Serving Customers - Serving Voters: Entrepreneur & Politician
We talked about the challenges of being an independent businessman and politician with Internet entrepreneur and FDP politician Jimmy Schulz – about how he combines both passions and about how every setback also offers an opportunity.
Jimmy Schulz is a man of action. He already founded his first own company while he was a student and later took it public. Because he felt restricted in his entrepreneurial freedom by political measures, he joined the FDP and has since fought for his convictions and his passion – digitisation – on the political stage. Jimmy Schulz has been a member of the German Bundestag again since 2017. He chairs the Digital Agenda Committee and is a member of the Internal Affairs Committee.
There is hardly anyone in federal politics who has been preoccupied with the topic of new media – including as an entrepreneur – for as long as you have. When did you discover your interest in it?
I have had a passion for technology all my life. When I was in seventh grade, I had computer science lessons and that immediately fascinated me. But I didn’t get my first PC until my 16th birthday. Before that I queued up at the department store, fiddling with a demonstration computer for ten minutes to see what a Commodore C-64 can do. When I finally had my own computer, I programmed everything that was needed for my mother’s medical practice: data management, word processing, printer drivers and so on. My mother was glad somebody would take care of it and have fun with it. And that I did!
I wrote my diploma thesis in 1999 on the topic “Cryptography on the Internet – a policy and political science challenge in the information society”. I also worked in various IT companies and finally, while studying political science, I founded my own company with friends, CyberSolutions, which still exists today. We were one of the first companies at that time to deal with everything related to the Internet. The need was there, the business grew, we got investors, in 2000 we went public, it was going great. Then things moved downhill, we lost a lot of money and had to start over again.
It was a dream come true for me when I was finally able to follow my passion for everything digital as a member of parliament and had the opportunity to make a difference myself!
In the year 2000, you became a member of the FDP. What prompted you to become involved in politics?
There were two main reasons for this. On the one hand, I suddenly had more time to get involved in politics, something that I had always been interested in. In addition, the Red-Green government wanted to introduce the Telecommunications Surveillance Ordinance in 1998 and I felt politically restricted in my freedom as an entrepreneur. I wanted to take a stand. So I joined the FDP, which at that time received little attention in Bavaria, and found my political home there until today. In 2002, I was elected to the municipal council of Hohenbrunn, was a member of the county council of Munich-Land, 3rd mayor of Hohenbrunn, candidate for the state parliament and finally became a member of the German Bundestag in 2009. As a member of the Internal Affairs Committee, I was responsible for IT security and privacy, and a member of the Internet and Digital Society Enquiry Commission. It was a dream come true for me when I was finally able to follow my passion for everything digital as a member of parliament and had the opportunity to make a difference myself!
You just said you wanted to take a stand. In what way have political values and convictions had an influence on your working life and political commitment?
I have always been driven by the issues of privacy, freedom of expression and participation. My mother was a refugee from the GDR, I grew up with the feeling that the telephone calls with my family in East Germany were tapped. This has left its mark on me, because the fear of being eavesdropped on leads people to think several times about what they can say and to be afraid of openly expressing their opinions. That must never happen again, that is something I am committed to – in my parliamentary work, in my voluntary work, but also in my business activities.
For me, defeats have been and always will be opportunities to reflect, to do better and to take responsibility.
The FDP did not succeed in entering the Bundestag after the federal elections in 2013. Are defeats in politics similar to setbacks as an entrepreneur? What mechanisms do you resort to in order to carry on or get up again?
Two events have shaped my political career: In 2008 I barely missed moving into the state parliament and in 2013 the FDP parliamentary group was put on involuntary leave. That’s when I asked myself: What now? It was clear to me that I would not abandon digital affairs, even outside the Bundestag. That’s why I founded LOAD – the association for liberal internet policy – and became very involved in international committees. I returned to my company CyberSolutions, which we were able to expand within a short time. And since 2017 I have been a member of the German Bundestag again – as the Chairman of the Digital Agenda Committee and again as a member of the Internal Affairs Committee.
For me, defeats have been and always will be opportunities to reflect, to do better and to take responsibility. Besides: I am and remain an uncompromising optimist and when everything goes awry once again, I trust in the certainty that all problems can be solved. This helps me not only as a businessman, but also in my work in the German Bundestag. I would like to give this piece of advice to young people and founders in particular: Be brave!
I would like to give this piece of advice to young people and founders in particular: Be brave!
How do the challenges in business and politics differ? Or are they pretty much alike at the bottom of it?
It depends. One big difference is that as an entrepreneur I determine my own schedule. As a politician, on the other hand, my schedule dictates what I do. On the other hand, one thing they have in common is that you have to promote your ideas. When I started my work as a member of the Bundestag in 2009, we internet politicians were considered colourful characters, outsiders. That’s different now. Network policy has reached (almost) everybody and has touched on all policy areas. This is because we have raised awareness of the issue over many years. However, a company with good ideas can probably achieve success more quickly.
As an independent businessman, you are used to deciding things on your own – how difficult or easy is it for you to compromise in politics?
The search for a solution capable of winning a majority, i.e. the process on which democracy is based, is one of the most exciting aspects! This is similar in business negotiations. But if you are convinced of an idea, a vision, you should stand up for it, even if you rub some people the wrong way! As a young MP, for example, I already believed in 2010 that technical progress must finally take hold in Parliament and fought for it. Back then, I gave a speech not using notes on paper, but on an iPad. What is perfectly normal today was a scandal at the time, as there were no provisions for it! My iPad speech then triggered a small revolution: after long deliberations at the highest level, the rules of procedure of the German Bundestag were adapted, tablets and other technical aids have since been officially permitted in the plenum. My iPad has now found a place in the Museum of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn.
It is self-employed people in particular who can bring more determination and passion to Parliament.
What would change if more members of the Bundestag were independent business owners?
It is self-employed people in particular who can bring more determination and passion to Parliament. In addition, it has always helped me to be able to juggle many things at the same time and keep track of developments. When you have a passion for something, you also want to achieve it, make a difference. Sometimes things happen faster, sometimes you need a lot of stamina – whether in a start-up or in politics. You have to deal with that, but you learn that in time.
Throughout my life, I have always been able to benefit from my experience in both areas and draw motivation from both. What is particularly important to me in this context is the preservation of freedom, responsibility for the greater whole, mutual respect, but also not losing the ability to be enthusiastic and to enjoy your work.
Your focus, both as an entrepreneur and as a politician, is digitisation. How great are the challenges facing businesses and policymakers in this regard in the coming years?
We are facing great challenges that will dramatically change our everyday lives, whether political, professional or private – even if many will only realise it after the fact. And as Chairman of the Digital Agenda Committee, I want to contribute to ensuring that digitisation receives the status it deserves in the German Bundestag, as well as in our economy and society!
But for everyone to benefit from the potential of digitisation, fibre connections must be a matter of course for every household and every business. We also need an education initiative, because without state-of-the-art learning, we will not be able to make the opportunities of digitisation accessible to all age groups. We need to strengthen the start-up scene and rapidly digitise administrative services, which hold great potential for efficiency and, in the area of Open Data, there is also tremendous potential for innovative business models. IT security also has to change. We need a right to encryption and we must finally give the issues of data security and data protection the status they deserve – the data breach that we learned about at the beginning of January was hopefully a wake-up call for everyone!