Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Major Lufthansa shareholder Thiele The idiosyncratic self-made billionaire

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With assets of 11.4 billion euros, Heinz Hermann Thiele is one of the ten richest Germans. The 79-year-old patriarch has transformed the medium-sized company Knorr-Bremse into a world market leader. He is also involved in other companies – for example now at Lufthansa. Who is this man?

Actually, Heinz Hermann Thiele could have withdrawn long ago – to his cattle farm in Uruguay. Around 10,000 cattle graze there on 13,000 hectares. Operation is profitable. Or he could go to his farm in South Africa, where avocados and mangos are grown.

Because with the successful IPO of Knorr-Bremse in autumn 2018, he crowned his life’s work. The shares are now a good 20 percent above the issue price of 80 euros.

Further course information on Knorr-Bremse

Lufthansa as a long-term commitment

But the angular entrepreneur – or the gnarled entrepreneur (be careful wordplay!) Does not want to “sit in the rocking chair”. He would like to continue to contribute to German economic history. In the middle of the Corona crisis, he and his family holding company joined Europe’s largest airline, Lufthansa. “The company has a strong market position with its route network … and modern machinery,” says Thiele in an interview with the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”. It is important to maintain.

Further course information on Lufthansa

Thiele does not see joining Lufthansa as a purely capitalist maneuver, but as a “long-term commitment”. By this he means a period of at least five years.

Participation in Vossloh

The Munich billionaire has apparently rediscovered traditional German logistics and transport companies in recent years. The company patriarch got involved in the railway technology group Vossloh. His family holding company now holds a majority stake in Vossloh. As a major shareholder, Thiele urged Vossloh management to concentrate exclusively on the rail infrastructure. The transport division was sold.

More course information on Vossloh

It is uncertain whether Thiele will exert similar pressure at Lufthansa to bring the airline back on the road to success. In any case, the new major Lufthansa shareholder has a lot of industrial experience. And he also knows a lot about renovations.

Knorr-Bremse made world market leader

At the end of 1985 Thiele took over the majority of the then ailing Knorr-Bremse. He was supposed to find a buyer for the brake manufacturer on behalf of Deutsche Bank. Since the search was unsuccessful, Deutsche Bank offered to take over Knorr himself – with the help of loans from the financial institution.

The lawyer, who started at Knorr as a clerk in the patent and legal department at the age of 28, became an entrepreneur overnight. The experiment paid off. Thiele realigned the medium-sized company and focused it on the manufacture of brake systems for rail and commercial vehicles. Knorr-Bremse also expanded to China at an early stage and bought Bendix, one of the most attractive manufacturers of truck brakes.

ICE automatic doors

Today Knorr-Bremse is the leading address in railway technology. Knorr-Bremse technology is on board the high-speed trains in China and Japan. And the automatic opening doors in the ICE also come from Knorr.

Thiele has made Knorr-Bremse one of the most profitable German supplier groups. The company now has a turnover of 6.5 billion euros with 28,000 employees.

Red cloth for unions

Because of his authoritarian leadership style, company patriarch Thiele is feared by the managers. Several CEOs didn’t last long with Thiele. “You are fired by Thiele – or you stay,” once said an insider to “Manager Magazin”.

The gnarled old man is particularly unpopular with the unions. IG Metall has never forgiven the entrepreneur for leaving the collective agreement in 2006. There was also a heated dispute with the employee representatives when Thiele wanted to increase working hours in some companies from 35 to 42 hours.

Eighth richest German

Today Heinz Hermann Thiele looks relaxed at his empire. He has long since withdrawn from the Board of Management and the Supervisory Board of Knorr-Bremse. But he can’t let go completely. At the end of June, he wants to be re-elected to the Knorr-Bremse control committee – as a full member.

Thiele actually no longer needs to work. With Knorr’s IPO, he has become even richer. According to “Forbes”, Thiele and his family have assets of 11.4 billion euros. He is the eighth richest German – even ahead of SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner.

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