Passion. People who come from great entrepreneurial families usually strive to create lasting value themselves. Kurt A. Engelhorn took a long time. But now he seems to have found his way there. The focus is on a special investment strategy, a virtual company, historic automobiles and, above all, a very special car race - the Bernina Gran Turismo.
Here, we celebrate car enthusiasts with oil on their hands and their exceptional vehicles," says Kurt A. Engelhorn, outlining the most important selection criterion for the hand-picked 80 participants that the entrepreneur invites to the Bernina Gran Turismo every year.
After all, the Engadine is not only about showing off valuable vehicles, but also about driving under tough conditions. "We love the use of our historic vehicles, which appeals to all the senses in a wonderful way. That's why we want every participant to be able to complete four runs in order to enjoy this unique experience to the maximum. The only way we can do that is to severely limit the entry list."
Do something special, something world-class, something that stays - or nothing at all. The fact that Kurt A. Engelhorn repeatedly formulates this goal in conversation also has something to do with his family history. His great-grandfather was the founder of BASF, his grandfather managed the Perutz Photowerke in Munich, his father turned the medium-sized company Boehringer Mannheim into a global corporation - and then sold it in 1997 to the Swiss pharmaceutical group Hoffmann-La Roche for several billion marks. Following in such big footsteps is not easy. This is probably one of the reasons why it took Engelhorn some time to find his place, his playing field.
Today, the Bernina Gran Turismo is indeed considered the world's most demanding mountain race for historic vehicles. On the 5.7 kilometres alone from La Rösa, the former post station, to the Bernina pass 448 metres above sea level, there are over 50 bends - a route profile that sends pure adrenaline coursing through the drivers' veins.
The fact that the race is the way it is has a lot to do with Kurt A. Engelhorn being the way he is. A small insight into his personality is given by an incident from 1994. Engelhorn had just moved from Switzerland to England with his Spanish wife and their four children. And had immediately bought a second-hand motorcycle there. An English make, of course. "It was in our first English summer when I was riding my BSA 650 Golden Flash with a Steib sidecar attached through the beautiful countryside of the county of Surrey. Suddenly I started having mechanical problems, something was wrong with the clutch. Helpful passers-by gave me the tip to go to the next village. There was a really good mechanic there." Once there, the mechanic gives him some old customs tools and the instruction to dismantle the exhaust. Not in his workshop, but directly on the wide pavement next to the road. He would then come along later to have a look at the damage. "I was very happy in England from the start. The atmosphere, the screwdrivers, tools in hand with plenty of oil on my fingers, it still suits me today."
Unpretentious he is, one who says of himself, "I don't imagine I can see into the future, but I keep my eyes open." And the name of the mountain race is probably not due to chance either. Because Engelhorn has always regarded his life as one big journey, a true Gran Turismo: "For me, one day evolves from another. If you are present, awake and open, your ear always on the track, new opportunities always arise. Recognizing them and then boldly embracing them is perhaps my most important quality."
The moment to put it to the test comes in autumn 2014. The Engelhorn family has known the Engadine since 1982. In the beginning, they visited friends there, skied together in winter and motorcycled in summer. Later they bought an apartment in Silvaplana in the Upper Engadine, then a house on the Suvretta slope in St. Moritz. Engelhorn acquired a hunting license in Graubünden, got to know the locals, a little Graubünden Romany at that. When those who had initially tried unsuccessfully for years to revitalize the Bernina Race ask him to get involved, Engelhorn feels he must jump on the bandwagon.
He takes over all the shares for a symbolic franc and re-establishes Bernina Gran Turismo AG. "Securing the long-term memory of the legendary Bernina Race of 1929 and 1930, then the highlight of the International St. Moritz Automobile Week, was the chance to create something legendary."
After all, it's an event that really shouldn't exist like this: Because it would normally be impossible to hold hillclimb races on a major highway, adjacent to yet another country. Even more so under challenging weather conditions and with quite high demands on the logistics.
Florian Seidl, who has been successfully realising Engelhorn's ambitions in building up his first-class collection of historic vehicles for some time now (see text below "A collection has to live."), installs a team of specialists and they set to work. An intensive dialogue begins with those responsible in administration and politics. Safety is a big issue - "we installed additional hundreds of meters of permanent guard rails". The cultural mission as well - "We don't just want to offer something to the scene, but to all spectators. Anyone can ride up on the train and watch the race like they're in an amphitheater. It doesn't cost them a cent." And, of course, the long-term perspective - "we can create an art form of automotive racing here."
The first race will take place on October 2, 2015. Engelhorn himself will be competing in his just-purchased Jaguar D-Type. "I finished fifth in my class," he grins today, who says of himself that he's not really a competitive guy. "I'm always about driving as beautifully as possible. The aesthetics are what interest me in racing, no, in driving in general. I admire those who drive round and elegant, balanced, unspectacular in the best sense."
Ever since he himself first experienced the unique atmosphere of a mountain race 20 years ago on the Klausen Pass, he has been gripped by exposing himself, by feeling the thrill of a certain dangerousness with all the fears, even the exertion. "The wonderful feeling of the moment, waiting with impatience and full concentration for the start, for an enthusiast like me, can hardly be compared to anything in this world."
This September, the starting flag of the hill climb race will fall for the seventh time, integrated into the traditional International St. Moritz Automobile Week. As part of this, there will be a kilometre race, a Concours d'Élégance, a skills race, a rally and then, as the highlight, the Bernina Gran Turismo.
"It is," says Engelhorn himself, "a race in its purest form. Curve, loop - loop, curve. Then the final metres of altitude: Carousel. A maximum stress on driver and vehicle." Carl Gustav Magnusson, an important industrial designer in his other life, therefore also defines the Bernina Gran Turismo as one of three must-attend events of the classic year, alongside the Le Mans Classic and the Festival of Speed at Goodwood. "Of the three, the Bernina Gran Turismo is the most likeable. I was invited to the debut event in 2014 and have attended every edition since. It's the mix of the enthusiasm of the participants, the exceptional range of performance cars, the geography and the after-work camaraderie that makes for a unique world experience."
Clearly, Engelhorn has indeed succeeded in creating something unique with the Bernina Gran Turismo. Something lasting. An extraordinary racing experience. For a network of carficionados. With a love of historic automobiles as the ticket. "The guests are all really relaxed. Because they are on safe terrain among their peers and can also talk about all the other topics that move them beyond automobiles",
Kurt A. Engelhorn explains: "And there's something else that's particularly nice. When the members of my family then come to St. Moritz and see a poster of the Bernina Gran Turismo, I can say: look, that's us." ®
// A collection must live.
"If I had to give away all but one car today, I would keep the Lotus Seven Mark II. For me, there is no better one." It was shortly before his 50th when Kurt A. Engelhorn first felt the desire to call a really fine, special car his own. Engelhorn thought about it, searched concentrically, as he always does. And came to the conclusion that for him there is only one ideal car in this world: the Lotus Seven (pictured above). "The Seven is a pure driving machine. A cornering predator. Weighing less than 600 kilos. All other cars are really irrelevant in comparison."
He first approaches his dream car via a replica, the Donkervoort S8. However, because it's based on the iconic original by Englishman Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman, it's not a space miracle - taking some getting used to for a six-foot-tall man. "I quickly understood that it's you who has to adapt to the car. If it's small, just get used to it." A short time later, Engelhorn actually buys his first Lotus. After that, many, many other vehicles - often on a whim, out of spontaneous enthusiasm.
At some point, however, his passion for historic automobiles got the better of him. There were simply too many vehicles and projects. The dependence on third parties - workshops and restorers - becomes ever greater. Control is hardly possible with a simultaneous multi-local lifestyle. Florian Seidl, who is highly specialised in looking after and developing exclusive collections with his Munich-based company Carficionado, taking care of the entire bureaucratic side of things, comes into the picture. While Engelhorn follows the doctrine that a collector collects, he does not sell, Seidl suggests that he concentrate on vehicles that increase in value and reduce the total number of vehicles. Ultimately, this is not just a question of practicality: "A collector will never be happy if his stock exceeds a certain size. It then almost automatically becomes a museum, a pure exhibition without any further use. And that, in turn, almost inevitably leads to destruction. The purpose of collecting is ultimately thwarted," says Florian Seidl, explaining his approach.
In the years that follow, the two are always concerned with an intellectual debate. Seidl is certain: if the sheer quantity of objects overwhelms the owner, he loses access. Where exactly this tipping point lies varies from case to case. One person is already stressed with five vehicles, the other still shrugs his shoulders in a relaxed manner even with 200 vehicles. "If I no longer know what I want to do with my objects, the emotion is lost. And with it the future viability of the collection and the investment."
Basically, Seidl advises dividing a collection into two emotionally. On the one hand, there are vehicles that the owner himself regards as existential. "There is a strong connection to one's own life, to a past time, which can be activated through active use, i.e. driving." On the other hand, he says, especially when it comes to the high-priced segment, there are exhibits that can be used to implement economic and strategic themes. "What fits the collection, what reflects the zeitgeist of the particular decade, what are the benchmarks from that time?" What is needed, he says, is a constant constructive competition of ideas between advisor and collector. Florian Seidl and Kurt A. Engelhorn have been wrestling for eleven years over every next step, the next investment, the necessity of disinvestment. It's not just about the current market price and promised returns, but above all about emotional appreciation.
Ultimately, says Seidl, automotive collecting also has a philosophical component: "We're really just curators of objects that are very likely to outlive our own lifespan. We all believe that automobiles, like some motorcycles, are ultimately an art form."
Can this really be? Isn't the primary purpose of an automobile to transport people or goods from here to there? "I'm not so sure about that, especially if you look at some English designs. That they always get from A to B is often quite vaguely defined." For that reason alone, certain English or even Italian brands qualified quite particularly to be art. Because their idea was not to arrive, but rather to push technical feasibility to the extreme again and again, to fathom it out anew.
The purpose of a collection is to reflect this. And it still leaves enough room for newcomers today to express themselves: "The beauty of the subject of collector vehicles, even in our increasingly restrictive world, is that there are still so many playing fields that are not or only slightly developed."
Today, with still more than 80 historic vehicles including motorcycles, the Engelhorn collection is one of the 100 most important in the world. Selected top vehicles such as a rare Ford GT40 MKIII, a Jaguar D-Type with a unique history or even the speed world record Jaguar XK120 "Jabbeke" stand in harmony next to the important matters of the heart such as the Lotus Seven Mark II. They are waiting to be driven at races and concourses, to be shown and thus made accessible to the public. The struggle has paid off.
// Made by Engelhorn.
With his father selling the family business, Kurt A. Engelhorn was forced to develop a viable strategy for himself and future generations. "When the money was on the table, it was clear to me: we have to start investing directly in the real economy right away." Engelhorn, after all, comes from a family that has never shied away from entrepreneurial risk. And is now faced with the classic problem of an entrepreneurial family whose business is suddenly gone. The identity is missing. The overarching family corrective is missing, which ensures that one's own wishes are not, or only to a limited extent, indulged in favour of the company. And it lacks - in a sense - a purpose in life.
"Diversified investment in the financial markets does not help. It cannot be a substitute for the family business - neither in terms of economics nor when it comes to creating meaning," says Engelhorn. He calls the classic investment proposals of asset managers "a kind of zero-sum game". Broadly diversified financial assets yield perhaps five to six percent per year. Administrative costs, taxes and the inflation rate are deducted from this. And then there are the desires of the family, which sees no reason not to access the liquid assets. "That's no way to preserve family wealth, much less grow it."
But that, says Engelhorn, is precisely the original task of a business family. "It is our obligation to society to provide working capital for the economy. To invest in companies in order to create jobs, enable growth and thus indirectly achieve a social impact."
To do this, he said, an investor needs special qualities - to concentrate rather than diversify. Be mentally prepared to take risks. Participate directly instead of investing broadly diversified in listed stocks. "When I invest in the stock market, I am always just one small player among many. But I don't make a difference. We want to be actively involved and make a difference."
In the meantime, Engelhorn has come quite far on this path, as shown by the structure of his assets, which were brought into a family holding company. 70 percent is invested in asset-based venture capital. 30 percent is held in liquid form - "on the one hand, this is the family's nest egg, but above all, it is also the war chest to be able to take advantage of new investment opportunities."
The 70 percent invested assets are roughly divided into three areas - classic cars, real estate and business holdings. "The car collection is of course a passion project, closely linked to the Bernina Gran Turismo. But in purely economic terms, it also has a stabilizing character," explains Florian Seidl, who built up the collection and ensured that it is now considered one of the 100 best in the world. "That only works above a certain altitude, though. It doesn't help to put a Porsche 911F in your garage. A collection has to be world-class for that to work. You need 15 to 20 top cars. Such cars are almost exclusively owned by very wealthy people. It's a whole separate market that should be stable over the long term."
Real estate makes up about 20 percent of Kurt A. Engelhorn's portfolio. "However, these are not necessarily chosen with yield aspects in mind. They are unique localities that will increase in intrinsic value over time because they cannot be replicated. For me, this is about the magic of the places. Lake Stazer is probably the most beautiful place in St. Moritz. And the El-Paradiso hut is one of the most beautiful mountain huts in the Alps for me," says Engelhorn. In addition, the basic idea of providing long-term security for the family plays an important role. "If things get really bad, we manage it ourselves. We cook hash browns and serve beer. We can plant, till a field, run a horse, slaughter a pig. It's the ultimate self-sufficiency."
The main focus of the capital investment - 40 percent - is in direct entrepreneurial investments. Engelhorn experienced for himself in the early years that it is not at all easy to be successful in this area. His investment company, Foursome, got involved in sustainable investing early in the 2000s - too early, in retrospect. "I myself was a greenhorn in the private equity world at the time. And my team was probably too lax and too uncritical in its selection," Engelhorn reflects himself today.
In 2016, Engelhorn then founded the private equity firm Frog Capital. "Basically, that's three investments. We hold about 40 percent of Frog, are the largest investor in their private equity fund, and are also directly involved in some portfolio companies," explains Erek Nuener, who operationally manages the family holding company. Nuener and Engelhorn are instrumental in the strategic direction. "We have been occupying the megatrends of IT, tech and digitalization for eight years now, focusing on companies with strong revenue growth that are on the cusp of profitability. When they can't get to the next level of expansion on their own, we give them exactly what they're missing - capital, management, a new organizational structure."
This time, it's working. Frog has just managed a lucrative exit in German edtech pioneer Sofatutor. And in the investment portfolio, among many other companies, lies a real highlight with the real estate platform McMakler. "This looks good," Engelhorn states, "but at the same time presents us with a new challenge. How do we manage the situation at Frog now? When a period of success like this begins, the first reaction is always to sell and diversify into new, smaller Frogs as quickly as possible, so that the risk is spread more evenly again. But that is actually wrong. If a successful investment - a dairy cow - doubles again, that's much more interesting than a tenfold increase in ants."
The big questions Engelhorn is asking himself now are: How bold are we? How do we take this commitment to even greater success? Are we diversifying or concentrating? The entrepreneur in him has long since provided the answer. "As yet, Frog is far too insignificant. But we now see an opportunity for this little Frog to leverage us up into a whole other dimension of wealth. We are positioning ourselves to meet that opportunity."
Bernina Gran Turismo also plays an important role in this next step. "BGT is one of the few world-class networking gatherings that still exists today. A gathering of enthusiasts, connected by their passion for automobiles, who also exchange participation ideas in a relaxed atmosphere," explains Florian Seidl.
There it is again, the idea of world-class - in the classic car collection, the event, the participations. "Anything else would make no sense to me," says Engelhorn, thereby also defining the leitmotif through which he wants to create identity for his own family. "We don't have a family group, after all. We don't have Engelhorn written anywhere on it. We have to manage to achieve identification for the family members from a financial asset that is invested in an entrepreneurial way." That's why Nuener and Seidl invented a brand - Kusana - a virtual family business that all family members can be proud of in the future.
The name was invented by a family friend from Barcelona. "It's an African dialect and means four - for the four tribes of my children," Engelhorn tells us.
At its core, Kusana defines eight investment principles. These include growth potential, value preservation, risk analysis, impact and benefit to the next generation. "If six of the eight criteria are met, a proposal qualifies for implementation within Kusana. So the Kusana stamp doesn't go on it until the idea is world-class. That is the claim," Nuener and Seidl make clear.
Kurt A. Engelhorn is thus trying to bring the family together as a unit in a virtual family business. "Now I see that it can work. The family wants this. In our family constitution, the most important principle is written in large letters: 'We are one family.'"
Perhaps, Engelhorn hopes, there will be a real competition in the future between the representatives of successive generations to see who gets to slip under the Kusana umbrella with their idea. "If that happens, we've been really successful."
Authors: Klaus Meitinger, Philipp Wente