29. APRIL 2021 THE RIGHT HAND OF THE "BOSS" - IN MEMORY OF HORST WIDMANN
Horst Widmann died in Nuremberg at the age of 80. Shortly before his death, he met with our author and spoke about Käthe and Adi Dassler. They talked on the phone afterward and arranged to meet again. "Adi and Käthe," Widmann said, "that's a big topic. There is still so much to tell.".
For decades, Horst Widmann was one of the most influential personalities in the business of sporting goods. For Puma, he opened an entire continent as "Mister Africa." Widmann, a great networker, served as President of the European Sporting Goods Federation (FESI) for many years and as Vice President of the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI).
Admittedly, it all started with adidas. "I keep one of my greatest treasures in my office," Widmann told me. "Do you want to know what it is?"
Widmann was in high spirits. He wore a flattened white shirt, razor-sharp pressed pants of gray summer wool, and lightweight Italian loafers. When asked how he was doing, he pointed to a walker and said, "It's necessary; I'm not 30 anymore! Anyway, let me show you my treasure."
It was a pair of soccer shoes; brown, old, with signs of wear, but polished with love.
"Adi Dassler gave them to me a year before he died. One of the German players became world champion in 1954 in these very shoes."
In 1977, Adi Dassler called his secretary Horst Widmann to visit him at the Villa. "The boss was very friendly; it quickly became clear that this was not a meeting for business talk. 'Horst,' the boss said, 'you're doing a good job; I'm very pleased.' Then he said that it was time for him to tidy up his place a bit. He pushed the shoes over to me and said: 'You've earned them. Cherish them.' I swallowed hard."
Now almost a quarter of a century later, standing in the manager's Nuremberg villa, Horst Widmann looked at the world champion's shoes; "And how I cherished them."
Adi Dassler and Horst Widmann met in the early 1970s. Widmann, who grew up in Nuremberg, graduated from his studies and had built an impressive career with the toy manufacturer Schuco in Fürth and quickly worked his way up the ranks within the company. He was fast, bright, and ambitious. On weekends, Widmann wrote about soccer for the German soccer magazine "Kicker", and because he did it well, he was sent to the national team's training camp.
"It was a great assignment. I was standing on the sidelines next to an older wiry gentleman. Then Overath, the midfielder from Cologne, came running up to the short man, took off a shoe, and gave it to the gentleman. He fetched tools from a small case and replaced a broken stud. I asked a colleague who the man was; he said that it was the famous Adi Dassler. I summoned up all my courage, introduced myself, and said I might have an idea on how to avoid the problem with the studs - our technicians at Schuco could probably get a grip on that."
Adi Dassler didn't react much. But a few days later, he contacted Widmann in Franconia.
"He said, 'show me what you can do.' I had the technicians develop a new cleat, and we tested the products in Erlangen at the university; it was a success. That's when Mr. Dassler said he wanted me in his company. At first, I didn't want to, but he didn't give up. And so, I switched jobs in 1972 and stayed with adidas for 18 years."
"It was wonderful to work for the two of them."
Widmann adored his boss. "He always had new ideas, was never satisfied with what he had achieved. And together with his wife, he was the ideal boss for a family business and growing it into a global company. The boss felt most at home with the technicians, Käthe Dassler was an energetic, clear-thinking businesswoman with her heart in the right place and great skill in dealing with important customers - it was wonderful to work for the two of them."
There was only one thing that "Horst" and his "Boss" didn't see eye to eye on. Sometimes Adi Dassler wanted to see how the tests were going at the University of Erlangen. "I'll take you there," said Widmann (one who liked to live fast and well). He pulled up in his Porsche in front of the company in Herzogenaurach. Adi Dassler had to fold up to climb into the sports car.
Käthe watched the spectacle with amusement.
For once, the "Boss" put up with it.
Afterward, he declared: "I'm too old for your nonsense. Next time we'll drive my car. I'm not a young whippersnapper anymore." From then on, Horst Widmann sat in the back of a limousine when he was traveling with the "Boss."
"Didn't hurt me either."
We sat at the long table in Widmann's living room with expensive paintings on the walls. ("My wife picked them out; I'm the philistine," he remarks.) The housekeeper served coffee and pastries. Widmann ate with great appetite, and he drank his coffee black and unsweetened. He talked and talked; he was full of life. "Do you want to know how we overtook Puma on the tartan track back then? Shall I tell you why the latest products are no good today? Can you imagine the hole that was left when the “Boss” died? And what a force his wife had in the years to come?
I'll tell you, he said. After an hour and a half, he was a little tired. "We'll continue another time. First, write down what we've talked about now. I enjoyed it."
As promised: It will be written.