After 42 years of service with Porsche, Claudia Schäffner’s active career is drawing to a close. For 29 years, she was responsible for driving training at the Porsche Sport Driving School. She also made a name for herself as Club coordinator for the European and international Clubs, a position she held for eleven years. Throughout her time at Porsche, her focus was always on customer proximity – being close to customers wherever they are, with her special sense of responsibility and authenticity.
78-78 - a number which is easy to remember. On 7.8.1978, Claudia Schäffner started her life with and for Porsche. After graduating from the university of applied sciences, she followed in the same footsteps as her childhood friend and started her career at Porsche as an industrial management assistant. Industry was not something Claudia Schäffner felt altogether comfortable with, and she actually wanted to do something creative. However, she had been dreaming about working for the sports car manufacturer from Zuffenhausen since her youth and thus sent the company the one and only application she has ever written in her life. She still remembers today that 680 young people applied for positions at the company. Around 40 were accepted, nine of whom were trainee industrial management assistants like herself. She started on August 7 and spent the first three weeks filing steel, hammering fins, deburring edges and reading tolerances. Every trainee had to start out this way and 17-year old Claudia found it exciting “because you learned so many new things”.
Porsche had around 3,600 employees in those days. Besides the already legendary 911, the 928 had just been launched, and the 924 was still fitted with an Audi 100 engine. There were no computers, just an in-house mail system. Telephones still had rotary dials, but when you had to make a call about something, it would be taken care of as quickly as possible. Deals were finalized with a handshake. In those days, you had time cards to punch in and out of work and if you needed a new pad of paper you had to show the back cover of the old pad to prove it was empty. Employees were also given meal vouchers and had to decide at the start of the week what they wanted to eat throughout the week. Traditionally, you also met up on Fridays for an after work drink to casually discuss important matters.
That’s how it used to be in those days – and not only at Porsche. Yet Porsche offered something unique which other companies didn’t: you felt the spirit of company founder Ferry Porsche throughout the company. “That was something really special,” remembers Claudia Schäffner, thinking back to her early years with the company. “When Ferry Porsche entered the room, he filled it with his charismatic personality, which was something very impressive.” And it was always something that gave you a sense of pride, she reports. On the occasion of Ferry Porsche’s 75th birthday, Claudia Schäffner was one of the trainees who were invited to take part in the celebrations at the Porsche Villa. Claudia Schäffner was given the task of reading out a poem in honour of Ferry Porsche on behalf of all the trainees. That was no small feat for a trainee just starting out!
At that time job rotation was already being used in the company to develop trainees alongside their education at the vocational schools. This helped Claudia to get to know all aspects of the company. After the practical part, her first stop was in Production, followed by Purchasing, Quality Control, Accounting and finally Sales and the Press Department. It was there that Claudia Schäffner learned under her mentor, Jürgen Barth. Once she had finished her traineeship, Claudia knew she wanted to join either the Press or Sales Promotion Department because, in her words, “that’s where exciting projects were being planned”. You also had direct contact with the customers there and that’s where she definitely wanted to be. Shortly afterwards, in May 1980, Claudia Schäffner took up the position of industrial management assistant at the Porsche Sport Driving School: Hans Christian Ernst was her first Team Lead, Dieter Scholl her Head of Department and the legendary Harald Wagner was her first Head of Main Department.
Her first jobs included managing the registrations and entry fees as well as booking instructors. Later, she was responsible for allocating groups, recruiting instructors and looking after the fleet of cars belonging to the Sport Driving School. “At the end, we had a pool of 60 instructors – all of them Porsche employees from the different plants,” she reports. “My area of responsibility gradually expanded and, at some point, I was responsible for all the invitations and for developing new training courses such as the sports driver training course, C-licence or winter training sessions, firstly in Seefeld and then in Rovaniemi.” Together with Tarmo Kuusela, Maisa Lukkarinnen and rally driver Rauno Aaltonen, she established the winter training courses held at the Arctic Circle together with her instructors. Claudia Schäffner also launched the first icebreaker experience as well as the Exclusive training in Mugello.
“We were a tight-knit community in the Sport Driving School. All the instructors came either from Weissach or Zuffenhausen,” says Claudia Schäffner. “You worked closely with the guys from Weissach on developments and discussed, for example, the advantages of the four-wheel drive or the limited-slip differential.” Over the years, she developed into a training specialist, managing the track discussions and developing the track design together with the other instructors. She obtained the national C licence and naturally took part in nearly all of the driving courses.
But Claudia Schäffner didn’t just work for the Sport Driving School, she also sold Porsche surfboards. At the Nürburgring track, she looked after the Porsche pavilions when Porsche teams were still racing in Group C. She also managed the VIP hospitality for the Tennis Grand Prix in Filderstadt, Germany. She organised the finals tournaments on several occasions for the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, an event that took place through the dealers, as well as the German golf finals in Bad Griesbach. She also spent one year planning driving days as part of the test drive programme for interested customers. During her years at Porsche, she was also responsible for driving programmes at the international dealer launch events:
this included the launch of the 996 with Gerd Mäuser in 1996, the Cayenne on the island of Sardinia in 2003 and finally the 997 C4 with Wendelin Wiedeking on Mallorca in 2008. “In 1998, I was responsible for a total of 35 events in just one year,” she says. Presentations, driving days, golf and tennis tournaments, IAA stand evenings, the launch of the 959 – these were all events and presentations that were organised alongside the Sport Driving School. However, Claudia Schäffner was in her element. The diversity of responsibilities was typical for Porsche in those days – and for all-rounders such as herself.
After 29 years at the Sport Driving School, a new opportunity presented itself to Claudia Schäffner in 2009: a move to the Porsche Community Management in the team of Sandra Siegloch. The trademark “Schäffner”, who had supported 1,000 customers a year at the Sport Driving School, took the opportunity to try her hand at something new. “The time had come, and the new job with Sandra and the Porsche Clubs fascinated me from the word go.” It was not completely new territory for her. Back in the 1980s, she had distributed Club service brochures to Sport Driving School participants for Ilse Nädele.
In her work as Club coordinator, she again found something that she had liked so much at the Sport Driving School, namely direct customer feedback. Moreover, she enjoyed getting to know another channel of customer support. “At the Sport Driving School, I was merely a service provider for the customer. Here, the focus was elsewhere – I could offer support to the Clubs for which I was responsible.” Support from which both sides could benefit: The Club support department helps people come together and ensures that the community spirit of the Clubs is not lost. “Porsche Club members are those who spread Porsche’s DNA around the world with their enthusiasm, passion and no end of pleasure and euphoria, as well as absolute commitment to the brand. And what is spread around the world will continue to live on.”
She has always been fascinated with how Club members treat their cars “with special love and care”. “I’ve always particularly enjoyed looking into the eyes of our customers when they climb out of their cars or when they talk about their cars. There is a certain sparkle. Something that you only get with a Porsche.” To get the same sparkling smile from people as thanks for the great events and special experiences she organised was always a priceless reward for Claudia Schäffner. “This sign of gratitude was always a confirmation that I had made the right decision and the job was the right one for me.” She was often assured that events organised by and with Claudia Schäffner had a special type of charm. “And reliability,” adds Claudia Schäffner. She sees this combination as the recipe of success for her events. To Claudia, career always meant doing her job well by delivering reliability, authenticity as well as customer proximity.
She had a total of 240 Clubs under her wing. Her area of responsibility took her all around the world, spanning an unusually large territory, from New Zealand and Australia, the Middle East right up to Russia and down again to South Africa, from Scandinavia to throughout Europe. “Europe covers so many nations and the mentalities of people couldn’t be more different,” explains Claudia Schäffner. “But what unites everyone is the Porsche DNA. Here borders know no boundaries. Everyone has something in common and that something is Porsche. And every heart beats the same, regardless of which language you use to talk about Porsche.”
Over the years she established a total of 53 new Porsche Clubs. That is not just an impressive number but a lot of hard work too. Some Clubs can prove to be a challenge to establish because of the local situations. Others are complicated to set up due to the legal requirements of the particular country. Some Clubs also have unfavourable conditions from the offset in their country. “But it’s always fascinating to see how, despite all the odds and difficulties, Clubs still try to drive their Porsche cars in their country.” They are greatful to be associated with Porsche AG and appreciate the feeling that they are not alone. “I just like being close to my Clubs and the markets.” Because, in her opinion, that is the only way of really understanding the needs and concerns of Club members. She knows just how much customers appreciate the feeling of being addressed personally, of having their passion understood by others, of being able to express their individuality “and that Community Management does everything it can for this to work in practice.”
In her role as an event specialist with years of experience under her belt, Claudia Schäffner also has major Club events on her resumee. She was responsible for the European Porsche Parades and supported the Clubs with her experience in the choice of location and equipment. The annual European Porsche Club Committee and International Club Presidents’ Meetings were also her responsibility. She provided creative ideas, exciting new locations and new content year after year. She was responsible for the celebrations for 60 years of Porsche Clubs worldwide, hosted the Club part at the 70 years of Porsche sport cars event and organised the internationally popular IAA Club evenings. She assisted Karl Steiner with the Porsche Days at Zell am See and even organised a Presidents’ Meeting in Australia. There were also other organisational matters to take care of, including the content management system and promotional items as well as the redesign of the Club manual. Together with the Clubs, she rolled out the new corporate identity for the Club logos.
With such an eventful career, one has to ask about the extra special highlights. “Every decade and every year brought their own highlights, the likes of which had never been seen before. Being there in that actual moment was always the best,” she says. “Times change of course, but that doesn't take anything away from your experiences.” She still remembers the first time she saw a car driving through a laser tunnel. “Today, that would be nothing spectacular at all.” Or the first journey on an icebreaker for the 25th anniversary of the Sport Driving School, “that was something not many people had done at the time, never mind bathing in ice-cold waters in a protective wetsuit. But in that actual moment when you experience it, it was the absolute highlight.”
An unforgettable moment was definitely the International Club Presidents’ Meeting in South Africa for the launch of the 911 model 991 when planes flew over the hangar. The Althorp House National Event organised by the Porsche Club Great Britain. The Porsche Parade in New Zealand. “That was a real highlight.” The Porsche Parade in South Africa and naturally the Porsche Parade Europe 2016 in Croatia and Slovenia. “I’d spent time preparing another Club tour beforehand, the Alpe Adria Tour through two countries. In addition, after seeing that, I returned to the Community Management and said: Sandra, that is something we have to do! It will be the first parade in two countries.”
“What has stayed with me throughout my professional career is a fascination for our cars. It is part of who I am and I must have been born with this passion.” When she looks at a Porsche, even today she immediately feels a sense of pleasure and curiosity. Porsche, for Claudia Schäffner, is the unmistakable sound, the engine start, the dynamic power which the car radiates. “The impatience inherent in the car, the sound of the doors, the smell of the interior leather, and the claim to always be different than the others.” Moreover, this legend that can never really be expressed in words but “you can live it.”
Being given the chance to work for this company, for this product and for the people that belong here, “who have the same DNA and share the same fascination” – for Claudia Schäffner, that was the special aspect of her professional career. “I’m left with an enormous feeling of gratitude. The company has rewarded me with so many fantastic experiences, even during difficult and testing times at work and with challenges. Because, even at Porsche, there are rainy days and sunny days. But when the sun shines at Porsche, it shines brighter here than anywhere else.”
In addition to this there remains the people who she has had the pleasure to know, whose hearts are in the right place and who have the same commitment and share the same passion as herself. “Personal encounters, the many talks and discussions which I have held over the years, the knowledge which I have gained – nobody can take these memories away.” And there are the many acquaintances and friendships with colleagues, customers and business partners that will continue to exist when she leaves: the Porsche friends and family remain.
What is next? The phrase is cumbersome and does not suit Claudia Schäffner at all: Semi-retirement sabbatical. In other words, a departure from her active working life. Even though she is still coming to terms with the idea, she is taking advantage of this positive momentum: “For me personally, I have now come full circle.” As a child, she was a Porsche fan, she preferred cars to dolls and loved her brother’s Carrera car racing track. Therefore, as a child she always wanted to have a Porsche. “I used to always tell my parents: When I grow up, I want to drive a Porsche. My mother always said, you’ll get one. As my first car I was given a VW Beetle as a present. Although Porsche is not written on it, it has the Porsche DNA on the inside at least. But of course it wasn’t the real thing.”
Then she joined Porsche, spent her entire professional career working with the cars, had the opportunity to drive all Porsche models and was always close to the customer. She finally managed to fulfil her Porsche childhood dream a few years ago: a 911, Type 997, open-top and with manual transmission. “And with a ‘flap’ because of the sound.”
Claudia Schäffner is an honorary member of the Porsche Club Slowenija and Porsche Club Baleares. More recently, she has become a regular Club member in the German umbrella organization Porsche Club Deutschland. She has already registered for the Germany Club Deutschlandtreffen in 2021. After all these years in customer support, she is now looking forward to enjoying the Porsche world from the other side in her own Porsche car.
And so a childhood dream finally came true for Claudia Schäffner. A life for Porsche, a life with Porsche and now with her very own Porsche. Claudia Schäffner, herself a master of words, sums it up in a nutshell: “Mission completed.”
He is already a familiar face for many in the Club scene: Paul Gregor. He coordinated the North American Clubs in the Porsche Community Management team for five years, and then spent another five years in the market as local Club coordinator for Porsche Cars North America. Since returning to Germany his most recent position was as project manager for the Porsche Racing Experience, a development programme for ambitious drivers looking for their entry into professional motorsport.
We are pleased to win him back for the Porsche Clubs, a passion he holds close to his heart. With his experience as an international Club coordinator, he is the perfect successor to Claudia Schäffner and will surely continue with the successful and valued work of his previous colleague. As of 1 January 2021, Paul Gregor will be responsible for Europe, Australia/New Zealand, Russia, United Arab Emirates, South Africa and USA. He will also coordinate international Community projects and Club events. Welcome back, Paul!