Billionaire Philanthropist

Big Shoes to Fill

Heinz-Horst Deichmann_DPA
Deceased shoe maker Heinz-Horst Deichmann: "Companies must serve people."
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    After the death of Heinz-Horst Deichmann, his son Heinrich will now need to steer Europe’s largest shoe retailer to continued growth.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Mr. Deichmann died at age 88 in Essen.
    • His business concept centered around the idea of good quality for little money.
    • He handed the company over to his son in 1999, but remained deputy chairman of the board until his death.
  • Audio

    Audio

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He loved people and he loved shoes. But did he also love money?

“Money is a good supporter but a bad leader,” Heinz-Horst Deichmann once said. There are few entrepreneurs who could utter such words with more credibility.

In 2013, Deichmann had revenues of €4.6 billion ($5.8 billion), sold more than 167 million pairs of shoes, employed over 35,000 people, and  operated 3,500 shops in more than 20 countries. Today, the company is Europe’s biggest shoemaker.

Last Thursday, Heinz-Horst Deichmann died at age 88 in his home town of Essen. He was a billionaire on the one hand and a Christian philanthropist on the other. With his charity “Wohlundtat,” he supported 200,000 people in the poorest regions of the world.

Deichmann embodied the theory of the German sociologist, Max Weber, as no other.

“We only built what we could pay with our own money. Sometimes, this was extremely tough.”

Heinz-Horst Deichmann, Founder of Deichmann

In his studies about the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, Mr. Weber argued that the dual relationship between protestant lifestyles and rational business management made modern capitalism possible.

The trained surgeon, who was called Dr. Deichmann by employees, led a humble and secluded life. He owned a holiday home in Klosters, Switzerland – one of the few luxuries he allowed himself and his family. There, he pursued his passions: skiing and hiking.

Mr. Deichmann’s frugality dates back to the early days of building his shoe empire. “We only built what we could pay with our own money,” the founder once said. “Sometimes, this was extremely tough.”

From the start, customers were fond of Mr. Deichmann’s concept: offering good quality shoes for little money.

Mr. Deichmann’s initial idea was innovative and cheap: After World War II,  he used parachute linen to make shoe laces for sandals and poplar wood to produce inexpensive shoes. In 1955, he opened up his first shop in Oberhausen, in Germany’s industrial Ruhr district, with a bargain counter. In the 1960s, he advertised his shoes with the slogan: “A good shoe doesn’t have to be expensive.”

From the United States, Mr. Deichmann brought the idea of presenting customers with both a right and left shoe in a carton. In this way, he saved labor and storage costs.

Mr. Deichmann established his headquarters in Essen, home to several other well-known German entrepreneures, including Theo and Karl Albrecht, the founders of the Aldi discount retail chain.

In 1999, Mr. Diechmann handed over control of the company to his son, Heinrich, but remained deputy chairman of the board and maintained a close relationship with his company until his death.

 

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Mr. Dörnfelder has a degree in economics and reports for Handelsblatt on companies and markets. Ms. Ludowig has a degree in economics and reports for Handelsblatt on companies and markets, with specific focus on the trade and retail sectors. Ms. Mewes has experience in law and finance, working at law firms in Frankfurt and London as well as covering financial news for different news wires. Contact: a.doernfelder@vhb.de, ludowig@handelsblatt.com or mewes@handelsblatt.com

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