Klaus-Michael Kühne, 77, became CEO of his grandfather’s transport and logistics company Kühne & Nagel in 1966. It now has 63,000 employees in more than 100 countries. With an estimated net worth of $10.3 billion, Mr. Kühne has now stepped back from day to day involvement in the firm, taking up the role of honorary chairman. A native of the port city of Hamburg, he has now turned his attentions to his beloved Hamburger SV soccer team, despite living in Switzerland. He is also involved in trying to salvage his investment in container ship company – and Hamburg institution – Hapag-Lloyd.
Die Zeit: Mr. Kühne, would you like to live in Hamburg again?
Klaus-Michael Kühne: Certainly! Hamburg is a very attractive and beautiful city. But I’ve decided to live in Switzerland and that’s the way it is.
You could always change your mind.
There are several flights each day between Zurich and Hamburg and I’m on the move a lot. The world has gotten smaller. I like the change. Maybe I’m a constant guest always moving around.
There’s a saying in German that you can learn how to save from the rich. Is it true you used to take your company’s mail to the post office?
Yes, but normally someone else did that. There was no email back then, but putting a few envelopes in your bag was no big deal. I am indeed very frugal. I think over everything and am annoyed when money is wasted for nothing.
You’re willing to spend lavishly on your hobby soccer. You have invested or lent millions in your favorite team, Hamburger SV.
Yes, that’s true. I think about that sometimes, but everyone needs a hobby and I picked football. I’ve been an HSV fan since I was small. I watch every match on TV and suffer.
Actually Hamburg business people should support the club, but very few do. I’m the only one left, but it’s a passion for me that just hasn’t gone the way I had hoped.
Hamburger SV is in danger of being relegated.
It’s a critical time that we have to go through. It’s very nerve racking.
Some dream of you investing €100 million ($120 million) to make everything fine.
I don’t want to become a (Roman) Abramovich (billionaire owner of Chelsea FC in London). I’ve sunk too much money into this hobby. A few million won’t do the trick at HSV, but I’m not a €100-million man, who wants total control.
That isn’t possible in Germany anyway, investors have absolutely no rights. In Spain and England that would be different and indeed something to think about.
Economically speaking, HSV was the worst deal of your life.
I mostly considered it a hobby.