• Cornelia Knust

That makes it possible.

(Reading time: 6 - 11 minutes)

Claude Maurer 1Succession. The lighting designer Ingo Maurer from Munich has left to posterity not only his art but also his business. As disorganized as might have been expected from this type of artist. Daughter Claude Maurer needs a new management strategy to keep the company alive.

The lamp looks as if an explosion has taken place. As if someone had shouted "Freeze" at the climax of a stag party. Who came up with the idea of developing such a porcelain sculpture as a light source for the living room? Someone seriously insane creative. Who then still manages to sell this product over and over again for years at a high price? A somewhat chaotic but brilliant entrepreneur. Ingo Maurer (1932-2019) was both. "Porca Miseria!" is what a perplexed fairgoer in Milan is said to have exclaimed in the face of this lamp - a swearword, as much as "miserable mess". Maurer thought the name fit.

Claude Maurer, 54, touches the shards, which are glued together with metal struts and still have to be inserted into the lamp body. It stands in a former production hall of the aircraft manufacturer Dornier in Munich-Neuaubing - today a business park. Here the company Ingo Maurer has rented some scattered areas for 15 years and produces 150 different lights with a few dozen people - in this hall exclusively the "Porca Miseria!

Claude Maurer is Ingo Maurer's daughter. She comes from his first marriage to Dorothea Becker, also a designer. Daughter Claude neither seems to be genius-crazy nor does she call herself particularly creative. Not a lighting designer, but a Japanologist and mother of three grown-up children. However, she has been with the company since 2005 and has been a member of the management board since 2011. Today together with her two years older sister Sarah heiress of the company and the licenses of the famous father, who died in hospital last October. And: determined to protect and preserve this heritage.

Claude Maurer 2

But how can a shimmering cosmos of creativity be preserved when the sun has gone out in it? What if the departing entrepreneur leaves his life's work largely unorganized? How much leadership is needed at such a moment and how much humility before the troop of creative people who keep the balls in the air?

For what Ingo Maurer, son of a fisherman from Lake Constance, a trained typesetter and self-taught, has built up since 1965, is not only an artistic legacy, but: creative community, brand and manufacture. Back in the sixties, a lonely drunken inspiration in a Venetian hotel room was enough to create a "Bulb", an oversized light bulb as a lamp that became a bestseller. Later, in the eighties, low-voltage lamps suspended from taut wires saved a real small company from the crisis. Today, the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich is clearing entire halls to present the light artist Ingo Maurer (the exhibition runs until mid-October 2020). And the city's residents are delighted with his staging of the subway station at Münchner Freiheit. Or promenade in the Residenztheater under a shimmering silver cloud from his hand. But just under 50 employees, many customers and suppliers would be particularly happy if the company were to stay alive. "Succession was a difficult topic for my father," says Claude Maurer. "He thought about it for a very long time, even when he turned 60. But he didn't like planning things like that." When his second wife Jenny Lau, 13 years younger than him, died of cancer in 2014, there was no time for his own succession planning because Lau's tasks - "the commercial side" - had to be redistributed. Then the founder himself lost his strength: "In 2017/18 he began to weaken," says the daughter. "Projects were delayed, decisions were no longer made so quickly."

The father had already had a visit from Burkhard Bensmann in 2013, now 61, and the management consultant conducted interviews for his book "How creative entrepreneurs successfully organize themselves". In it, Bensmann enthusiastically describes the charismatic designer and the place of the interview, the Maurers' showroom at Kaiserstraße 47 in the best part of Munich-Schwabing. And notes the master's self-control mechanisms: "For Ingo Maurer, the feeling of insecurity is an essential starting point for his design work; he defines security as 'something deadly', emphasizes that he loves risk.

The professional dreamer with a second home in New York, but who actually fancied the desert, with its "wonderfully loud silence", was not a person for to-do lists or e-mails. Such poison might have interrupted the flow of ideas, destroyed the conditions for creativity, prevented the desired release of dopamine, Bensmann suspects.

This refusal worked because all around were people who knew, understood and complemented him. People like Claude, his daughter. She had given up interpreting at 40, had moved from Cologne to Munich, wanted to work with him, wanted to know "what's here". Ingo Maurer wanted her to take a leading role in the succession, but in a group, because he saw the need to involve the whole team. However, if Bensmann heard correctly at the time, the continuation of his life's work was basically not so important for Ingo Maurer: "I am fascinated by transience. If I'm lucky, there are a few waves later that people say: "That's what he did."

Claude Maurer does not seem to be satisfied with the waves. According to her, her sister is also very interested in the company, as is brother-in-law Sebastian Untermöhlen, who has been working with the company for a long time. But even if the siblings are in agreement: The fifty-fifty heir apparent changes fundamental things, for example in proportion to the risk. Where the father uncompromisingly lived his artistic freedom, according to the motto "my idea, my company, my capital," budgets now have to be agreed upon, for instance when artists are invited to create.

Claude Maurer 4

"We are currently in the process of restructuring the company, also with consultants", says Claude Maurer, currently sole managing director. An advisory board has also been discussed. And about the need for an additional managing director. "We are putting out feelers there right now, not only because we need manpower, but because - despite an excellent team of designers and project managers - we see a new perspective as an exciting impulse and additional energy.

For a long time she was "a girl for everything", says Maurer without conceit. Her job was the toil of the plain: the wretched details, quality assurance, employee management, customer satisfaction. She felt like the mistress of the process.

In view of the EU's light bulb regulation in 2009, the father had raged and demanded that the light bulb be declared a World Heritage Site instead. The regulation has apparently been implemented in the company - Claude. Today she says: "The conversion to LED is complete." Instead of thinking in watts, now think in terms of Kelvin, lumen, lux and color rendering index.

She has also tried to explain to her father that lamps are no longer sold through thick, printed catalogues, but that a presence on Instagram and Pinterest is becoming increasingly important. That the interior designers expect a personal approach, networking, the consideration of their specific needs. That the competitive situation today is different than it was in the eighties, when her father's funny product ideas were ripped out of his hands and his attitude "People come to me anyway" was perhaps still justified.

Claude Maurer explains the situation: "We have to help the architects to understand the products so that they can also inspire their customers. To do this, we must not present the luminaires in too stylized a way, but in real and lively environments. We have to provide stories about it."

His father was a stranger to everything that had to do with computers and monitors. Delegating wasn't his strong point either: "He wanted to be involved in all projects." The most drastic decision, however, was a decision made around the 2000s: "My father and his second wife had no interest in the company growing. A mistake? "A decision," Claude says calmly.

In recent years, business has been declining. The heiress estimates the current annual turnover at around eight million euros, with Germany as the most important market, followed by the rest of Europe and the USA. She does not want to say anything about the return. The company has no real estate of its own, but also no bank liabilities. The last published annual financial statement is from spring 2018: for the previous year, a balance sheet profit of 1.7 million euros was recorded.

The third signing managing director was Marc-Oliver Schneider, an engineer who came over from Küppersbusch canteen kitchen technology in 2018, but left the company again in August 2019. "We needed someone to take care of sales," says Claude Maurer on request. "The strong lesson for me from this is that the size of the company in which someone works is decisive, and that many aspects of the respective personality must fit." Schneider himself won't comment on the request.

So the new boss still moves alone and without a fixed plan in these improvised-looking workshops and high-bay warehouses. "Consolidate first" is the motto. Produce fewer variants, further strengthen the web shop, which currently only accounts for a good three percent of sales. And grow again in the medium term. Even by granting licenses, why not? Through industrial or financial participation, that is also conceivable, as is theoretically employee share ownership.

As far as the secret of success of the more than 50-year-old company is concerned, the daughter confidently formulates: Not only good design, but also a great deal of emotion and above all humour - quirky, provocative humour - combined with strong manual skills. One of her strengths is also the project area, i.e. the planning office, which has already shown a great deal, from the lighting of Munich subway stations to the furnishing of an entire luxury hotel in Georgia. It is not only the "sculpture", the light source itself, that is the subject, but also the surfaces with which this light corresponds, i.e. walls, floors, furniture, fabrics. Much of this could be continued without the creative input of the father.

Claude Maurer 3

"We will protect the Ingo Maurer brand, not dilute it, not do anything that doesn't fit, but we will develop it further," says Claude. She believes she's the right person for the job, because: "I've always been involved.

The DNA of their father's work, the aspects that no one else knows, the overview, the experiences are all gathered at the company. After the death of her father, she received a lot of external confirmation that she would not only exercise the shareholder option, but also manage the business for the foreseeable future. But she wants to remain authentic, like what she does, be allowed to ask herself questions and also involve the employees: How do you want to work?

Claude Maurer has a different style in her leadership than her father. "He liked to provoke and enjoyed always having a stage. I don't need that and I'm more objective. But at the right moment he also decided." Besides, the tempo seems to be different. "He always preceded us in great strides", the staff had written this in the obituary for their great patriarch. This was not only meant metaphorically, but quite literally, because Ingo Maurer always took big, fast steps, explains the daughter. She herself moves slowly, speaks calmly, withdraws from rooms when others have business there, does not claim any special position.

Claude Maurer is currently experimenting with group decisions, with self-control processes, individual responsibility and cooperation. The preparation of this year's Milan "Salone del Mobile", which was initially postponed to June due to the Corona crisis and has since been cancelled completely, was a test run, he said. The employees had worked out various scenarios, defined groups and then freely decided in which of them they wanted to participate. "This not only produced some very surprising ideas, but also a good feeling for everyone," says Maurer.

Even before that, Ingo Maurer GmbH did not have any business cards with the imprint of the function within the company, not even with the eight in-house designers, to whom other external parties are now to join. "We work here in a free-floating manner," says Claude. "Some are coping well with it, others want more structure."

Advisor Bensmann, who has no mandate here but only a private opinion, finds Claude's approach conclusive. "If you follow a high-flyer like her, you can only run a company from behind, as a total work of art, in the role of the appreciator and the one who makes it possible." ®

Author:  Cornelia Knust

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