Born in Munich and raised both there and in Paris, Christoph von Nitzsch became Sport Group’s CEO on 1 January 2022. Speaking seven months after taking the reins from his predecessor Frank Dittrich, Christoph shares what attracted him to the role, his first impressions, why he believes people are so crucial to a business and his vision for the company’s future.
What is your general business background?
I have many years of senior management experience in CEO, CRO and CSO positions for regional and multinational companies. I’ve worked across a whole range of industries including automotive, financial services, road construction and the printing industry where I have thrived on creating high performance teams.
My primary expertise is in General Management, Restructuring, Marketing and Sales and Post Merger Integration where I have had the fulfilling challenge of leading companies through periods of business transformation. I also get huge satisfaction from taking products from the manufacturing stage to worldwide distribution.
What are your career highlights so far?
Being the responsible manager for the launch of the small car brand, SMART, in the Italian market was a huge and exciting challenge. SMART cars are so stylish and the whole concept so forward-thinking so it was a pioneering project to work on and great fun.
Another really rewarding project was for Creaton which is one of the leading roofing brands in Europe. Established in 1884 they had a strong history and a groundswell of goodwill but they needed to be reimagined for the 21st century. I helped to transform the business for today, future-proof it for tomorrow and successfully sell the business.
What do you think makes a business strong?
I believe that a company is made of people. Therefore, if you have the right team, anything is possible. I place huge focus on strong leadership, the right attitude and working alongside the people within the business to create a high-performance environment where everyone is motivated and inspired to do their best work.
I also believe in simplicity when it comes to the business model and clear processes and structure.
What attracted you to Sport Group?
Sport had a huge pull for me. I love all sport, from team to individual sports, from traditional sports to new recreational activities. In all its forms, sport is a valuable teacher and a key part of a healthy life and society. The opportunity to combine sport with my experience and interest in manufacturing and construction was one I couldn’t resist.
From an industry perspective, the business of sports surfaces is immensely interesting. It has global scale and many established and new markets which means there are exciting growth opportunities. Joining the market leader and such a dynamic business as Sport Group was very appealing. Our scale also allows us to lead the industry forward on sustainability which is very important to me.
What are your first impressions of Sport Group?
Crucially, it is full of great and motivated people. We have people all around the world and what has struck me most is their love of the industry and their belief in what we are doing to transform sport and spaces. They take an immense amount of pride in creating something valuable for their local communities and this in turn has created a strong internal culture at Sport Group. Although we are many companies there is a feeling of ‘one Sport Group’ which is hugely powerful and exciting.
The variety of the people is also very positive as this creates more ideas and fosters fresh thinking.
Because of our people, we have strong, market-leading brands and excellent products. Customers have to trust that their surface will last 10+ years and being able to demonstrate our excellence at some of the world’s biggest sporting stages like the Olympics and U.S. Open helps foster this trust.
What is your vision of the future for Sport Group?
Sustainability is the key issue for all industries, including ours. Therefore, we are investing heavily in green technology. Our investment focus is on bio-based and renewable ingredients, carbon reduction, post-consumer raw materials, recycling and second life. This transformation requires ground-breaking concepts and with our global knowledge we are confident that our innovations will continue to lead the market.
We are adding ‘green technology’ or GT, throughout our product range. For the Tokyo Olympics we developed a Poligras Tokyo GT hockey turf which was made from 60% sugar cane. This was recently featured by the IOC as one of the top 6 innovations that has reduced the Olympic Games’ carbon footprint.
“SUSTAINABILITY IS THE KEY ISSUE FOR ALL INDUSTRIES, INCLUDING OURS. THEREFORE, WE ARE INVESTING HEAVILY IN GREEN TECHNOLOGY. THIS TRANSFORMATION REQUIRES GROUND-BREAKING CONCEPTS AND WITH OUR GLOBAL KNOWLEDGE WE ARE CONFIDENT THAT OUR INNOVATIONS WILL CONTINUE TO LEAD THE MARKET.”
In our football turf range our market-leading innovations include LigaTurf Cross GT Zero which is the only carbon zero turf available and LigaTurf Cross GTR which is made with sugar cane, post-consumer recycled plastic and renewable electricity. These products are really fantastic.
Our Rekortan Gel tracks and Laykold Gel courts are the most sustainable in the category, made with 88% and 60% renewable and recycled material respectively.
We are also in the final stages of building our own turf recycling factory in Essen, Germany. The brand is FormaTurf and it features unique technology that takes 100% of end-of-life turf and turns it into new products.
The future will also include challenges around lifestyle and sport. In a digital age how does sport remain exciting and appealing? We will play an important role in answering this challenge.
Global trends such as an aging population and urbanization will also impact sport and recreation and therefore our business. The work we are doing with cities, customers and architects to develop new concepts for a changing world is really crucial and very exciting.
Outside of work, what do you like to do?
My primary focus is on my family – we have four kids. Overall, we are a very sports-oriented family and like to pack in as much sport as possible and have fun together! On top of that, I love being out in nature so when I’m not at work you’re most likely to find me somewhere in the mountains or the sea.