„Success is team work“
Uli Hiemer, ice hockey legend and founding member of EV Füssen
Uli Hiemer and Mathias Bihler have known each other since they were apprentices together at Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik. Even though the trained machine fitter never actually pursued this profession, and instead enjoyed a successful international career as a professional ice hockey player and today operates several fast food restaurants as a franchisee, the two have always kept in touch. Matthias Bihler met the founding member of the ice sport club Eissportvereins Füssen (EVF) in the stadium and talked to him about his career as a player, the importance of sport and club sponsorship by Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik.
b on top: You were both born and raised in the Allgäu. Where and when did you first meet?
Uli Hiemer: We met in 1976 during our apprenticeship at Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik, which we both started on the same day. Mathias Bihler trained as a toolmaker, and I was training as a machine fitter. But it soon became clear to me that I wasn’t really cut out for it (laughs). But even then, it was ice hockey that I was really interested in. Nevertheless, I completed the apprenticeship in order to learn a concrete trade and broaden my career prospects. I went to Bihler because the company already had an excellent reputation for their training and as an employer back then. And indeed, as well as a trade, there was a lot that I learned there, namely discipline, team spirit and the will to achieve something in life and to be successful. That’s something I profited from time and again in later life.
Mathias Bihler: Of course, the extent to which anyone will actually be successful will always depend on the individual: How do they use what they have learned and the talent they have to develop in their job or as a professional athlete? In this respect, you take a lot of values and attitudes from your training, which, after all, is also very much about consciously pursuing a goal. These accompany you throughout your life and are an essential part of your success. The fundamental principles for this continue to be taught today as part of the training program at Bihler. The fact that other companies or partners are always happy to employ our trainees is a constant reminder of the value of our training. We actively support this process and introduce the successful trainees into professional life.
b on top: However, after this formative period of training, your ways parted for a while.
Uli Hiemer: Exactly. I got the offer to go to Cologne and play for the Kölner Haie, which was an offer I couldn’t refuse. But I still completed the last year of my training in Cologne. And people there were surprised and impressed by the trade skills I had learned at Bihler (Mathias Bihler laughs). But ultimately, I was moving more and more in the direction of ice hockey, especially since I had already played my first games for the national team when I was in Füssen. In Cologne I finally decided to become a professional player. I then played with the New Jersey Devils for three years, followed by nine years at the Düsseldorfer Eislaufgemeinschaft. And I won the championship five times while I was there. Between 1992 and 1995, I was captain of the German national team and took part in three Olympic Games. I retired from the sport in 1996. At that time I was already in contact with a well-known fast food chain for which I am now a franchisee. Even though our lives took us in different directions, I am very happy that we never lost contact and that we are still close today.
Mathias Bihler: By chance, the first of Uli Hiemer’s franchises was in Lüdenscheid, right next to our former location. Whenever we held our in-house exhibition there, we of course took the chance to meet up and catch up on things.
b on top: To what extent has sport made you the person you are, Mr. Hiemer?
Uli Hiemer: To start with, of course, it’s all about the joy of playing. What fascinated me about ice hockey in particular, and still does, is the special dynamism in this sport, as well as the team spirit among the players. It’s often about knowing when to play second fiddle, and at the same time asserting yourself. Or you may have to get along with a new teammate you don’t even know yet. If you want to be successful, you have to overcome these challenges and work as a team, as a unit. Either way, I have always had a lot of fun playing ice hockey. And if I am able to give something back today, I am always very happy to do so. That’s why we at Eissportverein Füssen have a clear focus on training young talent, with around 200 children on our books at the moment. As a member of the business advisory board and a founding member of the club , I have been dedicated to this for three years.
b on top: And for the past three years, the club has been able to count on active support in the form of sponsorship from Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik. How did this come about?
Mathias Bihler: When the club became insolvent three years ago, it effectively also meant the end for the young up-and-coming players. And it goes without saying that we were willing to help – not only from a sense of local duty and responsibility, but above all for the sake of the young people. Our experience has shown that young people who have been involved in sports in a club and have also taken part in competitions are outstanding people. They know how to deal with defeats, which can also happen in professional life, and are always able to motivate themselves again. They have ambition and discipline, other traits they need to get on in professional life. Alongside this, they are also familiar with team spirit and team thinking, which are also crucial for success in the work environment. So it was a clear decision for us to get involved in this field, and in the Eissportverein Füssen in particular. We see this sponsorship and other support that we offer young people as part of our job as a company. For example, we employ a large number of active players from EV Füssen and offer them suitable opportunities for combining their career with sports training. And we are also connected to EV Füssen in another way, since Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik also has its own ice hockey team. It is made up of around 25 employees from various departments who – supported by the company – are able to play for two hours a week. Beyond the sport itself, this is a good way of bringing the employees even closer together and strengthening the bonds between them.
b on top: To what extent do you see parallels between sport, business and industry? To what extent can people benefit from sporting experiences?
Uli Hiemer: I now run six restaurants and have over two hundred employees. I’m interested in each and every one of them, and here again I benefit from the ability to open up and to work as a team that I know from ice hockey. And my experiences as captain of the national team also help me when it comes to keeping a team together, leading it and motivating it.
Mathias Bihler: It’s always about striking a balance between authority and familiarity. The former is necessary for defining and achieving goals. On the other hand, you need familiarity in order to know how various team members think – in order to motivate them explicitly, for example, or to understand their ideas and suggestions as the basis for future company innovations. In this respect, every employee is hugely important for the future of a company. I am convinced that the greatest potential lies in people, and it is our job to stimulate and tap this potential. The process of adjusting to each other and opening up applies not only in respect of our employees, but also of our customers. This takes time, patience and sensitivity and can only be achieved through teamwork, as in sport. And even if course corrections and adjustments sometimes have to be made, these decisions are taken, as in sport, not from a personal perspective, but rather as an incentive for defining new goals and promising strategies. This gives you a good chance of overcoming the increasingly dynamic challenges of today and the future.
Ulrich "Uli" Hiemer was born in Füssen in 1962. In his active ice hockey career from 1979 to 1996, he played as a defender, initially for EV Füssen. In 1981 he moved to the Kölner EC before becoming the first German player to switch to North America, where he joined the New Jersey Devils in 1984. For the 1987/88 season, he moved back to the German National League with Düsseldorfer EG, where he won the championship title in consecutive seasons from 1990 to 1993. Uli Hiemer took part in nine World Championships and three Winter Olympics with the national team. A member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Germany, Hiemer ended his playing career in the summer of 1996 after once again winning the German title with the Düsseldorfer EG. He is a member of the business advisory board and a founding member of the Eissportvereins Füssen (EVF). Ulrich Hiemer operates several franchises of a fast food chain.