Interview with entrepreneur and Formula 1 legend Niki Lauda

“Fast is the only speed that counts”

In Niki Lauda’s world, everything is fast. Whether in business or economic policy, the go-getting, high-profile Austrian has no time for lethargy. In discussion with European Business, the three-times Formula 1 World Champion explains the reason for this and reveals what the world can expect from his newest airline LaudaMotion.

European Business: Mr. Lauda, at the beginning of the year you established your new airline LaudaMotion. Were you missing the airline business following the sale of FLY NIKI, or is there another reason for this decision?

Niki Lauda: It just happened. Ronny Pecik, who at that time was the owner of Amira Air, called me in December 2015. He wanted to sell his company and asked me if I would be interested. I had known the firm for many years and was very impressed by its development. Of course, my experience with LAUDA AIR and FLY NIKI was also a factor. In addition, I know the executive business really well because I have owned a plane myself for decades. All in all, these were sufficient reasons for me to take the challenge on.

View of the cabin of a Bombardier Global 6000

European Business: So LaudaMotion is not comparable with a classic airline?

Niki Lauda: No, we do not have much in common with a traditional airline. At the core of LaudaMotion is the operational management as well as the charter of privately-owned aircraft. That involves everything from pilot training to on-board catering to third-party rental. Ultimately, an aircraft owner does not want to have to deal with all the intricate details which are necessary for the business.

European Business: What differentiates your service from the competition?

Niki Lauda: Particularly important for me is the training and qualification of the pilots. Every airline sets its own standards. My experience enables me to select the very best pilots in the market.

“The ultimate measure is the safety standard ‘Made by Niki Lauda’.”

Niki Lauda

European Business: It is a very service-oriented business model which demands a high level of direct client contact. Does the name Niki Lauda make a difference?

Niki Lauda: As the Managing Director I am very close to the daily business. Naturally that includes direct contact with our clients. I always want to know whether the customers are satisfied; customer satisfaction is, after all, my ultimate goal! We want to differentiate ourselves from the competition, particularly in terms of demonstrating a passion for detail and superior quality.

European Business: What other roles do you fulfil for LaudaMotion?

The Bombardier Challenger 300 is part of LaudaMotion’s fleet

Niki Lauda: I see myself as the mind of the business which takes care of every last detail; if you do not do this you cannot be fast enough. But of course, I perform a sales role too, to get new clients on board. At the same time, I can effectively combine LaudaMotion with my other activities, such as my position on the board of the Mercedes Formula 1 team of Toto Wolff.

European Business: What are you now: businessman, Formula 1 legend or Mercedes Board Member?

Niki Lauda: With LaudaMotion I see myself as a classic middle market entrepreneur, and this is the role I fulfil.

European Business: Have your business endeavours at LaudaMotion produced a strong financial performance?

Niki Lauda: This year we will achieve a turnover of 50 million EUR. For me, that is a good result. Of course, you must always aim for further growth.

“With LaudaMotion I see myself as a classic middle market entrepreneur, and this is the role I fulfil.”

Niki Lauda

European Business: Many see a connection between growth and digital transformation. Are you following a specific strategy in terms of the modernization of your company?

Niki Lauda: That is not a theme for us. Very simply, we organize ourselves according to the needs of the business at any given time. We do not have any kind of start-up culture. We take the route that best facilitates the growth of LaudaMotion.

European Business: You have already undertaken a whole string of different professions. What links them all together?

Niki Lauda: I am someone who places great value on the detail. That was always the case, even in my days as a racing driver. If I had not taken care of the detail, then the car would not have run properly or would have been too slow. This focus on the detail has served me well in all my other activities. The name Niki Lauda and LaudaMotion creates a particular expectation, and under no circumstances can I disappoint.

European Business: What motivates Niki Lauda? What drives you?

Niki Lauda: It is innate [he laughs]. Some people are, like me, very driven, others less so. It was, of course, particularly strong during my time as a racing driver – if you did not have ambition in that world, you wouldn’t achieve anything. Whenever I see something that challenges me, I take it on.

European Business: Are there any specific experiences which you were able to take from the cockpit and use in the business world?

Niki Lauda is a passionate pilot himself and has been active in the airline business for decades

Niki Lauda: Don’t talk too much [he laughs again], be focused on the goal and achieve it. Grey zones do not interest me at all. Whenever there is discussion, I make it clear that I do not want any grey zones, just black and white. When you have something in black and white, you can deal with it quicker. You must always be faster and better than the others. The less you talk, the more time you have for the essential things.

European Business: So it is always about competition and victory?

Niki Lauda: Of course [he hesitates]. In this respect, business is much less transparent than a win in a Grand Prix; in a race you drive over the finishing line first and you have won. In business it is different. Nevertheless, I maintain that the maxim is still to be faster than the others.

“Grey zones do not interest me at all. Whenever there is discussion, I make it clear that I do not want any grey zones, just black and white.”

Niki Lauda

European Business: For many people you are a winner. However, you are also familiar with defeat. How do you deal with it?

Niki Lauda: To be honest, it is boring to talk about winning. Really, you should always discuss the defeats because you can learn much more from failure than from success. From success, you learn absolutely nothing. From failure and setbacks conclusions can be drawn. That goes for your private life as well as your career.

European Business: How do you see current developments in the airline industry?

Niki Lauda: The air travel industry moves into a new phase every five to six years. At the moment we have an oversupply situation. The executive sector has been impacted by the loss of the Russian market. We have not grown much in this sector but we have not suffered a decline. I believe it will change again in two or three years’ time because aircraft production in general has fallen, in line with market demands. As soon as the situation has stabilized, growth will begin again. It is a well-known cycle.

“Really, you should always discuss the defeats because you can learn much more from failure than from success. From success, you learn absolutely nothing.”

Niki Lauda

Entrepreneur in Focus

Andreas Nikolaus “Niki” Lauda


Be faster than the rest

CV in numbers

Born: 22 February 1947 in Vienna

Formula 1 driver; from 1971 until 1985 Lauda drove Formula 1. He was three-times World Champion (1975; 1977; 1984)

Airline entrepreneur: Prior to LaudaMotion, Lauda was engaged in LAUDA AIR (1979-2003) as well as FLY NIKI (2003-2011)

Mercedes Board Member: A member of the board of the Mercedes Formula 1 team since September 2012 (Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd)

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