Login

Interview with Prof. Dr. Raimund Wildner


 

INTERVIEW WITH RAIMUND WILDNER

Mr. Wildner, you have been at GfK for 34 years – that is a very long time. How did you come to GfK? What or who sparked your interest back then?

Raimund Wildner: Well, I was previously an assistant in the statistics department of a university and, of course, you wonder where there are companies that handle a lot of data and that might need a statistician. And market research, which is very multifaceted and has to do with psychology, the economy and particularly data and statistics, was something I found exciting even back then. So I simply applied to GfK.

What was your first job at GfK? Did you think at the time that you would stay for so long?

Raimund Wildner: As I said, I applied as a statistician. What really surprised me at the time was that in the interview, I was told, “We don’t need statisticians. We make tables.” And so my first job at GfK had little to do with statistics, but I was an assistant in controlling to the then managing directors Klaus Hehl and Bernhard Jackel. After half a year, I switched over to Heinrich Litzenroth’s “New Projects” area and under his leadership, we began to set up the BehaviorScan test market in Haßloch. That was truly exciting, because I learned a great deal about retail, consumers, media, communication and also customers.

34 years of experience spans many situations, people and projects. What was your best experience? The biggest milestone? Your finest moment?

Raimund Wildner: At the beginning, we had major quality problems in Haßloch. The data used to come in way too late and had far too many errors. I then spent weeks working to eliminate the delays and errors one by one. When, after maybe twelve weeks of hard work, the report came out for the first time after three weeks instead of the previous six weeks and without errors, it was exhilarating. It was also great when I was later named Market Research Personality of the Year in 2007. That came as a total surprise! It was only during the congratulatory speech that it slowly dawned on me – oh, they mean me!

What was your worst moment? The most difficult time?

Raimund Wildner: The most difficult time was probably in 2008 and 2009, when the merger with TNS was almost complete and I came to the conclusion that the way it had been planned would go wrong. The merger was then called off due to WPP’s takeover of TNS, and the opinion, even within GfK, was that the merger would not have been the right direction to take. 

Were there times when you thought about doing something else professionally?

Raimund Wildner: Yes, twice I applied for jobs outside GfK. One time was when I was at the second level of management in a GfK department, and the two department heads were constantly butting heads. At first, I thought I could keep the department out of it, but soon realized that this wasn’t possible, so I no longer wanted to be a part of it. And the second time, I was enticed by a professorship at a university for applied sciences. Both times, then member of the Management Board Klaus Hehl discouraged me from leaving, and I am still grateful to him today for doing so.

In the many years you have worked at GfK, you have experienced and taken part in many changes. Was everything better in the past? How have you felt about the changes at GfK and in market research as a whole? 

Raimund Wildner: When I started, there were around 400 GfK employees, not counting the sales reps working in the field, who realized sales of around DM 100 million. 80 % of their work was based in Germany. When I was hired, no one asked whether I could speak English – there was a foreign operations department for that. Everything was more manageable and also more personal, but of course also much more provincial.

What developed at an extremely fast pace was IT as a whole. In 1985, I got PC no. 8 at GfK. It had 640 KB of built-in memory and a 10 MB hard drive, which was considered top-of-the-range at the time and cost DM 18,000. Data transfer was done by sending floppy disks via mail. Charts used to be pasted and drawn by hand using templates – there was a separate department for that. A lot has become much easier; however, the pace has also increased enormously. In general, it wasn’t better or worse back then, but it was different from today.

You were active in many associations and received a number of awards for your work, including being named Market Research Personality of the Year by the Professional Association of German Market and Social Researchers (BVM). Your work has been very diverse – what have you enjoyed the most? 

Raimund Wildner: What I have always enjoyed the most is developing new things or exploring new questions with colleagues. This includes, for example, the Kronberg conferences, which I have helped organize every year since 1995, but also the project with Fernsehforschung and Seven One Media, where we studied the long-term effects of advertising. I get a lot of fun out of this, but unfortunately, there are fewer opportunities to engage in such activities. However, that is the price of professional advancement.

 For a while, you even had multiple functions within GfK – you were the head of methodological research, data protection officer at GfK AG and managing director of the GfK Verein all at the same time. That requires a lot of energy. What do you do for relaxation in your spare time?

Raimund Wildner: Well, often there wasn’t much time left over. But I always enjoyed spending the time I did have with my wife and three children. We often went hiking, biking or swimming. The children have now flown the nest, but we still get together regularly. And my grandson was born two years ago, which is really wonderful. I also like to read current news or nonfiction – novels not so much. In any case, I can’t remember the last time I was bored.

 You were active in many associations and received a number of awards for your work, including being named Market Research Personality of the Year by the Professional Association of German Market and Social Researchers (BVM). Your work has been very diverse – what have you enjoyed the most? 

Raimund Wildner: What I have always enjoyed the most is developing new things or exploring new questions with colleagues. This includes, for example, the Kronberg conferences, which I have helped organize every year since 1995, but also the project with Fernsehforschung and Seven One Media, where we studied the long-term effects of advertising. I get a lot of fun out of this, but unfortunately, there are fewer opportunities to engage in such activities. However, that is the price of professional advancement.

Have you approached the role of managing director with enthusiasm? As a manager, what has always been particularly important to you with regard to your employees?

Raimund Wildner: As a manager, you should try to create an atmosphere in which the work is fun. This includes respect in terms of allowing room for further development and publicly recognizing their successes. The advantage here is that people work more and better. If you rule with an iron fist, you will have people that don’t contradict you and are complacent, but you won’t get much further than that with such people. Fear destroys creativity.

Once the position of managing director has been handed over, you will have more time for other things. What projects, dreams and plans do you have for your future? 

Raimund Wildner: To start with, I would like to take some time off and do what I’ve always enjoyed doing more often and for longer: hiking, biking, swimming, reading and also traveling now and then. And later on, I might do some volunteer work, but we’ll see – I don’t know yet.

And the last question, which goes way back: Has your professional life developed the way you wanted it to when you were first starting out?What was your dream job when you were a kid?

Raimund Wildner: As a kid, I wanted to be a Catholic priest: They always acted so dignified and everyone listened to them. But when I became too interested in girls, so I wanted to become a journalist instead, and even wrote for a newspaper on the side. But most of the journalists I got to know advised against it. That’s why I wanted to become a vocational school teacher and also earned a degree in business education. I was then asked if I wanted to be an assistant in the statistics department of a university. I figured that I could always be a teacher for 30 years. But after my time as an assistant, I had no desire to do my teacher training, and so I went to GfK. Things have always developed completely different to how I imagined, but that is just fine and I don’t regret anything, especially not coming to GfK.