An interview with Bobby Decker
He’s a man with everything when it comes to his career. And a man who could have any material item he wants. But he’s not at all interested in most things – or at least, not anymore. Bobby Dekeyser used to be professional soccer player, became the founder of the outdoor furniture company Dedon, and is now a self-made multimillionaire. Over a coffee in Berlin, he reveals to COMPANION why earthly possessions are no longer important to him, why he actually used to want to become bourgeois, and what he currently cares about more than anything.
COMPANION: Bobby, I’ve read that you divide your time between Hamburg, Berlin, New York, and Ibiza ...
Bobby Dekeyser: I find choosing one residence difficult. I like moving around. I try to go with the flow and I do constantly lose myself, but I discover a lot of unexpected things living this way. But what I always miss after a short time in the city is nature. This is why I’ve sold all my houses and apartments in cities, and why I’ve been living in Ibiza and in a small, secluded house in the mountains.
You said that you’re a “nomadic spirit,” but you sell furniture at your company, Dedon, so that people can settle down in one place. How do the two philosophies fit together?
I care about creating atmospheres. An image of desire. A place where people can come together and feel comfortable. Dedon does make furniture, but it’s about representing the feeling of being alive. “Tour de Monde” is the title of our latest catalogue, and that’s just like my own life.
You have no office and no secretary. How do you work?
I have one advantage – and this isn’t false modesty – I’m not good at many things. I’m not a businessman, I’m not a designer, nor am I a philosopher, but I have faith in people. I have ideas and pictures, and I attempt to communicate these, but I don’t try to motivate people. Instead, I try to help them see my vision. Just like in an orchestra – I can come in to a project, I can judge, and I can let the “music” carry on. Then I am ready again to approach the next project. In this way I can do a lot of things without being operationally tied to them. It wouldn’t be helpful for my company or for my foundation, Dekeyser & Friends, if I was there too often, since I would be constantly refining ideas. That’s very obstructive in daytoday work.
Today, people would call the manner in which you founded your company in 1990, a startup. What advice would you give to young people in the position you were in?
How do you define success? To have a business? To have money? That is exterior success. But what about inner success? I believe that if everyone tried to stay true to themselves – hence why my autobiography is called “Not for Sale!” – it would be an incredibly stressful process, but you wouldn’t lose yourself. I advise everyone to “be true to yourself.”
But don’t you have to play along a little in order for the system to work?
I was always a rebel. Always swam against the tide. Because within me is a strong desire. Because of this, soccer was difficult. I was successful, but I felt horrible. It was like jail for me.
But you also contributed to making that prison yourself – with an unreal exercise regime. Didn’t you have to free yourself from your own jail?
Not really. I wasn’t really brought up – instead, I was fighting on the streets at the age of 12. Everything about me was physical. And then soccer came along, and I had a purpose. And with this purpose came discipline, but it was artificial, because I wasn’t really good at soccer. I got relatively far and would have been able to live off it for the rest of my life, but only through my willpower. It just wasn’t me.
You’re still the face of Dedon, and you have many major tasks, and you won’t be able to complete them all.
No, but I’m always talking about the foundation. About people. About the Philippines. Furniture was never my area of expertise. I don’t want to say that I’m Robin Hood – okay, maybe a little (laughs). I’m putting all the money I’ve earned into the foundation. And I want to do something huge here in Berlin, but I’m not allowed to tell you anything more about it yet.
Can you tell us a little more anyway?
Dekeyser & Friends is the umbrella organization, but the refugee crisis is an issue that nobody can ignore. How we handle the situation is a big, big challenge for us all. It makes me very anxious – not in a bad way, but it means I can’t just sit around philosophizing anymore.
How did you approach the issue?
I got to know people. Especially in Hamburg. People looking after refugees. I sat down with them and did jigsaw puzzles so that I could feel and understand what these people had been through. How do you talk to someone who’s lost or left behind their family? We can’t even begin to comprehend it. But it’s good to try and learn. And how can we help them practically? I have a lot of contacts from my time in sports and business who all want to contribute something and who have the finances to make things possible.
And you’ll be able to raise awareness again!
Yes, but the spotlight comes later. First, you have to generate content. I’m keeping myself away from the media. I don’t want to appear in the newspapers every day. I’ll need more time, but if everything goes well, I’d like to launch my project in spring 2016. However, it’s such a giant task that it almost scares me.
We’re excited about your project. At the beginning of your career, could you have imagined that you’d ever be living like you are now?To be without boundaries, yes. That was easy. But I always wanted to be bourgeois. A wife, two children, a house. Insurance. To have something normal. In my childhood home it was just “do what you want.” But when you have every possibility in front of you, you look for boundaries.
... you still have 20 years to become bourgeois.
(laughs) You’re right, but I’m slowly letting go of the idea.
Following an injury on the soccer field in 1990, Bobby Dekeyser founded the successful outdoor furniture company Dedon (dedon.de) while practically still in the hospital. He also founded the Dekeyser & Friends foundation, which works with the Compostela Village project towards sustainable living through agricultural innovation as well as new educational opportunities in the Philippines.
Bobby Dekeyser's autobiography:
„Unverkäuflich!: Schulabbrecher, Fußballprofi, Weltunternehmer – die völlig verrückte Geschichte von Bobby Dekeyser”
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