loading...

Breaking Through

Text 
Christoph Lungwitz

Photos
Tobias Sagmeister

Performance is at the heart of how Michael Groß lives his life – in sport, at work and behind the wheel. The motto of Germany’s most successful swimmer to-date is “Anybody can win!” We join him on a tour through his hometown of Frankfurt in the new Audi S8 plus*.

The pinnacle of sporting character – the Audi S8 plus

Supreme performance united with sporty elegance – this is what makes the Audi S8 plus the brand’s new top model in the fullsize sedan segment. With a power output of 445 kW (605 hp) and torque of up to 750 Nm, the 4.0-liter TFSI engine accelerates the car from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.8 seconds. In Germany, the top speed ex-works is 305 km/h.

In terms of looks, the S8 plus consciously limits itself to subtle, sporty accents. It can be identified from the outside by its exclusive paintwork in florett silver matt, tinted rear lights and select design elements in carbon fiber. This elegantly sporty line is continued in the interior with black leather with contrasting stitching in red. The list price for the Audi S8 plus in Germany is 145,200 euros. Assistance systems, sports exhaust and ceramic brakes are of course all part of the standard equipment package.

In the final, your own performance contributes
only around 12.5 percent to your success. You have no influence on the
performance of the other seven swimmers in the pool.

Michael Groß
The Olympic Champion

Michael Groß, celebrated sports star of the 1980s, three-time Olympic champion, the Albatross. Do you actually know who it was that gave you your nickname back then?

Groß: It was a reporter with French sports magazine, L’Équipe, who showed up at the German Championships in Hanover in 1983. That’s when I set my first world record in the 200-meter freestyle. And because journalists copy each other all the time, the name Albatross quickly spread throughout the media.

If you look at the number of titles won at international championships, you are still Germany’s most successful swimmer to-date. What does performance mean to Michael Groß the athlete?

Groß: The notion of performance is obviously at the center of all sports, although performance should not be confused with success. Take swimming as an example. In the final, your own performance contributes only around 12.5 percent to your success. You have no influence on the remaining 87.5 percent, i.e. the performance of the other seven swimmers in the pool.

Change means not being satisfied with today’s success,
which is based on yesterday’s skills.

Michael Groß
The University Lecturer

So you can’t plan success in sport?

Groß: In the first instance, all you can plan on is your own performance. Success is some thing else entirely. That’s how I became World Champion in the 200-meter freestyle in Madrid in 1986 – although I didn’t deliver my best possible performance. The trainer came to me and said: Son, that was a pretty poor showing. And that thinking has stuck with me.

Today, you manage a communications agency, lecture at Frankfurt colleges and universities and make presentations as a change manager. What is your understanding of change?

Groß: Change means not being satisfied with today’s success, which is based on yesterday’s skills. Instead, you have to really want to take the next step. If you only do what you can, you will always stay as you are.

That sounds clear and straightforward. But why do so many people struggle with change?

Groß: Not everyone is an explorer or entrepreneur. Not everyone is a Christopher Colum bus. This is something that’s often for gotten during change processes. You can foster the preparedness for change if you act ually recognize your employees’ uncertainties. People have to be allowed to pause for a moment and let go. It makes people more prepared to enter unchartered territory.

My greatest performance?
I once swam a marathon. There were no newspaper reports, no trophies.
And yet, I learnt something about myself

Michael Groß
The Swimming Star

What does the notion of performance mean in professional life?

Groß: Here, too, it’s about the intrinsic will to keep improving – whereby professional life has considerably more gray areas. There are often no objective benchmarks at work, with performance determined by soft factors, i.e. evaluation by line managers and customers. By way of comparison, sport has simple and clear rules. You swim 100 meters and that’s it. It doesn’t matter how many calories you consume or how much CO2 you produce. In the business context, the consumption of resources and sustainability play a major role these days.

In elite sport, the person who comes second is often already seen as the first loser. So why is your first book
entitled Siegen kann jeder (Anybody can win)?

Groß: That’s the difference between performance and success. Anyone can achieve their own performance potential and score their own personal triumph. It’s the specific plea to take care of yourself for once.

From that standpoint, what do you, a three-time Olympic champion, consider to be your greatest personal
achievement?

Groß: Honestly, I once swam a marathon. I completed the 42.195 kilometers in eight hours and 22 minutes. There were no newspaper reports, no trophies. I didn’t even get any praise at home. And yet, I learnt something about myself – I found new limits and overcame them.

Not everyone is an explorer or entrepreneur.
Not everyone is a Christopher Columbus.
This is something that’s often forgotten during change processes.

Michael Groß
The Change Manager

Performance is important when it comes to cars, too. What do horsepower and torque mean to you as a driver?

Groß: The conversion of competence into achievement – that’s true performance. This equation applies to cars, too. How does it benefit a company to have the best engineers if they are unable to work together to design and build a car that brings performance to the road? All sorts of parameters factor into that – the engine with its power, obviously, but also the weight of the car, its stiffness, its chassis.

For you, is a car a means of transport or a status symbol?

Groß: For me, a car is an attitude to life. My car should give me the feeling of being fast, but also of being practical. A powerful luxury sedan represents exactly this attitude – I could if I wanted to.

To round things off, let’s leave the road and head back to the pool. When was the last time you were in a swimming pool?

Groß: In the spring. I like to go to the pool two to three times a year. I’m more of a lake guy these days.

Michael Groß, thank you for speaking to us.

The conversion of competence into achievement –
that’s true performance. This equation applies to cars, too.

Michael Groß
The Driver

About Michael Groß

With a total of 21 titles at the Olympic Games as well as the World and European Championships, Michael Groß still remains Germany’s most successful swimmer. Above all, it was his three Olympic gold medals in Los Angeles (1984) and Seoul (1988) that made him a celebrated sporting idol and earned him the title of Germany’s “Sportsman of the Year” no fewer than four times.

Outside the pool, the native of Frankfurt began his career studying German philology as well as politics and media, before earning his PhD in philology in 1994. Today, Michael Groß is an independent business consultant, providing companies with support in change processes. The 51 year-old also lectures at two colleges in his home city – Johann Wolfgang Goethe University and the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management.

* Audi S8 plus:
Combined fuel consumption in l/100 km: 10.0 – 9.9
Combined CO2 emissions in g/km: 231 – 229