Köster + PartnerKöster + Partner

By Kathrin Köster

Are you ‘sandbagging’ or ‘air-bagging’? Leading towards more entrepreneurship

Kathrin Köster: What is ‘sandbagging’ and ‘air-bagging’ about?

Jürgen Schäfer: Well, I coined these terms when I took over some new challenging tasks last year and started the budget planning and goal setting process. I guess I got a bit of a culture shock that made me realize how important trust is.

Kathrin Köster: What happened?

Jürgen Schäfer: I felt like an intruder. When I travelled over to my new teams, they had prepared their profit and loss statements and expected me to sit with them for 1 or 2 days to discuss every single line. And they were ‘sandbagging’: Protecting themselves. They inflated the risks, portrayed a rather gloomy picture of the market, just to defend themselves upfront. And that’s what I call ‘sandbagging’. It was me against them – an atmosphere of self-defense, against taking risks and moving ahead.

Kathrin Köster: What did you do then?

Jürgen Schäfer: I realized how I proceeded with the rest of my teams and took the same approach. I closed the books and started to talk with my new colleagues – eye to eye. I asked them about their feelings, where they saw difficulties. I told them that I even had scaled down self-set targets in other units in order to prevent managers to put too much pressure on them. That surprised my new teams: A manager who was genuinely interested in their situation on site and who favored human interaction instead of going through the numbers. You can’t lead the business from above, not living with the people, and just coming once or twice a year to control the figures. You can’t understand what’s behind, and what’s really possible.

Kathrin Köster: And what is really possible?

Jürgen Schäfer: That’s the air-bagging part. Rather than controlling the figures like doing a house search, I follow the daily business of all of my teams in a different way. I browse through the major deals in our IT-system, pick 4 great ones and 1 where I don’t understand the figures. I send an email to the sales person in charge via the head of subsidiary to say thank you, to ask for the major match winning reasons, or to ask for explanations of the figures.

The advantages are: The sales people feel appreciated, and we all learn about their “tricks” and insights. We pass them on within the subsidiary and across the whole network. This is how we learn. We get more aware of what we can do well, and the sales people get more self-assured and motivated. There is more air to breathe, business to make. People get more entrepreneurial – and we all benefit.

Kathrin Köster: Your air-bagging practice gives you full visibility of the most important figures – your indirect connection to your customers. Yet, people are not controlled but encouraged to share their keys for success. Thanks for this good example of transformational leadership!


Jürgen Schäfer is the COO of Bechtle AG, a Germany-based B2B and B2G IT company that sells IT hardware and software, as well as related services to business and public-sector clients. Jürgen is the head of the e-commerce unit with roughly 1,500 people operating in 14 countries through 24 subsidiaries with revenues between 5 and 200 million Euros. Overall, the e-commerce team achieved revenues of 1 billion Euros at the end of 2017.

By Kathrin Köster

No career people, but ‘gardeners’

Kathrin Köster: Bechtle has a green logo, but I am surprised to hear that you are talking about gardening :-). Could you explain the background?

Jürgen Schäfer: It’s related to our hiring practice. We have to have the right people on board.
I remember our former staff advertisement campaigns starting with: “You have competencies X, Y, Z etc.” This has changed. We are focusing on personality now. Is this person passionate? And what about?

Kathrin Köster: And what does this have to do with gardening?

Jürgen Schäfer: I think that our organization needs to be very sensitive to help new hires to find their passion. I compare it to gardening. We need people who have found their passion, whether this is an internal training program they have designed and conduct, or whether it’s a network of subsidiaries they develop and strengthen. When they feel it’s their responsibility, they take care of it. They feel ownership. They grow together with their mission, driven by the passion to make it as beautiful as they can.

It’s our responsibility to help everybody find their garden, their personal mission. This makes everybody an entrepreneur.

Especially in times of fast-paced change, we need entrepreneurs. Especially people who don’t count hours but are passionate about getting the best out of their mission.

Kathrin Köster: And what is the problem with ‘career people’?

Jürgen Schäfer: In our experience, ‘career people’ tend to be selfish. They are often driven by status and follow a pre-set program: They fight their way up the career ladder. This might be good for them, but can be counterproductive for us as a team. I have seen teams falling apart just because of this “Me first” – behavior. And revenues went through the floor. I can’t accept this.

Kathrin Köster: That’s good news for people who strive to find their own way, their real passion. Thanks for sharing your insights.


Jürgen Schäfer is the COO of Bechtle AG, a Germany-based B2B and B2G IT company that sells IT hardware and software, as well as related services to business and public-sector clients. Jürgen is the head of the e-commerce unit with roughly 1,500 people operating in 14 countries through 24 subsidiaries with revenues between 5 and 200 million Euros. Overall, the e-commerce team achieved revenues of 1 billion Euros at the end of 2017.

Are you ‘sandbagging’ or ‘air-bagging’? Leading towards more entrepreneurship
No career people, but ‘gardeners’