Pursuit of Happiness

Keeping the ball rolling

For Siemens Healthcare MD & president Gerd Hoefner, sportsmanship does not end off court, he takes his basketball lessons to the boardroom

RA Chandroo

In India, basketball isn’t met with the kind of euphoria that cricket is, and for that matter even hockey is. Yet, there are those small pockets of loyalists that follow NBA, or idolise global stars such as Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James right from their school days. One such unswerving fan is Gerd Hoefner, MD & president of Siemens Healthcare, who has been dribbling away for decades in his gated community’s court in Bengaluru. The 60-year-old German-origin fan recalls, “My physical education teacher back home was a former national basketball player in Romania. He used to encourage us to play basketball and we soon formed a club and competed with different leagues. Getting selected for the school and university teams was tough.”
What started in 1974 as an extracurricular turned into a full-blown passion for Hoefner. “When I turned 13, I started playing at semi-professional level as a player-coach for 25 years,” he reminisces. The young player was also a member of a community club in Lohr, a city 90 kilometres east of Frankfurt. “It was really competitive and fun. But to win, you need to enjoy what you are doing,” shares Hoefner. Besides being fun, it also worked as a therapy when college would get too stressful. “When I was preparing for my Master’s exams, I would study for 12-14 hours every day, for four to five months. What kept me sane was the one-hour break of playing basketball,” says Hoefner.

The sport worked as a life support for him, but life caught up with Hoefner eventually, and he had to choose between a career in sports and business. “I opted for the latter,” he says. Despite an injury and health concerns, he did not completely shun the game. The athlete continues to play even today, mostly with his daughters. “I try to keep myself fit by working out three to four times a week or going for a morning swim,” he says.

The sport has also taught Hoefner the importance of being a team player, a lesson he has helped him ace his professional career. “You learn that each player has a different role to play, but you all have to rely on each other. One may not have the greatest of days, but your teammates will support and motivate you,” he adds.

Hoefner shares an interesting take on basketball, which like most sports, has an extremely short feedback cycle and tells one what they need to work on harder. “Preparations for the next match start right after you have finished a game and you know the areas you did not perform well in. It’s all about continually improving and getting ready for the next big match,” he says.  

This desire to constantly improve is also what pushes Hoefner to be a good leader and take responsibility. “Once, as a captain, I had to take the last shot. It was pressurising,” he says. But keeping in mind everything that basketball has inculcated in him, it isn’t surprising that he pulled off a slam-dunk!