Christian Democrats

Not Your Average Backbencher

Berliner CDU starten in den Plakatwahlkampf
Poster boy. Source: Kay Nietfeld/DPA.

It’s hard to tell by the brown leather moccasins he wears — and which his wife, an art historian, wants him to throw away — but Thomas Heilmann is rich and doesn’t need to work for a living anymore. And yet Mr. Heilmann has just been through a bruising fight with his own party, the conservative Christian Democrats, in his local district in Berlin to get nominated for a promising ticket to get into the Bundestag in the election on September 24. The odds are that he will succeed. But when he takes his seat in the back rows of parliament, he will be no ordinary backbencher.

For a start, he already has the ear of the Christian Democrats’ leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, having advised her on technology policy. That is because Mr. Heilmann, aged 53, has behind him a long career as an investor, entrepreneur, activist lawyer, and regional politician. If he were to seek a more public role, he certainly has qualifications.

The fifth of six children of a philosophy professor, Mr. Heilmann joined the Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, at just 16. But rather than going straight into politics he became an entrepreneur. In the 1990s, he teamed up with two partners to found Scholz & Friends, an advertising agency that became the largest in Germany of those not owned by the international giants. Scholz & Friends was eventually (in 2011) sold to London-based WPP for something just short of €200 million.

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