Outdoor furniture brand Dedon has one of the most beautiful and inspiring stories. Bobby Dekeyser was on his way to becoming a famous German soccer player but decided to launch a furniture manufacturing company instead. He turned it into a huge success and then sold his share to focus on his Compostela Project in the Philippines. This village project helps former residents of a dumpsite build sustainable lives. The full story can be found in his memoirs Not for Sale!
A young boy from a poor part of Worms, Germany, wound up founding and running one of today’s most celebrated outdoor furniture brands. “If you want to achieve something, you have to stick at it.” These words of wisdom from his grandfather, along with “Defeat makes you strong,” have been running through his blood ever since.
His first passion, like most German boys, was soccer. His inability to play a field position didn’t hinder his obsession; he took to goalkeeping and turned out to be very good. Recalling his grandfather’s advice that talent is nothing without practice, little Bobby Dekeyser pushed himself every single day.
His vagabond but happy home life allowed him free reign to create his own rules, and the disconnection he felt at school pushed him further away from desiring a typical education. He later met soccer superstar Pelé, his idol, who told him, “Follow your dream, then anything can happen.” Dekeyser dropped out of school with the idea of turning pro.
“I worked out like an obsessed person, based on plans that I scrawled on notepads using a flashlight late at night. I recorded detailed training regimens: dozens of sit-ups, hundreds of pushups, miles of sprints and endurance training. I noted every banana I ate. I took everything really seriously. I was thirteen when the pains started.”
The pains in his leg nearly resulted in having it amputated, which would have ended hopes of a soccer career. But a second exam by another physician identified a fatigue fracture, which put him in a cast for several weeks.
Profoundly passionate, extremely impatient and socially disconnected, Dekeyser did not have an easy time. Still, FC Bayern Munich signed him at 19 years old and he eventually became a well-known player. At 26, though, a collision in an important game put him in the hospital. None of his teammates came to visit him and the team replaced him with another goalkeeper.
Read Dekeyser’s book Not For Sale! for additional details. The full story is not only inspirational, but heartfelt. Enjoy.
A New Passion
Alone in the hospital, he had time to think. The passionate life of soccer he was leading felt incomplete. Although he could have continued his career, he turned his attention from soccer to the idea of creating a furniture brand. He’d always wanted to get into business, to build something.
His father sold prefabricated houses and his mother helped his grandfather produce and sell plastic handles for detergent boxes. Living above his grandfather’s factory in a temporary apartment, his “childhood was filled with the sweet smell of plastic polyethylene.” Passion and hardwork travelled his veins and his head held ownership to a business mind.
Finally, he founded his company, Dedon. He began by selling hand-painted skis, most of which were returned due to bad quality. Then he moved to designing and fabricating outdoor furniture. In the beginning, clients were more interested in the raffia giraffes he set out as decoration than in his furniture, so he sold them and kept stocking up on raffia giraffes.
He encountered woven rattan goods from the Philippines at a trade fair in 1991 and decided to reinvent his business. He opened a factory on the island of Cebu, which grew to some 2,000 workers. “I was just amazed at their weaving skills,” recalls Dekeyser.
He had to deal with a number of bumps in the road, including a financial crisis due to major orders being returned and the threat of lawsuits. He nearly lost the company to an underhanded operation in the Philippines which put his life in danger, a lesson on hastily trusting someone.
Dedon wins Iconic Awards 2017:
Paradise & Compostela Project
Through thick and thin, Dekeyser managed to maintain a financially stable, growing business until he sold his last shares to focus on other projects. He’s always been a follow-your-heart kind of guy, he explains in his book. One day, he got annoyed thinking about resorts. Clients pay to reserve and pay for their stay, but when they arrive, they still have to pay for food, drinks, spas, activities, etc. He decided to change this by developing Dedon Island, an intimate boutique resort located on a pristine tropical island in the Philippines.
“On Dedon Island, you can indulge in the ultimate luxury: spending time outdoors with friends and family. We’ll help you create a perfect getaway, tailored to your every need, from cocktails to bespoke menus, surfing lessons to spa therapies. Everything is covered by the all-inclusive fee.”
Dekeyser has a pure heart, putting others at the center of all he does. The resort expresses this on a luxury end for those who can afford it and, for those who retreat to this paradise, it truly offers a moment for complete relaxation and fun.
On another spectrum, Dekeyser also thinks of those in more unfortunate circumstances.
When he was running Dedon, he often visited the Philippines. On one of his trips, he discovered a major social problem: dumpsites collected all types of waste and many people in the lower class were living on the them, literally. Children would work at the dumpsite, looking for objects to recycle and resell. Dekeyser couldn’t accept that his company might be contributing to the waste pileup and decided to do something about it.
In 2009, he launched the Dekeyser&Friends Foundation in order to develop the Compostela Project in the Philippines. This village project on the island of Cebu helps those previously living on the dumpsite build sustainable lives.
In addition to the Compostela Project, the foundation supports other social projects and new non-profit ideas with money, in-kind help and knowledge. The foundation has partnered with like-minded volunteers and renowned personalities, such as the former soccer goalkeeper Jens Lehman, world-famous ethologist Jane Goodall and Marcus Wasmeier, an Olympic gold medalist in skiing.
What an incredible story.