The Turnaround.

Bert Trautmann in his playing days.
Bert Trautmann in his playing days.

You could hardly find a more dedicated Nazi.

Bert Trautmann was a Hitler Youth prodigy, a Luftwaffe paratrooper, a holder of the Iron Cross and an anti-Semite.

In his mind Jews, Poles and gypsies were sub-human; Aryans were the master race.

But that’s not telling you anything new about the Nazi mindset.

We’ve seen the WWII film clips. You know the story.

Still, all that was to change.

In the closing days of the war Trautmann was on the run with what was left of the German Army.

He managed to escape the Russians as well as French Resistance patrols keen on revenge.

But in his flight he vaulted over a hedgerow and fell into an ambush by a British unit.

Instead of a burst of Bren Gun fire Bert Trautmann was met with an invitation from a British soldier.

‘Hello Fritz, fancy a cup of tea?’

A cheeky greeting, right enough, it set the tone for his survival.

Capture was the beginning of an extraordinary transformation that left Trautmann feeling more English than German.

His turnaround began properly when he got to England as a prisoner of war.

There he was forced to attend lectures on open-mindedness, benevolence and empathy.

His days in camp were focused on finding an understanding and a sense of humanity.

Over time, Hitler youth brainwashing began to be reversed.

A kindness and goodwill took hold as captivity became less an incarceration than an education.

It was an eye-opening experience that prompted a turnaround on the Jews, as well. In fact, it was a stunning reversal.

Thanks to a film about Belsen shown to German POWs and a stint as a driver for Jewish officers in his camp, Trautmann was transformed and humanized.

A startling change.

Then there was football.

Trautmann played on POW teams in matches against amateur teams in the north of England.

He was exceptional on the field. Especially in goal.

That brought him to play for St. Helens and then on to top league team, Manchester City.

With that came a decision to reject repatriation to Germany. England was home, his past was repudiated.

The ex-Nazi and POW went on to become a legend at Manchester City, famously playing the last 18 minutes of the Cup Final against Birmingham City in 1956 with a broken neck.

Gutsy stuff. A captured Nazi soldier had become one of Britain’s most well known and most loved footballers.

More kudos was to come from Buckingham Palace. A former enemy was awarded an OBE in recognition of Anglo-German relations.

In subsequent years Truautmann coached football in Burma, Tanzania and Pakistan.

Turnaround complete.

But what about turnarounds for you; turnarounds in business?

How do you handle reversals, dark days, slow downs, profit warnings, trouble with your brand image?

How do you cope with fierce competition, changing technology and an economy that still can be daunting?

At times it seems impossible.

But ideas can change all that. It’s thinking that comes from a gut sensibility that is strong on perception and charged with emotion.

It’s the opposite of marketing-speak that washes over you and is instantly forgotten.

Maybe it’s hard to face, but when your content is no better than everyone else’s, that’s the definition of mediocrity.

We all know mediocrity won’t get you to the turnaround level.

Bert Trautmann knew it, as well.


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