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To even get to the point of having a conversation with Nils about his life it took us some time and some pre-talk.
As soon as you meet Nils you understand why. No matter where Nils appears, it is clear to the people around that he is living a busy life. As soon as he enters a room, at first, there are many other topics that are being discussed. Someone almost always has a subject to discuss with Nils. Silence – with no phone call, no important request by one of his employees – rare, extremely rare. So we were even more excited when it came to our conversation for the campaign.
The campaign that is supposed to prove that every life is worth a portrait. That every life is worth celebrating on account of its uniqueness and is therefore always exciting. We love learning from each other and going back in time to do so; together discovering what profound decisions led to the present. In our conversation, much of what Nils has learned in his life is told. We learn together with Nils what it really takes to always be on the road and to be fully committed to one’s profession.
However, we also learn about the downsides that this causes in family life. We begin a journey exploring the constant search for creativity. And we discover what circumstances can suddenly turn everything upside down – but also what strength it takes to go through those phases. Discover the inspiring story of Nils life – exclusively told in the Borgward campaign 2021: Trueborn.
What does it feel like to take over your father’s company at an early age – much earlier than expected – in a context of a stroke of fate? And how does one actually grow into this responsibility?
“A portfolio – that’s all that’s left of my father’s work”. Until the aforementioned stroke of fate, Nils’s father was the managing director of his company, which specialized in exhibition booth construction. “When you grow up in an entrepreneurial family, your vacation is where the jobs are.
When I was a baby, I used to lie in my father’s factory.” Nils says with a laugh, and gets our agreement in response to his statement. For this reason, Nils has never felt unfamiliar with his father’s work, rather always very involved.
Founded by Nils father, the company specializes in the design and construction of exhibition booths for companies across all industries. He – as an only child – was aware that one day he would be part of the company his father founded, which up to that point was quite small, still having a portfolio of noteworthy clients.
“In my industry, focus is on the future”. Later, Nils describes to us that exactly this phrase provides him with access to a rich pool of inspiration. He adores the many little glimpses into the future that his job provides him with. Always in touch with the future – always learning about new innovations at an early stage. “I was about to go to Ravensburg to study communication design when my father had a stroke at the trade fair and from then on – from one moment to the other – he couldn’t keep the company running by himself. It was basically ’take it or leave it’ for me”.
Nils took it. “I have a creative element and the entrepreneur in my personality”. Nils describes his business personality as a combination of maternal and paternal characteristics he unites. He says that he got the fearlessness towards greatness – great challenges and great competitiveness – from his father. His mother, an international correspondent herself, taught him to face intercultural challenges and gave him an ongoing curiosity about cultures worldwide.
“From zero to one hundred” during our conversation, Nils tells us about the beginnings of his career regarding the growth of his company and the responsibilities he faced. Nils’s creative view of the industry, and his enthusiasm for developing and implementing entirely new methods, made the company grow within a very short time. “I just kept hiring new employees. Sometimes I didn’t know how to manage the new clients”. He tells us that he has always been looking for the right business partner. “My father ran it as a three-person company back then. Pretty soon the company was already four times as big, and I ran it single-handedly”.
During our conversation, it becomes very clear to us how focused Nils can be on his work and how much he has become clear about certain routines over time. You can clearly feel his excitement for what he is doing – in a genuine way. He has a strong idea about certain workflows, both privately and professionally. “I always want to present things in front of people who make decisions, not in front of just anyone.” In the past, he used to perceive his first acquisitions as talking to a woman in a nightclub. “1, 2, 3, go!”. Today, he is more relaxed about it: “There are simply a lot of companies running out of fashion. That makes me feel secure. I can be helpful to those”. But we will learn about the negative side-effects of this kind of mindset – and how it’ll feel when you’re about to lose all that.
“There were times when I was on the road for 300 days and had a 70-hour week.” We realize in our conversation that a long phase of self-reflection may lie in the past for Nils. Nils is a father and has been married to his wife for a long time. “In retrospect, I have to say that I became self-employed too young”.
In the meantime, it had turned late in the evening during our conversation. For Nils, becoming successful and independent young is both a curse and a blessing. He also sees the early takeover of his father’s company as a decisive factor in the company’s success. “It allowed me to bring in new impulses early on, which meant we quickly were ahead of the others. Most of the companies in this industry were founded at the same time, so we sooner were in the company’s next generation due to the sudden takeover.”, Nils explains. Values such as straightforwardness, reliability and honesty were quickly realized in business terms, yet he also noticed the lack of balance with his private life. “I used to say, ‘I need a minimum of five years to get some peace of mind when I finish.’ To recover from all the stress and to concentrate on my private life only”. Asked to what extent job and private life can be a symbiosis for him, he tells us: “When I’m there and I’m in a good mood, it can provide me with new impulses, but there were times when I didn’t have the presence at all.”
“I became very aware of that again once my father passed away: I only leave behind a portfolio. Most of the projects are planned for up to six months and then removed after five or seven days of the exhibition. That would be the same for me with my kids”. Nils describes to us in a very clear way that there are also moments that he – in retrospect – wishes he had seen differently. Not the work itself, as he really enjoys working with his team. But the absence from home, the completely non-existent presence at times: for him, it’s still not easy to talk about that. And in retrospect it must have been a painful experience for him to feel rushed at one of the most still-standing moments one can ever experience – when a loved one is passing away. So we can feel how tearing this dedication can be. And he tells us clearly that he was often burdened by a guilty conscience. The guilty conscience of a father and husband who places a lot of value on liveliness and stamina in his job – who always goes the extra mile to create great things and to be there for his employees and customers. But who also loves people – and sees the passing of time as a scourge, knowing very well that there is no possibility of turning back the past. Never. A feeling that many can relate to: because it is true pain. And this is something you can see in his face if you look carefully.
Therefore, it is without question the time to change some things. Nils wanted to change things – urgently. “One time we set up a Ferris wheel at a trade show. The other – competing – exhibitors just said: “What does a Ferris wheel have to do with sausages?”, the company for which Nils built the booth was a sausage factory; “the twist was that everyone who went to the sausage booth – which I designed – got a ticket for a free ride on the Ferris wheel. And sure enough, that was the absolute favourite stand there”. Nils says this and laughs, a bit like a boy who played a prank in a clever way and now laughs again thinking about what he did. Years in which he is 300 days on the road have now become a thing of the past. He works a lot, yet considerably less than before. And he’s fine with it the way it is. He is exploring his wishes and notices a big dream: to build for eternity. Not just for a few days. Change – Nils knew it was needed. He knew that it was perhaps even necessary at this point. He knowingly went on a journey that would change him – so that he would be there. Sooner or later. And also present. Until a moment came when everything would change from one moment to the next.
If you look into Nils’s eyes, you can hardly imagine the months that now lie behind him. Our interview with him is taking place in November 2020. A time that has an impact on all of us. That is a tough task to manage. But for him, it’s probably especially so. “Of course, there is the fear of losing everything that my father once built. Losing all the people I employ. That’s not something that’s enjoyable.
In fact, it’s very tough. Difficult”. At the time of our interview, many of Nils’s employees are in an uncertain situation. A very sudden break in Nils’s life. A very sudden pause in his usually very adrenalized life. “Deceleration? Definitely not. No, you can’t say that. The pressure is even increasing, because I want to continue to provide jobs for the people around me. They have been with me for a long time. After all, I feel a responsibility of some sort toward them, too, to master this challenge”. A crisis is the moment for holistic growth. His industry, he says, has probably been hit five times as hard. We are talking about a period of lockdown. A time in which the industry in which Nils is operating has barely been able to operate for almost a year now and has to constantly recalculate what is possible in the future and what is not.
Of course, that has changed him – probably even caused him to be driven in a way like never before. The tension – how he stands it is almost unimaginable to us, certainly not comprehensible. Possibly losing what was started by his father and made successful internationally by Nils. That is not a challenging situation. That is unpleasant, stressful and overwhelming. Nevertheless, he keeps calm on the outside. He withstands the pressure and fights for his team, hoping that this time will soon come to an end. A story that we all know is definitely happening, but we can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like to be in the middle of such a story.
“Build something that will last longer than just a few days. In the end, that’s exactly what I wanted. To leave something behind at the end. We are in the Cube. A building designed and built by Nils, which also houses the Borgward showroom. The Cube is located on an old railroad station site, which Nils has redesigned in an ambitious way. The site also includes an old train station, a locomotive shed and a number of private parking spaces for vintage cars. “Then one day it said ‘old train station for sale’. I really thought about it for a long time. No one wanted to buy. And at some point I wanted to have this site”. For Nils, it brings together the very best in him. The love of architecture and the irrepressible will to design for eternity. A large area, consisting of partially-refurbished old station buildings. In the centre the locomotive shed. As we walk past it together with Nils, he says: “Do you know that this building was originally a trade fair stand?”. In disbelief, we look at the massively-built large construction. “I’ve refurbished it a bit and made it more durable, but actually this is exactly how it stood at a trade fair once before”. And that’s where we see it again: Nils’s enthusiasm. His ability to inspire – himself and others. His dedication and overwhelming love for what he does.
The future is still uncertain at this point. But we look at Nils and see a smiling man, who is looking forward to the future tasks on this construction site. Who really has discovered himself and knows exactly what adjustments need to be made in order to live a fulfilling life. We wish Nils all the best – and thank him for an inspiring journey that he has allowed us to go on together with him.