Interview “I was one of the inner-European corona couriers”

Djordje NikolicLena Giovanazzi

The planned video interview must be conducted as a telephone interview at short notice. Nikolic is the first day in the new offices of the Freiburg headquarters of his management consultancy – and the internet has just gone down. “It’s amazing what everything works anyway: electricity and a coffee machine,” says the 44-year-old. The day before, the team perked up insanely, so that almost everything was ready. After the conversation he wanted to invite everyone to lunch. Nikolic is a doctor, worked for years as a cardiologist, then switched to the management of the Helios hospital chain and eight years ago founded Consus Clinicmanagement, one of the leading consultancies for hospitals ( Hidden Champions 2020). At the beginning of March, he contracted Covid-19 while on a skiing holiday in Ischgl. For workaholic Nikolic it was the “low point in life” that slowed him down and changed a lot: “I don’t want one faster, higher, further at any cost”. Mr. Nikolic, you should be in Berlin by now, you just said – but now you are in Freiburg. Why?

DJORDJE NIKOLIC: That’s right, some of our most important customers are in Berlin, some of them huge orders. And in fact, after the lockdown, when life slowly returned to normal, I once traveled to Berlin to visit a local customer.

Just as you probably took it for granted in the past. How was it?

There have not yet been any flights from our nearest airport, Basel. So I drove to the airport in Stuttgart for two hours, parked my car in the multi-storey car park for one night for 84 euros and flew to Berlin. From Tegel I took a taxi through the city and everything back the next day. I added that – in terms of time, ecologically, economically: after that it felt like a trip around the world.

And now you save yourself that?

At least I thought: what nonsense! Why should I do that? I could have just switched on from my desk using a computer.

Many companies are currently thinking about this in order to save costs and to minimize the risk of infection. But that sounds more fundamental to you.

Corona was really a, maybe even the low point in my life. Not just because the lockdown has completely changed the way we work as consultants. But because the virus hit me personally too.

“I was one of the intra-European corona couriers. But the whole time I had no idea that I was affected “

Djordje Nikolic

Please explain that.

At the beginning of March, like every year, I went skiing with my five best friends in Ischgl. We had an apartment together. It didn’t matter who used which toothbrush cup or which wine glass. We have also been to restaurants and an après ski bar. The virus didn’t have a hard time with us. The day of departure was on March 10th, a Tuesday. That was three days before the lockdown in Ischgl. I had chatted with the hotelier and I had the best faith that everything would be fine. I got in the car very early and drove straight to the office.

Did you become a super spreader?

Well, anyway, I had a meeting with an important business partner at lunchtime. It came in from abroad. After that, he had a lot of free time with his family for two weeks because he had to be quarantined because of me. The next day I had a notary appointment. And the notary’s office was allowed to do a lot of gardening for two weeks afterwards. The colleagues here with me in the hallway were also affected. I was one of the intra-European corona couriers. But the whole time I had no idea that I was affected. It wasn’t until Thursday, two days after my return from Ischgl, that the first friend from our ski group had a positive test.

And how was the disease process?

Five of us six friends were hit really badly, we were really sick. Two had to go to the clinic. We are all successful entrepreneurs who don’t stay at home because of every niggle. But then the fun was over. At the time, so much was still unknown: What are the symptoms? What’s next We were pretty unsure about that.


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