Werner Mang: “Appearance is not very important to me.”

TUM Alumni and professor Dr. Werner Mang, specialist for ear, nose and throat, and plastic surgery is one of Germany’s most famous aesthetic surgeons. Since his time as an assistant physician at TUM’s University Hospital ‘Rechts der Isar’ he likes to surround himself with celebrities and the media loves him. Nonetheless, other people’s opinions do not faze the physician. As a pioneer in his field he developed successful methods of aesthetic-reconstructive surgery, which meanwhile are widely used worldwide. As an entrepreneur he established a highly successful clinic at Lake Constance. The plastic surgeon on his own impulsivity, the courage to take unconventional decisions and his plans for retirement.

Professor Mang, one of Europe’s biggest specialist clinic for plastic-aesthetic surgery isn’t located in Munich or Hamburg but in Lindau at Lake Constance. What’s the source of the strong connection to your home?

Family – this is the only possible answer to that.

Do you mean your own family when you say that?

Yes. I think if you don’t have a happy parental home, you will struggle more than others. But my parental home at Lake Constance was formidable. My mother raised us with love. My father was strict but a great role model. He was Director of the Forestry Administration and Deputy District Administrator, politically very active, received the Federal Cross of Merit, hence was a renowned figure. Until I was 18 years old I practically didn’t know what a problem was. Maybe my Greek exams, which frequently gave me insomnia. Otherwise I didn’t know the word ‘problem’. But I wasn’t an easy child.

How so?

I have always had my own opinions. My father supported that. He let me make mistakes and then said: “Look, this could have been done differently.” I am an alpha and a norm-breaker, but I can’t accept injustice. In elementary school it was all the rage amongst the boys to tease the girls. Of course I joined in. But if one of my mates took it too far, I immediately sided with the girls and stood up for them. Just before finishing high school it even happened that I counterattacked a teacher who had slapped a class mate without any justification. This could have cost me my high school certificate.

Would you describe yourself as an impulsive person?

Definitively: impatient, impulsive, to some extent choleric. I have always been very headstrong and inconvenient, consequently pursued my goals even if it sometimes went wrong. What is important: I never hold a grudge. I apologise when I have made a mistake.

After finishing high school you decided to study Medicine in Munich. What gave you the idea?

The trigger was one of my class mate’s accident, which I saw. He rode home from school on his bicycle. He came out of a forest track and turned onto the road and was hit by a car. He fell straight on his face. The nose was shattered, the cheeks torn open. I was wondering about his chances to ever look like before the accident again and watched with fascination how the ambulance arrived and tended to the boy. That was my key moment. When I told my father about my decision to become a surgeon I could feel that he was proud of me.

What memories do you have of your time studying at TUM’s University Hospital ‘Rechts der Isar’?

I always wanted to study at the Technical University of Munich. To me it is like Munich: cosmopolitan, down-to-earth, international, grounded, conscious of tradition, innovative, performance-oriented and still very humane. A stepping stone for all students. I have spent the best years of my life here – doctorate, residency, habilitation, professorship. Sometimes I walk through the university hospital at night and reminisce about this wonderful time. Meanwhile my son is also a TUM Alumni. But he studied Architecture. For both of us TUM is our spiritual home.

Are you still in touch with fellow TUM students or professors?

We used to be four musketeers, who found each other to do the medical state examination. I am still in touch with three of them, the other one unfortunately died early. And just last week I operated with Professor Edgar Biemer, who used to run the Department for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the University Hospital ‘Rechts der Isar’. He was over at mine in Lindau and we did a severe breast reconstruction. He told me that he will turn 80 next week. And I thought: “Great. So I will be able to operate for another ten years, too” (laughs).

You spent your residency in Lindau and at LMU, but returned to TUM’s University Hospital as a senior physician in 1982. In 1988 you were appointed professor.

Yes, in between I worked at the polyclinic in Großhadern, but to be honest, there was always a longing to return to the University Hospital ‘Rechts der Isar’. At a congress in Seattle I met Professor Werner Schwab. He was the director of the Ear, Nose & Throat Clinic and poached me for the Facial Surgery Department. I did feel obligated to my mentors in Großhadern but the opportunity was too tempting. At TUM’s University Hospital I then headed the Facial Trauma Surgery Unit at the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic.

However, two years later you turned your back on Munich to open a private clinic in Lindau at Lake Constance. Why?

Because I didn’t want to have a boss anymore. I wanted to be solely responsible in my work. Without any ifs and buts, without any superiors. That was my dream. But that also meant that I had to start from scratch in Lindau. Together with three others I opened a small clinic. A medical start-up, so to speak. I started out with four beds, then it was eight, at some point 10. Meanwhile I have about 60 employees and we do more than 2,500 treatments per year.

A career in research would not have been your cup of tea?

No, because I am a practitioner through and through. I love operating. The only thing I would have been very interested in, in terms of research, is transplant surgery. I mean the complete face transplant after accidents or tumours, which meanwhile is indeed technically possible. Of course you need a large clinic and immunology research and so forth to do that. But I chose a different path: plastic and aesthetic surgery, independent, my own boss, entrepreneur.

What do you like about aesthetic surgery?

I started out in abdominal surgery, but if you are taking out somebody’s appendix you don’t see any changes afterwards. Yet, if you are patching somebody up after an accident, you see the result very clearly. For me, this is the reward for my labour.

Would you call yourself an aesthete?

I am not the prototype of a vain aesthetic surgeon, if that is what you mean. My wife frequently has to point out that I should buy new clothes. Appearance is not very important to me.

Nevertheless, in Germany you are mainly known as a plastic surgeon. What do you do in your clinic at Lake Constance?

I am not a Botox man. About 30 percent of our surgeries are cosmetic, the others medical reconstructive. We have different senior physicians, who cover the entire spectrum: breast, abdomen, legs and face surgery. Well, and I am known for my nasal surgery.

Why particularly noses?

That was another key moment. In 1985 the actor Götz George came to our clinic. He didn’t use a stuntman for the ‘Tatort’ shoot and suffered a terrible nasal fracture. After his surgery he looked better than before (laughs). The story was in the newspaper with a picture of me next to it. This made me famous and gradually more and more celebrities came to see me.

Where do you draw the line when it comes to cosmetic surgeries?

I am against these inflated silicone lips, I refuse to do it; also if someone wants to have a waist like Victoria Beckham, that is removing the seventh rib, or chest implants for men, who want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger at his peak. Due to these things aesthetic surgery has such a negative connotation. Aesthetic-plastic surgery is a very valuable type of medical science if you do it properly. Nasal humps, long noses, protruding ears, drooping eyelids, eye bags, breast reconstruction after cancer surgery: we are able to help patients.

Apparently it is also part of your job to be attacked and criticised by colleagues and the media every now and then. Doesn’t that bother you?

A lot of what I did was pioneering work and I bore the brunt. When I was a senior physician, for example, a specialisation in plastic surgery didn’t exist yet. That’s why I am an ear, nose and throat doctor with the addition ‘plastic surgery’. It was me who woke aesthetic surgery from a deep slumber back then. When I did the first lifting at the University Hospital ‘Rechts der Isar’ it could have cost me my career as a full professor, that’s how indecent it was considered. I needed courage to follow my path. And the further up you get, the thinner the air. That’s normal. I apply the boxing principle: when I am down for the count I have to get back up as quickly as possible and keep going.

How do you generally deal with difficult situations?

I talk to my wife Sybille. She knows me very well and tells me the truth, even though I don’t want to hear it (laughs).

As a university donor you have supported TUM with a lot of money. Why do you care about your alma mater’s future?

Because TUM has given me a lot. Practically the green light for my entire life. Whoever is successful should think about who they owe that to. I also owe my success to the fact that I did my doctorate and habilitation at TUM, received a good education and then later on a professorship. I am not a major investor, but I will continue to do my best in supporting my alma mater.

In September this year – hopefully I am allowed to reveal that – you are turning 70. What are your plans for retirement?

Retirement? I am not the Tuscany-type that spends all their time playing golf and drinking red wine. My life is in the operating room. I just extended for another five years. By biggest fear is that I will become frail one day and won’t be able to perform surgery anymore. Otherwise my motto is: whoever doesn’t have dreams or plans anymore is already dead. And that is why I am setting up a clinic in China right now. In Moscow I have a partner clinic, which I am visiting twice a year. What should I say? It just goes on and on. That’s my entrepreneur gene. I can’t switch it off.

Prof. Dr. Werner Mang

Doctorate Medical Studies 1974, Habilitation 1984

Werner Mang was born in Ulm and grew up in Lindau as the son of a Director of the Forestry Administration. In 1968 he earned his university entrance qualification from Bodensee-Gymnasium in Lindau. Already in school he moulded faces and shapes. At the age of 18 he took his savings and went on a pilgrimage to Rio de Janeiro, to the father of plastic surgery, Prof. Dr. Ivo Pitanguy, to learn the trade. Werner Mang studied Medicine at TUM and LMU and graduated with the State Exam and a doctorate. He was Medical Specialist for Head and Neck Surgery at Klinikum Großhadern and returned to TUM’s University Hospital ‘Rechts der Isar’ in 1982 as a Senior Physician. Here, he ran the Department of Plastic Surgery under Prof. Dr. med. Werner Schwab. In 1984 the habilitation followed, in 1988 the professorship. Professor Mang rejected several very attractive offers and instead opened a private clinic for aesthetic surgery in Lindau in 1990. It was continuously expanded and in 2003 Germany’s biggest clinic for aesthetic surgery opened. Professor Mang is the founder of the Association for Aesthetic Surgery. His Professor-Mang-Foundation provides surgical treatment to socially disadvantaged families. Besides his profession, all his love goes to his family and to sports. Professor Mang is married and has two adult children. His son Thomas is a TUM Alumni as well and has studied Architecture at TUM.

This article was published in KontakTUM 1/2019

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Photo: Adobe Stock/sumnersgraphicsinc; Graphics: dietrabanten, München