Personal Interview with Andreas Kaufmann

Back in the September 2013 (print) issue of the German Spiegel magazine, there was a rather lengthy and personal interview with Andreas Kaufmann. Not so much about Leica products, but the man himself. It's a very interesting read about his early life, how he made his money, economics, politics - how he went on to Leica Camera AG - and its position in photography and as a status symbol. Now that a month has passed, Spiegel has placed the article, "The Asset Is the Company" online - and It is also available as a PDF (both in German).

Translation to English (via Google):

The Asset Is the Company

Social justice and redistribution are campaign issues. The parties outdo each other with demands. What is the legacy of the millions Andreas Kaufmann?

Kaufmann, 59, was born in Mannheim, studied political science, history and literature, and now lives in Salzburg. It is part of anthroposophic Celebrity clan. His father was a top executive at the Natural Cosmetics Weleda Group, his brother-Götz Rehn has built the eco-chain Alnatura. His Schwippschwager is the founder and owner of the drugstore chain dm, Götz Werner, with the merchant then sometimes have to debate the idea of a basic income at family gatherings.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Kaufmann, you were many years as a Waldorf teacher. Then, with your two brothers inherited the empire of a billion aunt and saved with the new wealth as an investor the photographer myth Leica before sinking. What is left of your early anti-capitalism?

Kaufmann: Well, in the course of life to change positions. I was 14 when I thought I have to start with smoking filterless cigarettes Reval, 16 years ago I stopped doing that again. As Waldorfler but I was never as explicitly against money, but rather sought a third way between capitalism and communism.

SPIEGEL: Such third way happy times go wrong. Her youth was already marked by wealth?

Kaufmann: No, we were very frugal upbringing. Mark Five pocket money, more were not.

SPIEGEL: Were you suspicious money?

Kaufmann: The not again. I have it already as a teenager, his most disturbed occasionally badly pretentious manifestations. You know, wealth is in Germany generally a difficult concept because it is often reduced to the super yacht in Monaco. Such status symbols we have always rejected. And they are in my opinion more of a testament to what one already in the 19th Century has been called "Nouveau Riche". Who comes to money quickly, often has no relation to it. In the 15th Century the Medici themselves were those nouveau riche. At that time it was - from today's perspective, fortunately - chic, to deal with the money artists. As a consequence, the Medici have financed a portion of the Renaissance. That's a very good thing.

SPIEGEL: Today it takes other luxury goods as status card ...

Kaufmann: ... and I will not even condemn excessive consumption. That is one way to deal with money. If an oligarch can build a huge ship, so he financed the shipyard workers, suppliers and many others. Consumption creates jobs. In my view, this is the dual nature of money, both as a means of consumption, and as the responsibility for use of the skills, so entrepreneurship. In the case of enterprise value is created, in the case of consumption creates jobs. Only these transactions may decline rapidly, as in a

Financial crisis. But who does not learn how to handle money in time, often times only orientation problems.

SPIEGEL: How were you trained to Riches?

Kaufmann: We gradually learned to deal with it, also mandates a number of boards of family businesses.

SPIEGEL: After the death of your aunt you and your brothers inherited the Austrian Empire Frantschach paper. Since none of you freaked out and slammed his share through the chimney?

Kaufmann: That would not have gone in the first place. And secondly, we found the property rather than always uncomfortable, then later as a task. Starting in 1997 I began to participate in companies. A Hamburg software company I still own, another went bankrupt. We have almost brought to the new market ...

SPIEGEL: ... which you could then millions can earn.

Kaufmann: See, that's just not exactly my idea of economy. Of course, economic success is measured at the end of the day, also the profits. But even then it was scary to me that analysts valued the company at 120 million dollars, even though they barely had sales. A bank told me in all seriousness, our cash burn rate was too low. So we would have to burn more money to be fit for the fair.

SPIEGEL: So markets are sometimes perverse.

Kaufmann: I do not have to play this perversion yes.

SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, you have Frantschach sold after the death of your aunt, that made ​​money.

Kaufmann: Our family has been at least one hundred years loyal to good company and industry. This is a very capital intensive industry, it is difficult for a family. But we were always convinced that there is only one way to create real values: industry. All other bears for me casino elements, even if you can make insanely short elsewhere.

SPIEGEL: Apparently the sales you and your brothers has brought some 1.5 billion euros.

Kaufmann: We do not comment on these numbers.

SPIEGEL: Is it fair that you have been given so much money?

Kaufmann: The concept of social justice is a euphemism, because it is often used for something completely different: taxes. Any party that promises more justice wants - what?

SPIEGEL: Surely not just raise taxes.

Kaufmann: Yes. At election time, as now, there is always the question: How can I take away other people's money, so I have a greater distribution of power?

SPIEGEL: ... is that bad? That you inherited your wealth, justice must not find you.

Kaufmann: But is it unfair? As long as we have a free society, there is property, everyone can be economically successful than another. It will create value, call the other wealth. I think it is unfair only if people have different starting conditions and opportunities.

SPIEGEL: Exactly. They were surely clear qua privileged backgrounds and heritage.

Kaufmann: I know people who started with a similar heritage and stood at the end with much less. Look at my brother to the founder of Alnatura, now the largest organic food chain in Europe. The began with a loan of his District Savings Bank, which he no longer would get given the most diverse regulations today. So he could not even start the company. Because what is going wrong. Unlike in the United States with us to access capital on ideas is far less organized. This competition of the most creative business models you can control but not through taxes. There used to be smart banker, now trust these bankers IT programs. Previously, the talk of opportunities, risks of today. Since there is a real injustice to me.

SPIEGEL: You were a founding member of the Greens, who now want to demand a higher tax the top earners.

Kaufmann: I resigned from the party in 1981 again.

SPIEGEL: Could the rich critical Greens choose today?

Kaufmann: Honestly, my greens are no longer so green.

SPIEGEL: You have moved to Austria in 2003. This is done not only for the love of country.

Kaufmann: No idea who once applied, that Austria should be a tax haven. In many ways, this is not true in any case, my salary is taxed higher here than in Germany. Also, the investment income of our private foundation are normally taxed at 25 percent. And I'm definitely of the opinion that one should decent pay his taxes.

SPIEGEL: That your aunt She adopted early, certainly had tax reasons.

Kaufmann: Especially succession reasons.

SPIEGEL: France, for example, a property tax, the local kingdoms has not been killed ...

Kaufmann: ... but results in that part of the French can no longer live in France or want. Your basic problem: The property tax must also be paid if your business is going badly - simply because that is highly rated. Where does the money go? From the company, which in turn must lay off people if they can not afford it.

SPIEGEL: labor income in this country is taxed at up to 47.5 percent, while investment income to make do with half. That's unfair, especially since the money - unlike the work - can always escape to where lower taxes waving.

Kaufmann: I would find 25 percent meet everything. Why is work so heavily taxed? I do not get it.

SPIEGEL: Another solution would be a higher inheritance tax, as she enjoys a long tradition of all in the United States.

Kaufmann: Can you make whether it is successful, I doubt it ...

SPIEGEL: ... says the millions of legacy ...

Kaufmann: ... here argues the whole of society. The heart of the German economy is that middle class, to the envy of many countries. The continuity of such family would be destroyed if high inheritance taxes of 35 percent or more would have to be paid because that would in many cases mean that those companies would no longer hold. The assets of the company. Look at all these rich lists! In the case of Germany, we talk as much as 90 percent on industrial assets. That would be taxed - and thus jobs.

SPIEGEL: What do you have now awakened even your ideals with the inherited money to entrepreneurial life?

Kaufmann: Our asset holding ACM had a clear perspective 2002: The most underrated companies were in Germany. Since we wanted to participate. So we came to Leica ...

SPIEGEL: ... then the edge of the abyss.

Kaufmann: How bad it really was appointed to the company, we have noticed in the course of time.

SPIEGEL: Leica invented the film camera hundred years ago and created a billion-dollar market. The company has autofocus invented - and long time used themselves. She was even quite early at all with digital technology. But even in 2004, the then head of that technology is "only an interlude."

Kaufmann: He said the way even in Der Spiegel. But the way the art was then still unclear. They were afraid that it might endure the camera industry as the watch industry: The years had set fully to digital, and suddenly it went back towards mechanics. But most of all Leica was undercapitalized simple.

SPIEGEL: The rescue of the company should then have become very expensive. How many times have the Leica CEO replaced, since you own the company?

Kaufmann: The question therefore is already unfair because once I have even adopted me as a chef. With me there are five since 2005. I think that's okay.

SPIEGEL: Are you tiring for Leica?

Kaufmann: You have to ask the staff.

SPIEGEL: Is Leica stressful for you?

Kaufmann: No, because this company is exciting and truly a global brand that has incredible potential.

SPIEGEL: Does it to you sorry if you see other German brands currently die like for example Loewe?

Kaufmann: Sure, but I need to focus myself.

SPIEGEL: The camera model Leica M Monochrome costs 6800 euros - no lens - and makes only black and white photos. Is not decadent?

Kaufmann: No, on the contrary. This is technology at its best - of course in a very small edition. Image sensors typically take three pixels to define a color value. In other words, the pure black and white images have a much higher information density.

SPIEGEL: At the edge of major sporting events are never to be found among all the Leica Nikon and Canon ...

Kaufmann: ... because many photographers today are of the view that a top recording will already be there when you shoot ten frames per second. It's about the feeling for a moment. Look at the photo of Henri Cartier-Bresson in which he made in 1932: a man jumping on the Gare Saint-Lazare over a puddle. Everyone knows what will happen in the moment after. But he has just caught the moment of this magical levitation with a Leica. Could not be better.

SPIEGEL: Are photographers today less educated?

Kaufmann: No, of course not. Some just believe that technology does the photographing of himself. But it does not take one from the composition.

SPIEGEL: Even though you are in a luxury niche with Leica go, enter in the years of mass targets, about 500 million euros in turnover and one per cent market share.

Kaufmann: The objectives are desired. But we also need a certain sales volume as a flywheel to say in developments and not let the prices get out of hand. What we do is not luxury, our prices caused by the nature of our development and production.

SPIEGEL: For the nouveau riche in India, China or Brazil, a Leica is hardly suffices as a status symbol.

Kaufmann: With a clock to adorn themselves easier. Which everyone can use. With a camera I must do something. Since I can embarrass myself.

SPIEGEL: What percentage of your work is for Leica on it?

Kaufmann: Estimated 80

SPIEGEL: It sounds like life's work.

Kaufmann: Leica is for me anyway a long term project. After all, the company writes back continuously since 2009 and black numbers are 1,500 people working.

SPIEGEL: Despite all your protestations sustainability have now sold 45 percent of the shares of all the "grasshopper" Blackstone.

Kaufmann: I do not have the "locusts" term because it describes excesses, but not the basis of the private equity business.

SPIEGEL: Such financial investors are now moving at times like an undervalued companies, impose them as a debt on the purchase price and filleting some point the business. Such cases there was in any case well enough.

Kaufmann: But they are nevertheless exceptions. Blackstones Germany, Axel Herberg is a man of German industry, which knows that councils can be true partners. And private equity today replaced in many places as a lender banks.

SPIEGEL: What are the benefits of the entrepreneur businessman today of the Waldorf teacher in you?

Kaufmann: I have learned as much Waldorf teachers, for example, corporate accounting, because such a school is always self-administered. Also, I always had the older classes as a teacher. These are students who will gradually grow. Of whom one is constantly put to the test. So you have to learn to deal with people so that they listen to you. This is exciting and educational.

SPIEGEL: How has the money, the ownership changed you?

Kaufmann: You learn not to believe everything people tell you.

SPIEGEL: That sounds like distrust.

Kaufmann: It has more to do with the question you have to face every day countless times: Who wants what and why of me? My mother came from the Calvinist Protestantism. The fond of saying: Do not get cocky! Not a bad spell.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Kaufman, Thank you for this interview.

"Why is so highly taxed labor? I do not get it."

The interview was conducted by the editor Thomas Tuma at the seat of businessman holding ACM in Salzburg.