“You’ve heard the stories about Volkswagen and Wacker coming in and it tends to be the same kind of success story over and over again,” Hoeferle said. “With these companies comes a different outlook on life, different mentalities, and a different type of people that have not been here before.”
According to Hoeferle, differences are not stopping the economic, social, cultural, and educational influence of the German culture in Southeast Tennessee.
“You have seen the economic impact,” Hoeferle said. “Wacker has spent $1.8 billion and Volkswagen’s investment will continue to grow as they expand, but is currently around $1.5 billion.”
Several other German-based companies are accompanying the Wacker and Volkswagen powerhouse. These include Linde, ThyssenKrupp, and Bayer Technology which provides Wacker with supplies. Within these companies will be both German and American workers.
“There is a difference in management,” Hoeferle said. “American leadership style can be described as how American football is played and coached. While German leadership can be described as how soccer, or football as we call it, is played and coached.”
Football involves a play, action, and then a break when the team may realign its strategies. This is a staggered approach to managing. The leader in soccer stands on the sidelines with very little interaction. The coach in soccer knows his players are able to perform within their appointed positions.
“These are two significantly different approaches to managing,” Hoeferle said. “As a supplier or vendor to a German company, you will deal with people who are used to the soccer style of management.”
Knowing the differences between the two cultures may lead to less misunderstandings. According to Hoeferle, Germans tend to be hard and scratchy on the outside and soft on the inside, like a coconut. Americans are often soft and sweet on the outside, but hard on the inside, like a peach.
“Germans tend to be more reserved. We need more time to warm up to strangers,” Hoeferle said. “Americans are more extroverted with strangers and their public and private life is interwoven.”
The social and cultural impact of Wacker and Volkswagen is the influx of newcomers numbering around 4,500 in total. With these individuals arrives a different mindset in the Tennessee Valley, Hoeferle said.
“My wife runs the Montessori school in Cleveland and every year we have Maifest. This began as a small celebration among parents and students from the school, but has progressively become larger,” Hoeferle said.
Maifest was held at First Street Square this year and was open to the public. Hoeferle said the estimated attendance was 650 people. Both Germans and Americans attended the celebration.
“With this influx of new people and new companies, there are new demands,” Hoeferle said. “For example, German courses have become more popular. At Walker Valley (High School), there used to be two German courses a year and now there are five.”
Hoeferle said an introduction of German-style job training initiatives has begun, as well. Other educational demands include a need for special programs at local schools for expatriate children and an introduction of an International Baccalaureate program.
Despite the differences, Hoeferle remains excited about the changes and the meeting of the southern German and Tennessee cultures. The Montessori Kinder International School in Cleveland has seen the demand and will be offering a beginner’s German course for adults in August. For more information, call 479-7282.
Hoeferle can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.