What do you think of inherited wealth
"Many heirs are crushed by their father's achievement"
Frank Otto's office is in an old warehouse in Hamburg's Hafencity. A warm water aquarium with corals and colorful fish greets the visitors. It refers to Otto's passion for diving. He last pursued this on the reality TV show “Goodbye Germany” together with his 38-year-old girlfriend.
Mr. Otto, let's talk about embarrassment.
You were recently seen frequently on television and the tabloids with her friend Nathalie Volk. It was often heard or read that these appearances were embarrassing for someone from a merchant family.
Well, that's always in the eye of the beholder. Some people just have the need to judge others. In tabloid journalism, that's the core issue: evaluating people.
How do you deal with that?
I turn the pages.
Did you bother showing up there all at once?
That has to do with my friend Nathalie Volk, who was on the move in formats where image building is central. For example in the program "Germany’s Next Top Model" or in the "Dschungel-Camp". Everyone who goes there knows that he is exposing himself to the malice of the German nation.
Does that mean it's a game for you?
No, that's just part of the media reality that Nathalie comes from. She takes me into her world, I take her into my world.
Other entrepreneurs would not allow themselves to be taken into this world.
That is certainly not a permanent condition. It's not a business for me, I don't have to earn my money that way. For me it was just a change, an experiment.
You've experimented a lot in life, haven't you?
I trained as a restorer, then studied art, was a conscientious objector ... In this scene I was arrested and politicized against nuclear power through my environmental commitment. I lived very freely. You can no longer imagine the time today: Back then you could choose your apprenticeship position. You could think about what you wanted to do with your life - and then do that too. The competitive pressure of today did not exist back then.
In such an alternative scene, is it embarrassing to come from a rich family?
No, I wasn't embarrassed. To this day I work with artists who are often not very wealthy, even poor. You work for an intrinsic motivation, not for the money. I understand that, I'm actually like that too. But I know from many others who have money that they can only deal with their own kind. Because they are always afraid of the question: Can you lend me something, can you help me here and there, my mother is sick, you have it ... Many cannot deal with that because they have not learned it.
"My father didn't trust me to be an entrepreneur"
Can you really understand the realities of life of someone who depends on work to pay their rent?
I can understand the fears, of course. A lot of the people I deal with have irregular incomes. I can understand the pressure points of having to explain to his landlord that the money will come later.
I recently visited the model apartment in the Elbphilharmonie for work and thought: If you live there, you can't invite a normal wage earner to your home without coming across like the last snob ...
It has a lot to do with the way you receive someone. I live well too, but no one feels at ease with me. A space that is impressive at first glance is immediately defused when people notice: It's really cool here. You can't make a bohe out of it.
Have you never wanted to withdraw into a glamorous world of your own kind?
Never, I want to do something tangible. But I know a few children from good families who moved abroad as young adults where nobody knows them. They suffer from the burden of inheritance. I avoided that by stepping out of the shadow of my father and stepping into an area in which he was unable to protect me: At the art college, all that counts is respect for work, not origins and financial assets.
Nevertheless, you too later became an entrepreneur - like your father.
Yes, but with content that bothered me. It was about things that were found cool even by less well-off people. I was literally asked by people around me: Frank, private radio is being created, and not only the big ones are allowed to do that. You have an understanding of culture, you think politically…. I had the opportunity to develop an alternative - so why not.
Is it embarrassing that many heirs in Germany do not even take advantage of such opportunities to exert social influence?
Many are simply overwhelmed by their father's achievement. They say to themselves: I can never do what he did. That makes them small and puts them in a victim role. You can't get anything baked from this position. Anyone who feels that way has already lost. Unfortunately, some heirs do.
A volume of essays with the title “Heirs in the achievement society” was recently published. Is that something that can be a burden or uncomfortable: To be an heir in a society that actually demands performance for money, not the chance of a birth?
It doesn't matter where the money comes from, but what you do with it. I once wanted to set up a fund for inventions because I thought we had to drive innovations in Germany. An investment banker said to me: “What do you actually want as a goldfish in the shark tank? Think about what such investors want - they're all about returns, even if it harms someone. ”That's not my style. I then invested in a geothermal story because I believe in this down-to-earth technology.
Her family is very present in Northern Germany: Michael Otto with the Otto Group and Alexander Otto with the shopping center operator ECE. Both are committed - for example to sport and environmental protection.
My father only became successful in the mail order business with clever ideas late on, after the Second World War. He knew the need - and that's why he helped. After the flood in Hamburg, after a phone call from the then Interior Senator Helmut Schmidt, he donated blankets - the beginning of a close friendship. He passed this attitude on to his children.
Your brother Michael even gave his fortune to a foundation that is supposed to be socially committed. Is that a way for you too?
My net worth is very small compared to Michael's. Nevertheless, I have already set up a few small foundations. At the moment I still believe that each of my activities in foundations and associations has to grow out of itself, so I don't think about something like that yet.
How much are you involved in the Otto Group or ECE?
It's hard to say, a lot of holdings are nested. My father didn't trust me to be an entrepreneur - I've also proven that I'm an artist. However, he still recommended that I participate in two shopping centers. Of course, I would trust a similar recommendation from Alexander. But actually I have my own business and interests so strongly that I prefer to put the profits from the inherited business meaningfully into things that come from my own head.
"I claim to be the inventor of the private youth radio"
But surely you also want to increase your money?
I can't eat better, travel better, or live better. So why more? It's just enough. I am happy and I care about meaning. But of course it is the case that you go into something like private radio with rough edges - and then you realize: The corners and edges have to be sanded off, otherwise I won't fit into the market anymore. You are not alone in the world and you have to make compromises.
You have played in several bands yourself, you have a record label, but on the other hand you are also responsible for ensuring that the same music is always playing on format radio. Are you embarrassed?
The standard with which I started working on the radio has of course changed. But I still pursue a certain idea of diversity - for example with the Hamburg music channel 917xFM. After all, I claim to be the inventor of private youth radio. The idea later became the music television broadcaster Viva, which was of great importance for a while - comparable to today's streaming services.
Do streaming and DAB digital radio also threaten classic FM radio?
That is still a long development. VHF is only switched off in Norway and soon in Switzerland. The battle for Europe will be decided in Germany. It is not yet clear whether DAB will catch on. The public service is promoting this, but has so far disposed of the unattractive broadcasts in the DAB. Why should the private broadcasters support this?
Maybe because the future lies in the digital in all areas.
I go digitally a different way with laut.ag, RauteMusik and Radiopark. These are all still small businesses compared to FM broadcasters, but they are inherently coherent business models. I see myself well prepared for the digital future.
How does that concrete look?
At 917xFM, for example, we have an app that uses Radiopark technology. This makes it possible to listen to the stream without a data connection - for example on the way from Hamburg to Berlin. We have a patent with which we buffer the music. The mobile phone knows in advance what time, what music and which advertising will be played. The listener thinks it's a stream, but the cell phone is actually its own radio station.
This comes from the history of Radiopark and was originally developed for cruise ships that have no reception on the high seas - like a car driver in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
Do you fear the current media crisis?
You know, I only got into the media business through a crisis. My first station, OK Radio, was in a crisis and needed a new partner. That's where I came in. Later I was asked at Delta Radio: Frank, can you help us? The lights will soon be out here. It was similar with Kiss FM.
Your local TV station Hamburg 1 is certainly not a cash cow either.
On the contrary. But that's a vision. In 1995, when I founded the company, I had the thought that moving images was the future. I can't convey any information faster or more intensively. It took longer than expected. But now the developments on the Internet prove me right. We are therefore also bringing Hamburg 1 to the Internet and on smartphones.
Is the station doing better now economically?
Yes, since the station's 20th anniversary two years ago. However, two large advertising customers have just broken down: Vattenfall is being complimented on the market - which, as an opponent of nuclear power, I am not entirely innocent of - and Care Energie is insolvent.
"Our advertisers don't care about the quota"
How do you deal with that?
Today we approach smaller customers more. This is then, for example, the retailer who can also use the spot that we produce on their website.
You have a noticeably large number of municipal companies advertising in sponsored special programs ...
Yeah, that makes sense. In this way, the airport reaches the residents, the housing company Saga can convey its perspective of the city, and the elevated railway can convey an understanding of their traffic problems.
The fact that many local politicians are allowed to sit in panel discussions in the regular program, who otherwise would never have the chance to get on television, has nothing to do with that?
No, we are not a covert public broadcaster. These shows cover real problems in the city and help solve them.
Celebrity gossip would surely bring more odds ...
Unlike national broadcasters, our advertising customers are not primarily concerned with the quota. They want their shop to actually get full on Sunday shopping. If that succeeds, they are satisfied.
Do you want to bring the concept to other cities as well?
No. Hamburg is a special city. Here is an industrial location with wealthy companies - and there is a feeling of home. That's why such a transmitter works here. I also did television in Berlin. The audience market is still divided into East, West and New Berliners who know the clubs but not the city.
Her family is also part of the Hamburg city feel - the family is seldom a household name outside of Hamburg ...
Yes - except in Berlin. After the Berlin Wall came down, my father moved back to the city he came from at a very old age. The name Otto has a place in Hamburg, here we know that it is a family business. Anyone who only knows the catalog is more likely to perceive it as a brand name.
Are there regular family get-togethers?
I got my stamp in the 1980s. The Dallas and Denver Clan were up to date. I never wanted to be like that. I did my own thing so I wouldn't have to discuss everything with my siblings.
Do you get any feedback from your brothers about their appearances in tabloid journalism?
No, we don't meet that often. I see my sister who lives in New York more often than my brothers who are in the same city.
Are you continuing with reality TV?
I decline most of the offers. But maybe something interesting will come up again. So far, nothing new is planned after “Story of my life”. I don't even watch TV myself - I don't have time for that. If so, I'd rather see a good movie.
Mr. Otto, thank you very much for the interview.
About the person: Frank Otto is the second eldest son of Werner Otto, the founder of Ottoversand. While his older brother Michael now heads the Otto Group as head of the supervisory board and his younger half-brother Alexander heads the property developer ECE, the 59-year-old owns several media companies. After separating from his second wife two years ago, Otto made headlines with his relationship with 20-year-old model Nathalie Volk. Both had a trip to Seychelles documented on Vox and appear on the Vox show “Story of my Life” on May 9, in which prominent couples are artificially aged.
The company Frank Otto Medien is involved in radio stations such as Kiss FM, Energy Sachsen and Delta Radio. Together with the newspaper publisher NWZ, it holds other stations such as Alster-Radio and its music wave 917xFM as well as minority stakes in FFN and Antenne Niedersachsen. Frank Otto Medien is also a minority owner of Radiopark, which supplies hotels, ships and companies with a music program. There is also the radio streaming platform RauteMusik and the online music magazine laut.de. The entrepreneur also held a stake in the tabloid "Hamburger Morgenpost" until 2003. Today he is still active in local journalism with his TV station Hamburg 1.
The 10 best pieces of advice for entrepreneurs
"Life is a marathon and not a sprint," says Thorsten Reiter, whose book "Start up - Now! Finally get started and do it right" has just been published by Campus Verlag. It is the same with the endeavor as an entrepreneur. Reiter: "If you want to persevere for a long time, you should have fun with the thing you do every day, and above all with the way you do it."
Start up - now! Finally get started and do it right
Believe in you
According to Reiter, entrepreneurs should focus on building their brands and getting their jobs done, and stop thinking about themselves and their potential failures. "If one day you fail, you will notice it and have enough time to think about it in retrospect."
Happiness is a matter of attitude
"Every founder should decide to always be lucky," advises Thorsten Reiter. According to his philosophy of life, being lucky is in your own hands. For the founder expert, it is just as correct that each individual is the master of his or her fate as is the belief that everything we experience is predetermined by something or someone.
Trying is good, doing is better
Reiter advises young entrepreneurs not to "decide" when they have failed. "Failure happens and there is no choice but to accept failure and learn from it." True to the motto of Master Yoda in Star Wars: "Do or do not. There is no try!".
Use all resources
Have fun being part of something and use it for yourself. As an entrepreneur, you get access to resources for which you would otherwise have to pay large sums of money. Reiter: "A marketing plan competition at a local university, for example, gives the institution and its students the material they need to further qualify," and you as an entrepreneur an enormous pool of new ideas.
Sometimes the only thing that helps is: grit your teeth!
Young entrepreneurs should quickly get used to not only testing the limits of their performance, but regularly exceeding them.Thorsten Reiter: "This is the only way founders and those looking for success can be sure where they are going." And: "In the comfortable nine-to-five armchair you cannot revolutionize markets and create consumer experiences that become real events in the customers' lives."
Pass on your knowledge
Never keep to yourself the things you have learned along the way. Share whenever you can, is the recommendation of the start-up expert Reiter. So give lectures, give workshops or be a mentor for other entrepreneurs yourself. Reiter: "This also makes the founder himself better, understands his approach and increases his exposure."
The winner shares it all
On your way, steer towards specific win-win-win effects and enable a larger number of people to identify with your idea and the cause for which you stand. Don't worry, that doesn't mean you have to give away some of the cake; it means, according to Reiter, that everyone has more in the end. So if someone were to develop a WLAN producing tree, the additional climate factor would be such an effect.
Change the game of kings
What does entrepreneurship have to do with chess? In business, don't just react to the moves of your opponent, but go one step further beyond the limits of the board, advises Thorsten Reiter. The rules of the game are redefined, the field is expanded and the possibilities are suddenly innumerable. Anyone who has learned to see through the game as an entrepreneur has a trump card in hand that can throw the competition into chaos. Reiter: "Sometimes a supposedly irrational move is the decisive blow, and what looks like chaos from the outside is just a strategic turn towards your own competitive advantage and a real game changer."
Find your answers
Are you an entrepreneur? Do you have the courage to make lasting changes to your life - regardless of whether you are employed or self-employed? Is that the right, the only way? Thorsten Reiter would like to give these questions to every potential founder, because he can only give food for thought. Everyone has to find the answers for themselves. Reiter: "Whether you will embark on the adventure of entrepreneurship, whether this journey is meant for you, only you can say yourself. Only you can give these answers."
The seven crucial questions for founders
It started as a lecture and became a bestseller: Peter Thiel gave a lecture to students at Stanford University on founding, the student Blake Masters was busy writing and together they completed the book "Zero to One" (Campus Verlag). This is where Thiel gives valuable advice for founders. A few examples in brief ...
The technical question
Is your technology revolutionary or just a minor improvement?
The timing question
Is now the right time to invest in your business?
The monopoly question
Are you starting with a big one in a small market?
The team question
Do you have the right people?
The sales question
Do you see opportunities to not only manufacture your product, but also to sell it?
The question of durability
Can you keep your competitive position for ten or 20 years?
The mystery question
Have you recognized a unique opportunity that others do not see?
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