Episode 2: Hans-Ingo Biehl, Executive Director of the “GeschäftsreiseVerband VDR”

Hans-Ingo Biehl:  Executive Director and Athlete

Frimeso: Could you please introduce yourself?

Biehl: My name is Hans-Ingo Biehl. I am 62 years old, married, father of two children, and live in Darmstadt. I am working for the VDR, headquartered in Frankfurt/ Main, since 2002. I already worked in the Business Travel industry previously.

Frimeso: Do you often travel in your capacity as Managing Director of the VDR, outside the context of the current pandemic?

Biehl:  I do. We have seven regional branches. I try to be there as often as I can.  I am also regularly visiting political Berlin, and I travel to Brussels.

Frimeso: I have read with great interest that you support the one and only FC Bayern Munich? Can you explain why?

Biehl: I was born and raised in Darmstadt. Hence my heart belongs also to our local club SV 98 Darmstadt who I played for.  But I have always been a great admirer of FC Bayern. As an eight-year-old, my family and I were on holiday at a lake in Bavaria. I got the chance to watch a friendly that ended at 25:2. Gerd Müller came to us boys after the game and handed me his shirt. The shirt has worn off over the years, but I have kept the emblem up to this day.

Frimeso: You already mentioned your past as a footballer. What else do you practice?

Biehl: In the past, I was focusing on ballgames. After football, I played basketball in the second national league. Today you find me at times on a golf course. I play Tennis and try to stay as active as possible.  I also like running. Sport is part of my weekly routine.  Sport gehört zu meinem Wochen-Rhythmus dazu.


The Business Travel Organisation VDR

Frimeso:  The name VDR stands for the German term, “Association for German Travel Management” The name does not include the phrase “Business Travels.” How did this name come about?

Biehl: The VDR evolved from the Idea of establishing an interest group to organize the corporate travel departments. In 1974, eight travel department managers joined forces and formed a club of travel managers who then evolved into the VDR.

Many people are still not familiar with the term “travel management.” We have nothing to do with private travels.  We are not a travel agency. We do not offer any services for travelers. However, we are an interest group for those commercial enterprises who are sending their employees on business trips.  We help to establish the right frameworks and also guide our members to efficiently organizing such travels.

We successfully positioned the VDR within our industry as a brand.  But we also positioned ourselves as Germany’s “Business Travel Organisation.

Frimeso:  With what kinds of companies do you typically work? Are these larger enterprises or SMEs?

Biehl: Generally speaking, any company can become a member with a particular entity dedicated to the organization of business travels.

We work with a wide range of companies. We work with large DAX corporations as well as with SMEs. SMEs often employ one assistant who is organizing business travels. In these cases, we work with the assistant as our principal point of contact. In DAX companies, Business Trips are organized by entire departments of 10 to 15 people. These departments are not comparable to travel agencies, though. They rather function as strategic travel planners who design travel guidelines. Furthermore, they establish the criteria under which travel can occur, and they relentlessly optimize the internal travel processes.  These core responsibilities are what we refer to as Travel Management.


A network that is helping everyone

Frimeso: One of the many benefits of becoming a member may be your vast network. What makes your network so unique?

Biehl:  We offer a platform where travel managers from different companies can exchange information regarding their business. A travel manager from Siemens can talk to the travel manager from Mercedes. A travel manager from an SME can have useful exchanges with travel managers from other medium-sized enterprises.

These exchanges are precious for our members. They discuss issues like: “Who has already implemented a worldwide credit card as the payment method? What are your experiences, and what do you have to consider?”


Communication as one of the VDR’s key responsibilities

Frimeso: Your website is well structured. Your association is also active on Social Media. You have a fantastic Podcast. It seems that the VDR has a strong emphasis on communication and on the creation of quality content?

Biehl:  We need to provide information in a contemporary manner. In terms of PR and communication, we have always been recognized.  Over the past 10 years, Social Media has become a precious channel. Insofar, we are doing much more than what we did only 10 years ago.

A good communication strategy is crucial for our members. They regularly feedback to us that they depend on receiving high-quality information for them to be able to do a great job.


VDR Business Travel Report: The Standard Text of a whole industry

Frimeso: The VDR annually issues a comprehensive report of the German Business Travel industry’s current state. Why do you spend so many resources on gathering and analyzing all these various figures and statistics?

Biehl: The VDR Business Travel Report has genuinely evolved into the standard reference oeuvre for the industry, acknowledged by our politicians as well as by our economy.

We conduct representative interviews with 800 organizations all over Germany. These organizations base their replies on their internal travel expense systems. Only companies with at least 10 employees can participate. Hence the report does not cover the independent architect traveling to a larger construction site in Germany.  The information is also covering relevant hot topics and trends.

Key data for 2019: In 2019, 13 Million people traveled for German companies 200 Million times and expensed € 55,3 Billion.


The pandemic will have severe consequences in the fiscal year 2020 (and also in FY 2021).

Frimeso:  These figures will show a different picture for 2020.  Can you already be more precise about the pandemic’s expected impact on the German Business Travel industry?

Biehl:  We have developed a barometer by which we survey every two to three weeks the industry’s general sentiment.

Last month, business traveling was at 10 % by comparison to the same month of the preceding year.  We also expect restrained activities for 2021. We assume that 20% will return. At the end of the day, everything will depend on developments around COVID. There are also regional differences that we will have to consider.

The situation is generally obscure. Some weeks ago, for example, some German regions temporarily prohibited lodging people coming from areas with high infection rates. Companies refrain from traveling rather than having to worry about their employee not being allowed to stay overnight or having to isolate himself for a week upon his return.


Digital Transformation will change the world of business travels for good. However, it will not entirely replace the need for human interaction.

Frimeso:  Do you expect a full recovery of the business travel segment? If so, when do you think this will happen?

Biehl: am afraid that, at this stage, we are not able to predict what exactly is going to happen. However, we do expect to see a timely recovery. Will it be as it was before the pandemic? I honestly doubt that.  Many companies learn to use digital tools to their full potential and understand that many things can be done onsite. Companies will scrutinize the necessity of flights to Berlin to join a business lunch more than they perhaps did before the pandemic. A certain percentage of business trips will not take place any more.

Frimeso:  However, onsite meetings, combined with the opportunity to interact face-to-face, will always be necessary. Direct sessions instill closeness, whereas the possibilities of building solid customer relationships with video conferencing seem to be limited. Do you agree?

Biehl: This is true. Collaborating via Zoom is possible. Even Staff appraisals are now done via Zoom. But the outcome of these meetings is more successful. If you already personally know the other person. I agree that when you have not developed a feel for the customer yet, an onsite meeting will be more fruitful. Hence, onsite sessions and personal interactions will always be necessary. However, we will have to wait and see whether these meetings’ frequency will remain the same.

In any case, the business travel sector will reposition itself. Many companies will examine whether their employees will have to travel as often as before the pandemic.


Business Travelers willing to spend more than vacationers

Frimeso:  Your analysis also concludes that business travelers spend €169 / day on average, whereas a vacationer spends barely half. Do you know why?

Biehl: Companies reimburse all expenses of a business traveler. He may be inclined to choose a restaurant he would not go to if he were on holiday.  One of the main reasons may be, though, that often vacationers benefit from all-inclusive holiday packages.


The critical political concerns of the VDR: Achieve optimal conditions by reducing administrative constraints, simplify travel management and travel sustainably

Frimeso: You do have a Political Agenda. How does it look like? Which issues are most critical for the VDR’s?

Biehl: We discuss with the political representatives all administrative and legal conditions that impact our industry. Mind you that this segment is generating a lot of money. Furthermore, we create awareness for any Travel Management related issues.  We analyze and discuss tax regulations. We develop strategies for climate-neutral traveling. In short, we try to be involved in any political decision-making process.  We are also positioning specific issues in Berlin and Brussels and emphasize our willingness to help.


Better travel conditions for SMEs thanks to V-Kon

Frimeso: What are the core services that you offer your members?

Biehl:   Just to point out a view, with V-Kon, we do offer better travel conditions for SMEs. SMEs benefit from bulk purchase savings negotiated by us with airlines and rental car companies. Most of the larger companies have arranged their own skeleton agreements. Smaller companies, however, can benefit from similar reductions by joining the VDR.

We also answer any sorts of legal and tax-related queries. We submit these kinds of questions to our legal advisor. We do offer a whole range of additional services.


The challenging role of a travel manager: Working where leadership and employee interests converge

Frimeso:  You also organize a job fair for travel managers. What kind of skills are required for the Travel Manager to be successful?

Biehl: The job profile has changed considerably over recent years. Back then, travel managers were focusing on operational tasks like the booking of employees’ travels.  Today, travel managers are strategists who draft general travel frameworks and guidelines. He or she also has to communicate all changes in travel policies internally.

The Travel Manager manages the company’s expenses for travels. He will often have to answer queries like why travel expenses are still higher than they have been in previous fiscal years. At the same time, he will have to explain to his staff members why they suddenly cannot travel first class anymore.  A travel manager’s position is undoubtedly demanding, let alone because you always try to reduce costs.

The travel manager must be a good communicator with a strategic mindset.

Frimeso: Companies also can work with a third-party provider as their travel manager. What is your thought on that?

Biehl: This is possible too. Some external TMCs (Travel Management companies) assume also travel management responsibilities. The challenge remains, however, that such processes are best controlled from within the company.  Outsourcing your entire travel management function is risky.

We instead suggest that at least one employee should be in charge of travel strategies. Third-party providers can then help to implement those strategies.  Decisions related to travel criteria and guidelines should be made in-house.

Frimeso: Who can become a member of the VDR?

Biehl:  Any company with an organizational entity dedicated to the organization of business travels can become a member.

You can reach us via https://www.vdr-service.de. There you will also find all information that you may be looking for.
We also regularly organize events concerning business travels. Also, non-members can register. We are currently running these events virtually.


© 2020 FRIMESO All rights reserved

Episode 2 – Angelika Kindt, Germany‘s Working Silverlady

Below you find a summary of our discussion with Angelika Kindt.


Clearing out, letting go, and looking ahead has a lot to do with life quality


Angelika Kindt: A woman in motion

Frimeso:  How did you come up with the title “Working Silverlady”?

Kindt:  3 years ago, my hair turned white almost overnight. I thought to myself: “That’s how I am now!” A the time, a Zurich-based friend who was also using the word “working” in her title abandoned her professional name. I asked her what she would think if I named myself, “Working Silverlady.” She was excited, confirming that the name suits me perfectly.


Frimeso: How would you describe yourself, both personally and professionally?

Kindt: I am a woman in motion. I am 71 years old. Despite many blows, I love life. Every morning I am waking up full of joy. I try to make the most of each day and do something memorable and beautiful for myself. I also love sharing my happiness with other people.

I have been self-employed for 33 years. I turned into working Silverlady three years ago. I realized that I did not want to be so often for consultations or workshops on the road anymore. I am currently in the process of setting up an online coaching company. Consequently, I mainly do my coaching sessions online. I also offer online workshops and seminars.


Frimeso: Who are your prototypical customers?

Kindt: All sorts of customers contact me. I am pleased that even younger people do want to work with me. I consider myself as a sparing-partner for managers with whom I share my experience and knowledge.

I also consult private people. I am not longer differentiating between private and business. I have to stress, though, that I do not provide any psychological treatments in any form. I am not a psychologist, – hence there are better experts for this particular branch.


Frimeso: What are the main topics that you cover during your sessions?

Kindt: I learned one thing during my years of working with customers: Communication is at the center of it all. This is especially true for managers. Hence, developing communication strategies has become a real passion of mine. Still, and after all those years, I keep learning and getting new insights.


“For me, there is no black, white, striped, or plaid.”

Frimeso: What are the most critical stages in your life that shaped your work and helped you become what you are today?

Kindt: I lived in Africa 50 years ago. My first husband moved from Cameroon to Germany, where he successfully graduated in Braunschweig as a civil engineer. We then moved to Cameroon together. Living in Africa had a significant impact on me and broadened my horizon. Diversity has, therefore, been part of my life ever since. For me, there is no such thing as black, white, striped, or plaid.

Three years later, I moved back alone to Germany with my son. I started studying political science at the FU in Berlin in my late twenties. This was broadly considered an unusual choice at the time, especially for a woman. I kept hearing people saying: “You will not be able to provide for your son with a political science degree.” My studies turned out to be the right choice. Political Science shapes my way of thinking still today.

I then married again and had two children, one of whom unfortunately passed away. These are blows one has to apparently deal with in life.

I slipped into self-employment by chance. I was asked to do a seminar which I did. I then participated in a rhetoric seminar held by a Jesuit priest where I learned o speak freely. One thing led to another, and here we are.


Frimeso: You have achieved so much in your life. Why didn’t you consider going into your well-deserved retirement?

Kindt: Retirement would be far too dull for me. As an independent, I can decide that for myself anyway. I still get so much feedback, offers, requests, and proposals. I do not even have time to consider retirement.


Becoming Independent: Self-reflection, Self-motivation, and Self-management drive success

Frimeso:  You often work with people who are about to change their professional careers or retire soon. What challenges one has to deal with when finding him- or herself in such a situation?

Kindt: Life changes are quite common. You will have to become clear about yourself and ask yourself questions like, “What are my key skills and strengths? Do I have any particular talents? Are there any market gaps that I could help to fill with my skillset? How am I going to position myself?” The most important question is the one of Why? Why do I want to change my professional career? What goal am I having? What drives me?

It all starts with self-reflection.

For example, if you want to start your own business just because you think it would suit you, it probably will not end well. I am seeing again and again, how vital self-motivation is.

Last but not least, you will have to develop your capability of managing yourself


Frimeso: What are the typical driving forces for people who become independent or make a career change?

Kindt: It all depends. Some want to fulfill their dream of professional freedom, which I appreciate. However, one needs to consider that your desired degree of freedom will only materialize once you have settled in your new life.

In the beginning, you need stamina, and you have to keep going.

Another driving force for older people is their desire to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with younger people. The best motivation is always to do something that comes from the heart. If I can confirm to myself: “This is exactly my thing; this is what I genuinely love doing,” I am motivated enough to succeed and to find my niche.


Frimeso:  At what age are people on average when they realize that they face these kinds of crises?

Kindt: People often realize that something needs to change once the children have left their home. In Germany, this happens typically around the age of 50. Suddenly, there are only two people left who have to relearn to live with each other alone. Questions pop up like: “Is that all there is? Is there anything left for me to do?”

People regularly turn up to my sessions with a specific idea and then find out that actually, they are looking for something entirely different.

My goal is to strengthen people’s resilience and help them handle the pressure of these challenging times.


Frimeso:  In general, do your customers achieve their goals?

Kindt:  This will depend on how serious people take their personal responsibility. Developing a high degree of personal responsibility is core in our coaching sessions.

Viewing a projected journey through unknown territory with a new end is particularly hard for former employees who are not used to travel all by themselves.

On the one hand, some leaders are unconsciously discouraging their staff to take responsibility for themselves. On the other hand, people get used to their comfort zones and will have to relearn to take responsibility for themselves. They will be their own leaders now. To lead, you will have to learn to let go, which is incredibly difficult for many people.


Gratitude is key to inner satisfaction

Frimeso: You are emphasizing a lot the importance of inner contentment. I can also confirm that you reflect your own inner happiness during our interview. What does a person have to do to be happy?

Kindt: I can only answer this question for myself. I am happy if I do not focus on those things that I do not have and are still supposedly missing.

Every day I am glad when I wake up. I am grateful for what I already have and blessed with being allowed to live such a wonderful life.

If I am aware of my talents and skills, I can be grateful for those too.

Living in western societies, we are often tempted to show our achievements, status symbols, and accolades. I belong to the baby-boomer generation. During the postwar era, we did not have so much to brag about.

However, I see that people become more aware of these materialistic pressures and start to perceive things differently. People begin to ask themselves: “Do I absolutely need the third car and the second sofa? “Clearing out, letting go, and looking ahead has a lot to do with life quality.

Clearing out makes room for new things, especially when you prepare for retirement

Frimeso: Clearing out may also be an issue for people who are preparing for retirement. I imagine that people who have worked most of their lives still carry a lot of working-related weight once they retire?

Kindt: Clearing out is challenging for many people. Some are struggling to leave their professional past behind. Some continue to portray themselves as if they were still in their roles; they were holding over the past 20 years.

Clearing out entails me having to continually reinvent myself

My capability to clear out will greatly influence me “staying young while getting older.” It does not matter so much whether I am still fitting in my jeans. All that matters is what is happening in my head. Clearing out also means: “Do I still need my house? Can I move to a smaller apartment?” Children have left for good. Obviously, they will be around and come to visit, but they will not move back in.

Resetting your priorities is also crucial: Contentment always comes from within

Clearing out makes room for new things: Lat year, I was diagnosed with cancer. I have learned to not give it too much space without ignoring it entirely. This year, other things matter more, and I am focusing on them.


“Values have something to do with how I value my fellow human beings.”

Frimeso: You are stating that you follow a value-based approach. Why are values important?

Kindt: We all know values like “courtesy” and “mutual consideration.” But do we apply our values in real life? It has become trendy to emphasize the importance of values. But how do we translate these ideas into our everyday actions?


Frimeso: Why are values critical?

Kindt: Values are the glue for our social interactions. How do we work or talk with each other? Values uncover how societies perceive themselves. This concerns individuals but also working life within our companies.

We need to try everything to live up to our values. Values have something to do with how I value my fellow human beings.


Frimeso: Older people tend to have their core values set. Is it possible for an older person to still change?

Kindt: Yes, but it all depends on your readiness to reflect on your values. If your mind and heart is open, you will be able to review your current set of values. Am I callable of putting a question mark behind certain aspects of my belief system?


There are three different kinds of age

Frimeso:  Do you mind getting older?

Kindt: Age is just a number. There are three kinds of age: your actual age, your felt age, and the age others perceive you are at. Hence, age is relative.

There are old 25-year-olds who have already finalized their plans. All projects like house, children or you name it are completed already. Life does not work that way. There is a saying that “Humans make plans, God laughs. ” Tragedy sets in when I have made plans that never materialize because nothing has worked the way I was hoping for.

It is, therefore, key to stay open-minded without focusing too much on your age. If I keep saying to myself: “I am old,” then I am old. I should rather keep telling myself: I am 71 years old. This does not keep me from developing my own mindset.”


The Working Silverlady a true digital enthusiast

Frimeso: Your podcast made me aware of your work. You also run a website and are active in Social Media. One can assume that you are a digital enthusiast. Are you belonging to a minority within your age group?

Kindt:  I do believe that this is correct. I have also been working as an independent. Hence I am used to learning new stuff. I often hear older people saying that their grandchild is responsible for everything digital.

All these great opportunities are exciting. It is fascinating to see what is possible today. Ist wonderful that I can work with someone living in Switzerland on Zoom while being at home in Germany.


Frimeso: How do you reach older people in digital media?

Kindt: You will have to employ a specific hybrid approach between online and offline. I love to connect on social media. But I also give lectures, hold speeches, and meet people in person. You will definitely need several channels combining digital and real events.


Frimeso: How can I get into contact with you if I want to work with you?

Kindt: Please go to my homepage https://www.working-silverlady.de/

or send me a message info@angelika-kindt.de



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