad about every gold medal. I still remember Konrad Wirnhier in trapshooting in 1972: sublime! At adidas I always said we're an Olympic brand. You don't achieve a considerable turnover with shoes for shot-putters, fencers or javelin throwers, but I've always thought these people, who have to work hard for little money, deserve to get the equipment necessary for top performances. It must never be about profit alone, even at big companies. That's part of sportsmanship.

Which of all the athletes you met during your career impressed you the most?
Beckenbauer, as a player and person. He won everything, out on the pitch and later as a coach – and it was like a deliverance for our society that he secured the 2006 World Cup for Germany. That was suppressed in the recent discussion about the decision. For Germans the World Cup played a part in defining our identity. Cassius Clay too had an incredible aura. An incredibly interesting person, he moved a lot, not least in the fight against racism and for civil rights for people of colour in the USA.


How was it when you met Hoeneß in the early 90s? You knew him from TV – did the TV footage match reality?
I saw many parallels. I remembered his famous runs towards goal, the refusal to give up even if two or three opponents were chasing him, up against an invisible wall, this fighting spirit – I quickly recognised all that in him.

You've become friends. He was there for you when your daughter died in 2006, and you were among the first to visit him in prison – what does friendship mean to you, in general and in this specific case?
Friendship means to be there for one another in difficult moments. Uli admitted his mistake, he refused to appeal – which shows an admirable attitude. And I thought we had to take his lifetime achievement into account. When the public attacked him I said I wouldn't back down. And when our daughter died, he was the first to call and ask how he coud help. It doesn't matter who laughs with you when you're in good shape. You have many friends then. What's decisive is who cries with you when you're badly off.

How does it feel to succeed him?
Uli Hoeneß leaves colossal footsteps of course. How he deals with things is unique. I certainly don't have his expertise in football, but I've headed a big company for years, so I can surely contribute expertise. But we have to say Uli Hoeneß won't be completely away. He lives only 40 kilometres from the Säbener Strasse. The mobile networks near Tegernsee are working – and over the years I've learned how to get his attention.

What do you tell critics who say Uli Hoeneß wants to continue to control FC Bayern?
On the one hand I've proved I can successfully lead an internationally operating DAX company. On the other hand we're friends, but that doesn't mean we always have the same opinion in every subject. Besides, I must say clearly: if I could steer FC Bayern to successes similar to Uli Hoeneß's, it certainly wouldn't be bad. So I'd be well-advised to listen to him.

Hoeneß also said he has never looked at the internet in his life. Do you use the internet?
That's one difference between us – and a subject where we don't have the same opinion. You don't have to fax me to get in touch, I don't use fax. The internet helps me to do my work efficiently, no matter where I am.

What do you google?
Anything and everything. For example my counterpart ahead of an interview (grins). On Sundays the first thing I do is visit the FC Bayern website. On all other days I start by checking my emails. I still have this ritual from work, for example because Asians are a few hours ahead of us, so I always had emails in the morning. My inbox is less full nowadays, so I quickly go on to check newspaper portals to get a first overview of the events of the day.

"We mustn't lose our identity. Many clubs are footballing corporations today, clusters that are cobbled together. That can't be our way."

Herbert Hainer

Hoeneß‘ comfortable sofa at the Säbener Strasse is legendary. Will everyone be allowed to come in and sit down when there's a problem?
If he leaves the sofa in the office, gladly. He said he definitely wants to take his desk with him. I absolutely want to be everybody's president and approachable for everyone, for partners, for the staff. And not only from our core football section, but also for the basketballers, the chess section, for people from the entire club. FC Bayern isn't only about football.

You had to weather difficult periods at adidas in 2008 and in 2014. The media said you were clinging to your job. What did you learn from the times when you were called a 'dictator' in headlines, and what influence will it have on your position at FC Bayern?
The two periods had different reasons: it was a financial crisis in 2008, whereas our own mistakes gave rise to it in 2014. I remember the headlines well. At first it hurts to read: Enough is enough, he's run out of ideas. I thought: are all the things I've achieved over the many years irrelevant? But then I got up and said: Well, I'll show them! And we turned the tide together within 12 months. When I was named adidas CEO in 2001 the company was worth €3 billion. When I left in 2016 it was worth €36 billion. Twelve times the value. That's another parallel between Uli Hoeneß and me: we're at our best when we're under pressure.

Can you admit your own mistakes?
They say I'm very grounded. Self-reflection is part of that. Everyone makes mistakes, and we should admit them. I only get angry when someone makes the same mistake twice.

In the 80s you converted the Gußofen inn, established in 1643, to a pub. People queued up, you later sold it at a profit. Did you tap beer yourself?
Of course! It was in the last year of my studies. Pubs with long counters were emerging in Munich back then, and I said to myself: I can do that too! I did it with a football colleague, we were open six days per week, he was behind the counter three days per week, and so was I, and when it was packed we'd ask a few girls if they could waittress for a few hours. It was a wonderful school of life. You get to know everyone at such a pub, party-goers and mopers, braggarts and silent observers. I learned a lot then.

Is it true that you dislike all desserts?
I rarely have them, indeed. I had to deny myself something to not put on weight over the years.

How do you reward yourself after successes? Do you have guilty pleasures?
I have enough of them, I don't constantly count calories. Don't let yourself be fooled. I like to have a glass of wine or two, I eat pork roast and drink half a bottle with it. But not every day. And I don't say no to a cigar here and there.

You recently said you're even brighter and more focused than before. What are the reasons?
I think it comes from my experience. In addition, I don't want to take too much time, neither my own nor that of my counterpart. I don't like it when someone doesn't get to the point. I get angry then. I'm impatient, by nature. I once read a book on ten rules how to be efficient in your life. One of the rules was: "Don't saw sawdust. It's been sawed three times already."

Hainer plus Oliver Kahn, professionalism plus mentality, strategy plus pedigree, German newspaper "FAZ" wrote on the new arrivals in the club leadership. That sounds pretty good, doesn't it?
I wouldn't deny that, yes. Oliver Kahn is an outstanding match for FC Bayern. He was an absolute role model as a player, he had the Bayern DNA like hardly anyone else, he knows the club. He's an outstanding choice. Besides the professional experiences he made with his own companies after his active career, he'll contribute a great deal of footballing expertise at the highest level. Sport, football has always been important to me, professionally and in private, but I'll mainly contribute my network from sport and my experiences in the business world. I think Oliver Kahn can introduce a few things from that sector. I'm convinced the combination of footballing and commercial background will work very well.


How would your ideal player look? You once said you don't like standard players who assume responsibility in the team but won't take a stand on camera, brushing everything away. Do you want critical persons and a Bavarian culture of debate?
Absolutely, because it's the only way to improve. If everybody agrees to everything it would be the same old story over and over. And nobody likes that. I want responsible players who stand their ground, on and off the pitch. I don't want hangers-on.

Globalisation entails new challenges, also for the FC Bayern president. What is your perspective on the cooperation with Qatar? Not all fans agree with it.
In the future it'll be even more important to strike the right balance between success in sport and financial strength on the one hand and closeness to the fans and members on the other. We want to remain a Bavarian club but open up to the world. FC Bayern doesn't make decisions easy for itself. My credo has always been: exclusions or sanctions never lead to improvements. I don't remember any boycott, especially in sport, that has ever accomplished anything positive. But I see the opposite: that sport builds bridges. The situation in Qatar is improving. And I think the exchange with the Western world contributes to that. We must talk to one another.

What will be the biggest tasks over the next three years?
I'd like to win the Champions League of course. We at FC Bayern should have this ambition. We want to establish ourselves among the European top clubs in basketball, the chess section just achieved promotion to the Bundesliga and has ambitious goals. But mass sport in many sections is crucial too of course. That's where FC Bayern lives, where the club breathes, that's where our members are active. We want to promote that too. In football we must meet new challenges in light of the current transfer fees: how can we invest more? But also: how can we promote young talent better? We mustn't lose our identity. Many clubs are footballing corporations today, clusters that are cobbled together. That can't be our way at FC Bayern.

Would transfers of more than €100 million be acceptable under you?
I won't commit myself now. But we won't take part in every financial madness. Just like Uli Hoeneß, I've learned we must never spend more than we've taken in.

Will you serve one term – or is a longer time possible?
First I have to be elected. If so, I'll be glad and grateful. We'll take stock after three years, then we'll see. There are only a very few things in life that I rule out.

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