Playmobil founder Horst Brandstätter is not a conventional German entrepreneur. The 81-year-old wears sandals and a simple sweater over a shirt rather than a suit. And unlike many German tycoons, he has a long track record of promoting women to top management positions.
Earlier this month, Brandstätter announced that from 2015, press spokeswoman Judith Weingart would become the new co-chief executive at Playmobil’s parent company Geobra Brandstätter, together with Steffen Höpfner, currently the company’s commercial director. The duo will take over from Andrea Schauer who has been chief executive since 2000 and who will step down next year on health grounds, according to the company.
Ms. Schauer has had an extremely successful tenure. She has doubled turnover since taking over the helm 14 years ago. In 2013, Playmobil saw sales of €552 million ($743 million) while the Geobra Brandstätter group had sales of €612 million. Almost three quarters of those revenues come from abroad.
Mr. Brandstätter wanted someone who had a relatively long career at the company to take over from Ms. Schauer, according to insiders. While Ms. Weingart will have responsibility for development, marketing and distribution, Mr. Höpfner will concentrate on the commercial side of the business.
There has been much debate in Germany in recent years about how to promote more women to top management positions. In 2013, only 5.5 percent of German management board seats in the 30 DAX-listed companies were occupied by women. The situation is better on supervisory boards, where women hold 24.7 percent of the seats.
“I want to create the optimal conditions, so that they last long after I am gone”
In a bid to improve the situation, the German government plans a gender quota requiring 30 percent of all new supervisory board positions to be reserved for women. A supervisory board is a body that oversees management at German companies and has the power to hire and fire chief executives.
Unlike many other German companies, Playmobil hasn’t needed a push from the legislators to appoint women to top executive positions: Mr. Brandstätter has long promoted women.
Helga Ellul, for instance, is another female executive in the company. She began work at the parent company in Germany in the early 1970s before accepting a position as a bookkeeper at the company’s Malta factory, where she soon rose through the ranks. In 1976, she took over as director of the factory, which has become Playmobil’s main production site, producing 100 million figures a year. In 1982, Ellul became the director of Playmobil Malta. She retired in 2012.
Mr. Brandstätter remains closely involved in the company. While he spends his winters on Jupiter Island, Florida, near beaches and golf courses, he returns every summer to the company headquarters in Zirndorf, near Nuremberg.
There, Brandstätter founded Playmobil in 1974 as a subsidiary of the family business, which had been founded in 1876 by Andreas Brandstätter and had been manufacturing toys since the 1920s.
The semi-retiree has always been determined to see the company grow. This year, he invested €95 million in new injection-molding casts and modernizing his five factories in Germany, Malta, Spain and the Czech Republic.
Mr. Brandstätter is planning for the long term. “The company is my life,” he once told Handelsblatt. “I want to create the ideal conditions, so that they last long after I am gone.”