Dekeyser on Markus Lanz (ZDF), 2012
7 October 1964
|Occupation||Entrepreneur (founder of DEDON (de); former professional footballer|
|Years active||1980–1991 (footballer), 1990–present (entrepreneur)|
|Spouse(s)||Ann-Kathrin Dekeyser (−2010)|
|Children||Carolin, Yannik, Marie|
Robert "Bobby" Dekeyser (born 7 October 1964) is a Belgian-German entrepreneur and former football goalkeeper. He is best known as the founder of DEDON (de), a Germany-based manufacturer of exclusive outdoor furniture with distribution in more than 80 countries. An outdoor enthusiast, Dekeyser is also the founder of DEDON ISLAND, a luxury resort in the Philippines, and DEDON TRAVEL, an outdoor-oriented travel agency. His autobiography, Unverkäuflich ('Not for Sale'), released in Germany in May 2012, rose to the top of that country's business book sales charts.
Dekeyser was born in Leuven, Belgium, the eldest son of entrepreneurs who divorced when he was young. Raised in Belgium, Austria and Germany, he recalls his childhood as "chaotic", leaving him with a deep-seated longing for harmony. A self-described rebel and school truant, he turned to football as a source of discipline and self-esteem. At 14, he won a talent contest, earning himself a place at the New York soccer camp of his idol, the Brazilian striker Pelé, whom he credits with encouraging him to "just follow your dreams". At the age of 15, having attended nine different schools, Dekeyser stood up in English class and announced that he was dropping out to become a professional footballer.
In 1980, at the age of 16, Dekeyser joined the Junior A-League team 1. FC Kaiserslautern as goalkeeper, staying with them until 1982, when he was called up for military service in Belgium. On his release, in 1984, he joined Royal Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium's second division. In 1986, on the recommendation of the FC Bayern Munich goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, Dekeyser was brought in as a replacement for the team's reserve keeper, who was sidelined with a long-term injury. A year later he was transferred to another Bundesliga team, 1. FC Nürnberg, where he continued to serve as reserve goalkeeper.
After a season at Belgium's first-division KRC Genk, Dekeyser transferred in 1989 to TSV 1860 München, where he served as starting goalkeeper. In his sixteenth appearance for the team, he was seriously injured by an elbow blow to the face, spending several weeks in hospital. During his convalescence, he learned from the newspapers that he had been replaced as goalkeeper. Despite his anger at the manner of his dismissal, Dekeyser was persuaded to make a three-game comeback for 1860 Munich when the replacement goalkeeper was himself injured. He describes these as the "best three games of my career". Although numerous offers from first and second division teams followed, he retired from professional football at the end of the 1990–1991 season.
Dekeyser founded his first company, DEDON, while still in the hospital, recovering from his facial injury. He readily admits that he had no business plan or clear idea of what DEDON would do or sell. His motivation was "to have fun working with family and friends", which he has since described as a motto of the company. DEDON's first products were hand-painted skis, 80 pairs of which were sold, 50 of them later returned. It was only after a stint selling raffia giraffes, imported from Madagascar, that the company changed its focus to outdoor furniture.
Dekeyser had first begun developing his idea of an 'outdoor living room', furnished with the same attention to comfort, quality and aesthetics usually reserved for indoor living rooms, in the late 1980s. Following his retirement from professional soccer, he worked closely with his uncle, an engineer and expert at plastics extrusion, to create a durable, weather-resistant synthetic fiber (known today as DEDON Fiber) with a natural look and feel. Unsure of how to take his idea of the 'outdoor living room' further, however, he had to put it on hold.
Then, during a visit to the Cologne furniture fair in 1991, Dekeyser met a furniture manufacturer from Cebu in the Philippines, an island known for the craftsmanship of its weavers. The manufacturer agreed to help him produce woven rattan furniture using synthetic DEDON Fiber. Soon after, Dekeyser moved his family to Cebu where, for six months, he worked to develop DEDON's first woven products. On returning to Germany, he and his wife, Ann-Kathrin, purchased an old farm on Lüneburg Heath, close to Hamburg Harbor, where DEDON furniture from the Philippines was now being shipped.
In its first decade, the company, which consisted of a small group of family and friends sharing business duties and chores on the farm, grew slowly. A converted chicken coop served as Dekeyser's office. Arriving furniture was stored in the barn. Then, in 2000, DEDON opened its own production facility in the Philippines, on Cebu island, allowing it better to control the design and quality of its furniture. This, along with the adoption of powder-coated aluminum frames, the introduction of more contemporary designs and the development of innovative marketing campaigns, helped DEDON to grow rapidly. Over the next five years, sales increased by more than 1,300 percent. Within a span of eight years, the Cebu staff expanded from seven employees to 3,600.
In 2004, Dekeyser established new headquarters for the company on the outskirts of Lüneburg. The headquarters, which included a state-of-the-art facility production for DEDON Fiber, received press attention in Germany for their relaxed, family-like atmosphere and the numerous perks employees enjoyed, including billiards, yoga, sauna, gym and chef. In the Philippines, meanwhile, employees were receiving above-average pay, free health insurance, free transportation to the factory and affordable loans and services from an employee-owned cooperative bank. Berlin's Der Tagesspiegel daily newspaper dubbed Dekeyser's emphasis on employee satisfaction, both in Germany and the Philippines, "The Bobby Principle".
In 2006, Dekeyser sold a 49-percent stake in DEDON to a US-based private equity firm but soon regretted the sale. The "friendly atmosphere" of the company was being replaced by a focus on "money and numbers", he later explained. With the financial help of investor Daniel Borer, a Swiss physician, who assumed a minority interest in DEDON in 2009, Dekeyser was able to pay back the bank loans the private equity company had left behind.
Since the buyback, Dekeyser has taken steps to restore DEDON to its earlier atmosphere and values. He has also sought to revitalize the brand's communication, releasing image campaigns, short films and a limited-edition book all shot by American fashion photographer Bruce Weber, whom Dekeyser has described as "very much on our wavelength". Other communications initiatives include the launch of the DEDON Tour du Monde catalog shoot, described as an ongoing, around-the-world journey to discover "unique places and moments under the open skies". As of Spring 2012, the Tour du Monde had included stops in Kenya, India, Thailand, Mexico, South Africa, the Seychelles, New York City, Megève in France and the Philippine island of Siargao.
Dekeyser has established relationships with several new designers since the buyback, most notably with Philippe Starck, who launched Play, his first collection for DEDON, at the 2010 Milan Furniture Fair. In a promotional video made at the time, Starck is quoted saying, "Everybody loves Bobby". Other designers associated with Dekeyser include Jean-Marie Massaud and Stephen Burks, the latter of whom appeared in a video with Dekeyser to promote the launch of his Dala collection for DEDON at the 2012 Milan Furniture Fair.
In 2010, less than a year after Dekeyser's return, DEDON opened a wholly owned US subsidiary, DEDON USA, followed soon after by the launch of DEDON's first US showroom, located in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. A Los Angeles showroom was opened in early 2012. Due to DEDON's growing activities in the US, Dekeyser spends increasing time in New York City, although his main residence remains Hamburg, Germany.
Since Dekeyser's return, DEDON has also launched a boutique travel agency, DEDON TRAVEL, dedicated to outdoor-oriented travel and adventure. In spring of 2012, the company also opened DEDON ISLAND on the Philippine island of Siargao. The resort, billed as an 'Outdoor Living Lab,' is reported to be the first of numerous DEDON PLACES, high-end retreats with an emphasis on outdoor activity.
In 2009, Dekeyser co-founded the Dekeyser&Friends along with Florian Hoffmann. The Foundation is based in Geneva and aims "to inspire young people to follow their dreams and bring about change in the world". Since its inception, the foundation has brought young people aged 18 to 28 together for encounters with mentors, or 'friends', such as German Olympic double gold medalist skier Markus Wasmeier and Turkish traditional dance troupe leader Mustafa Erdoğan.
One initiative of the foundation was the Hamburg-based D&F Academy, described as a "platform where knowledgeable and inspiring personalities can pass on their experience to young people from around the world in hands-on learning projects". The academy's inaugural program was led by British anthropologist and environmentalist Jane Goodall, its second program by the former German national team and Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. In 2013 the D&F Academy underwent restructuring and now exists as The DO School, with Dekeyser acting as Chairman of the Board.
Other philanthropic activities of the Dekeyser&Friends Foundation include participation in a project to rehouse 50 families of scavengers from a Cebu city dumpsite to a new, purpose-built village in Compostela town in northern Cebu. The project includes training in skills such as weaving.
In September 2010, while on a business trip to the Philippines, Dekeyser received the news that Ann-Kathrin, his wife of more than 20 years, was in a coma back in Germany. She died before he could make it home. The story serves as the prologue of Unverkäuflich ('Not For Sale'), Dekeyser's autobiography, published by Ankerherz Verlag in May 2012. Dekeyser credits family and old friends with helping him recover after an eight-month period he describes as a "hole that could not be deeper or blacker".
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