Seven generations – one company / Chapter 6.
The sixth generation
Throughout the year, in this section we are going to present you with an overview of the previous seven generations of the Wüsthof family who have worked for the company. At the end of the last chapter, we found out how the Wüsthofs weathered the Second World War. Their story continues today with the sixth generation.
Eduard Robert, son of senior partner Robert, began working for the company in 1949. He was initially responsible for northern Germany, followed by the Scandinavian countries and Austria at a later date, which he turned into cornerstones of the export business. When the company’s senior partner, Robert, retired from the executive board on 1 January 1960, his son Eduard Robert, known as “Junior”, took his place.
On the same day, Wolfgang, son of Hugo Eduard, joined the company. He concentrated on overseas countries, which he visited tirelessly. He initially had little success, but later sales started to grow.
New ideas were coming to fruition. But before these ideas could be implemented, Eduard Robert died prematurely in 1975 at the age of just 56. Wolfgang Wüsthof became sole managing partner.
He was faced with difficult circumstances, or to put it another way, a major challenge:
Buildings dating back to the turn of the century and the 1920s containing just a few completely outdated machines; a product range that was much too diverse; the threat of closure from the trade licensing office due to unapproved drop hammers and on top of all that a stack of debts.
In actual fact, the Dreizackwerk was not really a factory but an enormous workshop in which almost everything was done by hand. And that was precisely the problem, since manual labour was growing increasingly expensive. But there was also a shortage of skilled labour.
If no action had been taken, the Ed. Wüsthof company would have been selected as the site for the Rhineland Industrial Museum instead of Hendrich’s Shears Factory in Solingen-Merscheid. Something had to happen and indeed it did. First of all, the debts were reduced. With strict discipline and by cutting out all expenditure that was not vital for the existence of the company, all bank loans and overdrafts were reduced to zero over the course of three years. At the same time, the product range was dramatically reduced.
The table knife department was shut down.
The shears department was shut down.
Cutlery production was discontinued
and no further commissions were accepted.
Older employees took retirement and younger ones were retrained. There were no redundancies.
Everyone was expecting a drastic drop in turnover, but the opposite turned out to be the case: sales and turnover started to rise!
Small- and medium-sized businesses have to specialise to survive. For the Dreizackwerk, this meant focussing on one set of products: Knives for domestic and professional use, knives for cooks, high-quality forged knives.
However, the old brick building was not suited to these modern concepts. It had to be demolished and rebuilt, little by little so that production could continue at the same time. Over the next ten years, a brand new factory was built in seven construction phases. This was an ultra-modern factory with technology that had never been seen in the knife industry. Robots were introduced and production lines developed. Each year, 10 per cent of the company’s turnover was invested in new machines and new processes. This rule still applies today.
Of course this costs money – a lot of money. The Solingen banks, above all the municipal savings bank (Stadtsparkasse), were happy to provide loans. These loans were quickly repaid – right down to the last penny and ahead of schedule.
Forged knives from the CLASSIC range were a unique success story. They have become the showpiece of the Dreizackwerk and are a status symbol amongst chefs the world over.
This amazing success story is thanks not just to one individual but to an entire management team.
In 1987, the first subsidiary company was founded. WUSTHOF-TRIDENT OF AMERICA INC. with a new head office in New York was now responsible for sales in the largest and most important export market.
Over the next few years, independent agencies in San Francisco and Minneapolis were taken over by the New York company.
Wolfgang Wüsthof had turned the old Dreizackwerk into a global business. You will soon find out how the company is doing today in the next chapter: “The seventh generation.”