If you’ve ever wanted to see the world, you should be envious of Rolf Hoehn.
Hoehn, a Palm Desert resident, is currently director of business development and sponsorships for Desert Champions, LLC, managers of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament. However, his story begins in Cologne, Germany, as the only child of an Austrian-Romanian stay-at-home mother, and a father who opened travel to South America for Lufthansa Airlines.
“My mother was always open to new experiences,” says Hoehn, “and through her, I learned to appreciate exposure to different cultures. My dad taught me about what it means to have a strong work ethic.
“When I was 15, we moved from Germany to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I learned Portuguese as a second language and enrolled in the American school. … About 80 percent of the children (were) of American families from, for example, the diplomatic corps in Rio. Most of the rest were foreigners, like me, and a small number were native Brazilians. I also hung out with Brazilian friends, so I learned the ‘good’ street words as well. It was a very different experience from my upbringing: different routines, different customs, basic things like different times to eat. I think the best thing I got from that experience was appreciating the way they taught us about what it meant to live in a community.”
Hoehn’s father transferred to Chicago and later Los Angeles, but Hoehn stayed in Rio for his senior year of high school before joining his parents.
“I thought I wanted to be a journalist, but my father cured me of that when he took me on a visit to the Los Angeles Times,” he says. “I decided to work in my father’s office at Lufthansa, at the time when it was a great period of growth, as the airline industry transitioned to the jet age. It was a glamorous business. “
Hoehn next went to Wisconsin to attend Lawrence University. “It was a good liberal-arts school, and I had a couple of friends from Rio who were there,” he says. “I went full-time for two years and spent summers working at JFK Airport in New York for Lufthansa, doing baggage, catering, whatever. But after two years, I couldn’t find a job to help me pay for my education. My parents were in Hong Kong, and I returned to Los Angeles and transferred into USC, studying business management.”
After working as a AAA dispatcher (“It just didn’t pay enough”), Hoehn—whose parents were then in Pakistan—got a full-time job with Lufthansa and was accepted to New York University.
“I went to Karachi to stay with my parents for two months, then to New York. I worked at the airport as a customer-service rep, but because I was working full-time, I had to drop some classes, so I got a draft notice in 1966 for the Vietnam War,” he says. “I had the choice to enlist in New York, but because I had originally registered for the draft in L.A., I went back to California. Unfortunately, Fort Ord, where I would have trained, had closed, so I was instead sent to El Paso, Texas.”
After two years in the Army, Hoehn returned to New York and back to Lufthansa, in marketing management. He worked his way up and eventually became the marketing manager for North America. His parents by then had been in Belgrade and Nairobi; after they divorced, his father went to Peru.
“I took advantage of their various locations and visited Belgrade, Hong Kong, Karachi, Nairobi and Lima,” Hoehn says.
In 1981, Hoehn transferred to London as Lufthansa’s deputy director for the United Kingdom. He was later based in Kuwait, in charge of operations for three years.
“This was a very interesting period, during the Iran-Iraq war,” he says. “Being in that environment, I was exposed to the Middle East cultures. I was in Kuwait, Bahrain, the Emirates and Oman. Then it was back to New York, and I was promoted to general manager for sales and marketing for North America.”
So … how did he get involved with tennis?
“My father was an avid tennis player, and very good at it. I grew up playing tennis,” he says. “Part of the Lufthansa marketing portfolio was sports marketing, and my boss in Germany was also an avid tennis player. Lufthansa became the sponsor of the ATP Tour, later sponsoring other tournaments as well. My introduction to tennis here in the Coachella Valley was in 1986, when the site was at Hyatt Grand Champions. I developed a great relationship with tennis greats Charlie Pasarell and Ray Moore.”
In the early 1990s, Hoehn was head of sports marketing for Lufthansa, with offices in both Los Angeles and Frankfurt; during that time, Lufthansa was named the official airline of the International Olympic Committee.
Hoehn took early retirement in 1996 and began a consulting group in Los Angeles—but after a call came in 1998, he got back into the airline business, running the western division of Aeromexico.
By then, Hoehn and his second wife, Christy, were looking to move away from L.A. With their connections to the Coachella Valley, they settled here in 1999, with Hoehn commuting into L.A. Then, in 2000, he was asked to take over all operations in the U.S. for Aeromexico; he commuted back and forth from Palm Desert to the office in Houston and, every Wednesday, Mexico City. By 2004, Hoehn had tired of the constant travel and returned to private consulting.
After rekindling his relationship with the local tennis venue, in 2006, Hoehn became director of sales, and is now in charge of business development and sponsorships, working on everything that generates revenue—ticketing, hotel package programs, sponsorships, etc.
Hoehn is currently Palm Desert’s representative on the Palm Springs International Airport Commission and is vice chairman of the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.
When asked if he has a bucket list, Hoehn immediately responds: “I want to be able to get in the car and take three weeks of vacation at once, uninterrupted and disconnected.” He also beams about his step-daughter Ashley’s 18-year-old son, Hoehn’s only grandchild. “He’s taller than I am now!”
So will Hoehn ever fully retire? “I’ll work as long as I’m having fun,” he says. “I can’t see myself living to just sit around or play golf. If you slow down, your body slows down as well. I intend to stay active as long as I can.”
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.