„Success needs change“
Wolfgang Maier, Alpine Director of the German Ski Association (DSV)
You cannot lead the world unless you are prepared to embrace change and keep your eyes focused on the future. However, commitment, discipline and the right equipment are also crucial for success. A conversation between Wolfgang Maier, Alpine Director of the German Ski Association (DSV) and company head Mathias Bihler when they met in the mountains of the Allgäu shows that this is true of sport just as much as it is of industry.
b on top: Mr Maier, your athletes in the DSV are at the very forefront of the sport and are regular medal-winners. How do you get them to this performance level?
Wolfgang Maier: It’s a complex process and one that largely depends on three components. On the one hand, the athletes themselves naturally have to have the aptitude to practice sport at the highest level. However, another vital factor is the structure we use to train our athletes in systematic courses. And equally important is the aspect of support – at the sporting, psychological and pedagogical levels. When all these requirements are fulfilled, athletes can progress a long way very quickly. On average it takes approximately 8 to 10 years from the time the association starts to support an athlete through to them becoming one of the world’s leading competitors. That is naturally a considerable investment that the ski association makes in its sporting assets.
Mathias Bihler: That is why athletes who constantly keep themselves at the very forefront of their sport deserve so much respect. To achieve that takes an enormous amount of discipline and hard work. As a company, Bihler has now been active for over 60 years and we constantly have to motivate our employees to adopt a solution-oriented approach to their work. And we also learn from experience. Sometimes it takes a while before you reach your goal, and sometimes you have to learn to live with your failures.
Wolfgang Maier: For me, failure was always the basis for success. The more often you’ve taken a hammering, the more meticulously and precisely you work to get back to winning ways. We have always had to make our greatest steps forwards in response to our defeats. For example, when you travel to the Olympics and don’t pick up a single medal, then you have to take a very close look at what you’re doing and change things. If you’re not constantly changing in the world of top-level sport then you’ve already lost. It is extremely important to keep your eyes focused on the future.
Mathias Bihler: That is also the approach that we follow in our company. For example, when we have shipped a machine, the team is already thinking about the next steps and upcoming developments: What can we optimize, where can we make material utilization even more efficient to give our customers even more capacity and performance? This is also the approach that we train our young employees to adopt. In this way, our company has grown continuously and successfully over the last 60 years – which is why we are now able to solve many manufacturing problems with our machines and systems.
Wolfgang Maier: In this context, it is always important to have clear structures and defined levels: Who does what and who has what responsibilities and areas of authority? Only in this way is it possible to accumulate knowledge and only in this way is it possible to pass that knowledge on. Ultimately, this structure has led to the DSV becoming Germany’s most successful sporting association. At the same time, we also look ahead in our work so that we are not taken by surprise by new trends or changes.
b on top: Whether in sport or industry: how do you get to the top and how do you stay there?
Wolfgang Maier: Anyone who wants to be the best in the world must be extremely focused on what they do and be totally committed to achieving their goals. Athletes must have an overview of everything and concentrate on being in peak mental and physical condition. Nowadays, you cannot lead the world unless you live and breath this extremely focused approach. What is crucial is how you get to the next level and how you can continuously improve.
Mathias Bihler: This method is also applicable to industry. Metaphorically speaking, our customers are the athletes. They are measured by their success and we must provide them with the top-class equipment that will help them improve and succeed in a competitive global environment. Of course, some of our customers are worldclass athletes. On the other hand, there are also customers that are not yet making full use of the potential of their Bihler systems. As a result, it is our task to provide training measures to support our customers right up to the point where they, too, are able to achieve outstanding results.
b on top: How will Alpine skiing develop in the future and where are the greatest potentials?
Wolfgang Maier: The wonderful thing about competitive sports is that they never stand still. This dynamic and these changes affect every area of the sport. However, what has changed the most is the equipment. It now offers much higher performance than in the past and this, in turn, brings with it the risk of injury. Ultimately, as things stand at present, athleticism, that is to say physical performance capability, has been developed to a point where practically no further improvement is possible. It is in the equipment that the greatest potential for pioneering developments in the future lies. Vast development processes are underway, even though these are are incomprehensible and invisible to outsiders.
Mathias Bihler: Skiers and their equipment harmonize to create an extremely high-precision system and it takes weeks for this system to adapt to a new ski boot, for example.
Wolfgang Maier: Exactly. In fact, it goes so far that even models of boots that are basically identical can behave completely differently when you’re skiing. The decisive factor here can be the injection molding process that was used or how the dye was added and in what quantities. These are unimaginably fine details that can nevertheless have a huge impact on skiing performance. Ultimately, the aim is to get the very best out of the equipment. In this respect, a company like Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik can provide excellent support for developments in competitive skiing and help bring forward new approaches. These optimizations can then save the milliseconds that are crucial for success.
Mathias Bihler: Indeed, we are currently developing a new ski binding plate for Bode Miller and his Bomber Ski brand. The key feature is the plate’s spring properties with adjustable spring travel and variable spring force. It thus ensures extremely precise transmission of body tension through the ski boots to the skis. As a result, the binding and the ski react as a synchronized, intelligent unit. Implementing the necessary sequences of movements by means of suitable sliding elements and constructing precision guides, that is our everyday business and that is where we can derive full benefit from our experience. Bode Miller is currently testing the latest version of the plate and his experience will feed back into future optimizations.
b on top: How are things looking for the future generation of skiers? What role is played by support centers such as the Ostallgäu-Ausserfern ski support center and sponsorship by Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik?
Wolfgang Maier: The German Ski Association maintains three national support centers: in the Allgäu, in Garmisch, and in Berchtesgaden. The Ostallgäu-Ausserfern ski support center is one of the regional centers that assist the national support centers. It is particularly important because it supports the new generation of skiers in the local area and we are therefore very happy to be assisted by Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik. The number of new skiers who join does not depend directly on the top skiers but rather on the type of winter we have. In the last two winters, when we had very deep snow, the number of participants in the newcomers’ competitions rose noticeably very quickly.
b on top: Even though not every young skier makes it to the top – how much do they benefit from the knowledge and abilities they have acquired, for example in professional life?
Wolfgang Maier: The skiers definitely take something with them that will help them in their lives and they learn values that also contribute to professional success, such as discipline, fairness and a goal-oriented approach. Or not giving up when things don’t go right for once. And then there is also the ability to persevere and triumph that you learn in competitions. These capabilities make competitive athletes particularly interesting for business and we often receive inquiries from industry and businesses that specifically want to recruit our athletes to their companies.
Mathias Bihler: In our company, we also have numerous top sports persons who are particularly ambitious and disciplined and have enormous mental strength. They are able to motivate others and carry them with them to achieve outstanding results that benefit the entire company. We know that these people provide a foundation for our future growth. That is why we are also investing in the regional ski support center and helping many other young athletes in other associations and disciplines.
Wolfgang Maier was born on December 19th 1960 in Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. In 1989, he graduated as a qualified trainer and sports instructor. Since 1988, he has been active in the German Ski Association (DSV). There, from 1997 to 2006, Wolfgang Maier was the head trainer of the DSV women’s team which, under his guidance, achieved considerable success in World Championships and the Olympic Games. The same applies to the DSV’s full team, which Wolfgang Maier has been working with since 2006 in his role as Alpine Director in the German Ski Association.