Tilo Holighaus talks about Business, Family and Soaring
Tilo Holighaus talks about Business, Family and Soaring
Following the rainy and cold WGC in Finland was a bit dissappointing, compared to the great Grand Prix in France two months ago... While in Finland the teams were talking about saunas, food and football, I couldn't help thinking back to the pictures and reports which Tilo had submitted to the Café and to OLC. Absorbing stories about long and fast flights decorated with stunning photos from the French mountains. Soaring Café was curious to learn more about Mr. Holighaus' carreer:
Tilo, the Grand Prix Final 2014 in Sisteron is history, of course... Thinking back after two months can you perhaps sum up the event in just three sentences?
One of the most exciting contests I’ve ever flown. Stunning, extremely competitive flights in a beautiful, but also most challenging landscape, demanding maximum of pilots and gliders. This was all embedded in a fantastic organization which focused on promoting our wonderful sport, performed professionally and with passion. Top-notch Grandprix!
This has been your third Final? How many contests do you fly per year?
Chile 2010, Wasserkuppe 2011 - Yes, this was my third GP Final and I hope there will be more to follow. It is so much fun!
Due to the German qualification rules, I do compete in at least one championship per year. I also try to participate at one or two Grand Prix races. Only two weeks ago, I returned from the Southern German Championships in Winzeln, one of the famous glider locations in the beautiful Black Forest (I won the competition :-). In September, I will travel to another qualification-GP in Spain.
You are perhaps the only CEO of a German sailplane manufactory who currently competes in such highly ranked competitions. Is it leisure time or business for you?
Primarily it is of course fun! Furthermore it is a huge privilege to be able to combine sports and business. My family often joins these events, and we really enjoy the time together. On the other hand it can be quite challenging to quickly have to switch from business to sports. Typically this happens right before the launching of a competition. You cannot really isolate one subject from the other…
Your company was announced as a partner at the Sisteron Grand Prix, others were not?
The GP-idea is really close to my heart, so I like to support it as much as possible; considering our means. Schempp-Hirth’s financial help cannot be huge, but offering our Arcus as a VIP-glider and serving with our network certainly helped to support the Grand Prix-team’s work. Other German manufacturers maybe don’t follow the GP-philosophy like I do. I kind of regret this, because a Grand Prix race is a great way to spread the word about soaring and get our wonderful sport out to the public. The GP-publicity is much better than during a classic soaring contest.
CEO at Schempp-Hirth and super-active glider pilot… How do you manage both?
Hmmh – I think my family and our staff could answer this question much better than I can do... Indeed their support is fantastic, and without the fabulous team in the background, I would never be able to manage all my activities!
But let’s put it the other way round: What if I did not have my soaring hobby? Would I be able to balance the challenging and responsible business I do?
After your father had passed away, you all of a sudden found yourself in the position of the CEO at Schempp-Hirth…Who were the people to support your job? Who are your most important team members now?
We literally are a family business: My mother Brigitte, my brotherRalf and I share responsibilities; and together with all the staff at Schempp-Hirth, especially the leading members in the production, design and sales branches we are managing our company. In 1994 Helmut Treiber, Jürgen Laude, Ebi Schott and Biggo Berger all did their best to continue my father’s lifework. They were and- except for Jürgen Laude, who sadly has passed away - still are close confidants. Or let’s put it this way: They are close friends and we all can in fact rely on each other. Today our production manager Thomas Kraja and our young team of designers around Christoph Wannenmacher, with Joachim Krauter, Swen Lehner and Andi Lutz, belong to the core team.
It is in fact hard to answer the question about the “most important” staff members, because in our particular business everybody fulfills a highly significant job. We all need each other’s support, help and confidence, and we enjoy a great cooperation. I think this is really somewhat unique.
How many people are working with Schempp Hirth? How many of them are glider pilots?
I have never really counted how many of our roughly 100 staff members are active in soaring… I’d estimate a third of them. Additionally we have a number of people who are somewhat soaring related, be it through model airplane activities or through former gliding activities. However our non-flying staff members can very well identify themselves with our products. Where else could you build and design a beautiful high end product in such a vertical range of manufacture? We all follow it through its different stages, designing, building prototypes, constructing the molds and all the other necessary steps to build a glider series and deliver the end-product to the customer.
On your website I can see all your staff members, working in the different branches of Schempp-Hirth, unfortunately only in German language…?
You are absolutely correct – we will have to work on internationalizing our public display! Please have a look at our first steps here, a brand-new facebook page!
No, quite the contrary: We try to best adapt our cockpits to differently shaped bodies. As for myself, my shoulders are pretty slim and I really like my cockpit’s shape. The narrow fuselage tells me exactly about the air’s movements around me – just as stronger built pilots fit very well into our classic cockpit.
How about the Quintus? Which experiences did you gain with the new concept of an open class glider?
Meanwhile we have built 15 Quintus gliders; they are flying worldwide. At present we are a little blocked out with the production of more ships of this type, because we have used up our limited contingent of “Permits to Fly”. During the past winter we could carry out a lot of research and executed countless flights to evaluate the Quintus’ performance, which led to some highly efficient modifications. Especially some changes on the flaps and the elevator had a significantly positive effect. All pilots stated this, and recently Patrick Puskeiler, one of our talented German new blood pilots, won the Open Class at an international competition in Bayreuth!
Together with our partner Lange Aviation, who builds the wings, we are currently working on receiving approval for our modifications to be able to initiate the serial production. Unfortunately Lange’s factory is not situated around the corner, which makes things a little more difficult – sometimes.
What about new developments at Schempp-Hirth, are you planning to design anything new? Some “breaking news” perhaps?
You know, Schempp-Hirth follows the motto „first design and construct – we can still talk about it later on“. We do not like to pre-announce our thoughts. However I know about the rumors, and I think at this point I am not talking too much when telling you that a future development will not be a two seater. The well-proven Duo-Discus-XL and our Arcus are doing extremely well. However in terms of aerodynamics research, the recent past has developed some stunning results, which we would like to take advantage of.
If you could choose a location, where would you like to travel next (with your sailplane)? Would you prefer a competition or rather enjoy something more recreational?!
Oh, there are a lot of different places on Earth on my list: I’d like to do a soaring trip à la “travel by glider” across the Western United States, or fly along the entire Andes Mountains from the very South up northwards. When I was a teenager, I used to study my school-atlas to learn about the Ural and the mountain ranges around the Gobi desert. But my home, the Swabian Jura, will always be one of my preferred soaring locations :-)
Your favorite glider?
I am not very picky. But well its name should end by “-us“... Except for our wonderful old-timer the venerable Minimoa.
Most people know about your father and his achievements. But your brother, your mother and your wife are glider pilots as well? Your mom flies cross country and is a record pilot? And your kids, are they already flying?
Actually everybody in my family flies or at least used to do so. My mom and my brother Ralf and my wife Katja (We first met during a rained out contest...). Katja’s brother Axel Horn is actually a successful contest pilot as well. His father by the way once initiated the legendary Hockenheim contest. Our 3 children (10, 10 und 8) also enjoy their time on the airfield. They really enjoy flying with us – from time to time. Mentioning that they might want to learn to fly themselves… well, they know how to make daddy happy.
Tilo, thank you very much for the interview and for submitting the pictures. Please don't forget to keep us updated on your next Grand Prix in Spain!