Serving Customers - Serving Voters: Entrepreneur & Politician
Sepp Schellhorn is Spokesman for Economic Affairs and Industry, Tourism, Energy, and Culture for NEOS in the National Council. In April 2017, he also assumed the chairmanship of the Cultural Committee of the Austrian National Council. He is married and has three children.
Why did you decide to become a restaurateur?
I grew up in a hotel, a classic tourism business. As a firstborn. One could say: There are working people and smart alecks. My brother was sent to Vienna to study at the university ... No, joking aside, I was quite literally born into it. We grew up in the hotel. The hotel lobby was our living and study room. Back then I only saw two ways to impress people – at that time, that meant girls: either you can cook well or you can play the piano – in a bar. But already at the age of 14, I realised that I didn’t have any musical talent. So, I became a chef – a very good one even. And even better: I travelled the world as a chef, conquering the world at the age of 18. There’s something about that. It was really awesome ... Pisa, Trento, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Paris, Munich, Badgastein, Goldegg – these were my destinations (...) and with Goldegg, I was home again. I smelled the nature, the lake and the kitchen and there, my decision was made: I have come to stay.
When and why did you become politically active?
I became politically active because I couldn’t stand it anymore. The daily bureaucratic hurdles, the inspections, the tax burden on my business. The poor school education of my children and employees. I didn’t see anyone representing my political interests. – At a political start-up, I got the chance and seized it. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to read a newspaper or switch on the TV ever again. I would have had to emigrate. But I love Austria too much to do that. It’s our damned duty to help shape the world, to make a contribution. That’s my mission, even if this attitude is sometimes detrimental to me. But doing nothing is out of the question. I just want my employees to have more in their pockets after taxes. I am standing up for them.
What is special about restaurateurs who are active in politics?
I believe I can say of myself that in politics, I work purposefully, stubbornly, with discipline and unselfishly for the cause ...
You have an entrepreneurial background: Do you think it is easier for you to communicate the decisions politicians make to other business people?
Sure thing! But unfortunately, there are too few who venture into politics. It is so important to play a part in this process and not just talk about it. It helps that as an entrepreneur I can schedule my political activities myself. I’m considered more of a fossil here, but also as extremely authentic.
Are you able to balance the two things? You are a Member of Parliament and work in gastronomy. How can you handle all these tasks (simultaneously)?
The balance between my activities as a restaurateur and as a member of the National Council is achieved because I have great employees, both in the political arena and in my five companies. Both “vessels” are generally well connected to each other. Open communication and due appreciation are needed. This interview is the right place to thank my employees ... my success is based on all the great people I have the opportunity to work with.
The hotel and restaurant industry is of central importance for METRO. It’s about making people feel welcome, many say it feels like being invited to someone’s home. So, do you think that those working in the hospitality industry have a special way of thinking and acting that comes close to what politics demands of people?
People in the hospitality industry have their own way of approaching people. I had to learn that first. I used to always hide in the kitchen. The front desk wasn’t my thing. Guests enjoy being looked after. This is the most important thing in the hotel and catering industry. People want to feel understood and have trust that their needs are being addressed by policymakers. In this respect, the service mentality of the hospitality industry also helps in the world of politics.