SPE­CIAL FEA­TURE

Leica Cam­era AG has just com­pleted the third stage of its am­bi­tious Leitz Park cam­pus, which rep­re­sents a very sig­nif­i­cant investment into the fu­ture of the fa­mous ‘red dot’ logo. Paul Bur­rows was there for the open­ing fes­tiv­i­ties.

Camera - - CONTENTS - Paul Bur­rows trav­elled to Wet­zlar cour­tesy of Leica Cam­era Aus­tralia.

We at­tend the open­ing fes­tiv­i­ties for the third stage of Leica Cam­era AG’s am­bi­tious Leitz Park cam­pus, a sig­nif­i­cant investment into the fu­ture of the fa­mous ‘red dot’ logo.

Dr Kauf­mann is late. To be hon­est, I’m sur­prised he’s find­ing time to do this in­ter­view at all, given how tight his sched­ule must be just now. Yes­ter­day he hosted around 1000 guests and me­dia at the for­mal open­ing of Stage III of Leitz Park, the grand vi­sion for Leica Cam­era AG he ini­ti­ated back in 2007 af­ter the Kauf­mann fam­ily took over own­er­ship of the company.

While we wait for the good doc­tor to ar­rive, I’m en­ter­tained by Ste­fan Daniel, who is the global direc­tor of Leica’s Busi­ness Unit Photo. He joined the company at 18 as an ap­pren­tice so he’s well into his fourth decade with the fa­mous ‘red dot’ logo.

“There’s been a few changes over that time,” I com­ment. He smiles, and nods. “It’s a very dif­fer­ent company to­day,” he ob­serves, adding, “… and there were a few times when I thought it might not sur­vive”. We lapse into a short con­tem­pla­tive si­lence be­cause I know, as well as he does, that the fu­ture for Leica looked very bleak on at least a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions be­fore the res­cue party ar­rived in 2004 in the form of Dr An­dreas Kauf­mann. Al­though he was born in south­ern Ger­many, the Kauf­mann fam­ily made its for­tune in Aus­tria – he still lives in Salzburg – in the pa­per and pack­ag­ing in­dus­try. An­dreas trained and then worked for 15 years as a teacher at a Ru­dolf Steiner school, but his ca­reer path changed abruptly when he and his two brothers in­her­ited… let’s just say, a sig­nif­i­cant amount of money. He started look­ing around for pos­si­ble in­vest­ments and, hav­ing al­ready brought a small op­tics company in the same re­gion, Leica came to his at­ten­tion. Al­though a keen am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­pher, An­dreas had never owned a Leica cam­era, but he once re­called that a for­mer girl­friend ex­cit­edly came home one day with a prized new pur­chase… a Leica. He failed to see the sig­nif­i­cance and sub­se­quently felt this was the be­gin­ning of the end for that par­tic­u­lar re­la­tion­ship… so he never for­got the name.

Through their investment company, An­dreas and his two brothers ini­tially pur­chased around 27 per­cent of Leica, but af­ter a to­tal col­lapse looked al­most cer­tain in 2005, he took the coura­geous de­ci­sion to buy the en­tire cam­era op­er­a­tion… and on his own too. Not con­vinced that an ail­ing cam­era company stuck rigidly in the film era was such a good investment, Kauf­mann’s brothers took their money else­where.

They now might be won­der­ing if they made the right de­ci­sion, be­cause it took An­dreas just five years to turn around Leica’s for­tunes, most of the var­i­ous strate­gies funded by his own money, but as he told the Fi­nan­cial Times news­pa­per back in June 2014 – as Leica cel­e­brated its 100 an­niver­sary in the cam­era busi­ness – “Money is a tool. It’s not an investment… it’s a pas­sion”.

I was there for the May 2014 open­ing of the first part of Leitz Park which made Leica’s 100th birth­day party a par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable oc­ca­sion… not just be­cause the company had sur­vived its dark­est hour, but that now the fu­ture looked the bright­est it had ever done. Back in 2014 we were given a glimpse of what else was planned for the com­plex and it’s safe to say that no other cam­era company in the world has ever un­der­taken any­thing quite so am­bi­tious. How­ever, it’s also im­por­tant to point out that now Leica isn’t just about cam­eras… it’s about the brand and the as­so­ci­ated

“We tech­nol­ogy. do We have tech­nol­ogy, but in the end it’s not about the megapix­els, but about cre­at­ing a great pic­ture Which moves you.”

“YOU DON’T BUY AN M CAM­ERA EV­ERY DAY. IF YOU COULD, YOU WOULD BE LUCKY, BUT THEN YOU’D PROB­A­BLY HAVE TO HAVE A DIF­FI­CULT DIS­CUS­SION WITH YOUR WIFE AT SOME TIME.”

pres­tige that par­tially comes from its her­itage, but is now also be­ing bol­stered by the cur­rent ac­tiv­i­ties.

Ste­fan Daniels talks of a “brand ac­count” and says that ev­ery­thing Leica is do­ing now is de­signed to put more value into that ac­count.

Im­por­tantly, he stresses, this means they won’t be con­sid­er­ing any­thing that could po­ten­tially take value out of the brand ac­count. The grow­ing num­ber of company-run Leica Stores around the world, the gal­leries (there are cur­rently 19, with the 20th and 21st to open shortly) and the Leica Akadamie ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram are all de­signed to be brand-en­hanc­ing.

Wel­come To The ‘World Of Leica’

Leitz Park is sit­u­ated on the out­skirts of the his­toric Ger­man town of Wet­zlar, which is about 80 kilo­me­tres north of Frankfurt and the orig­i­nal home of Leica. Founder Ernst Leitz – who was an op­ti­cal engi­neer – started work­ing in Wet­zlar in 1864 and cre­ated his own epony­mous company there in 1869.

To­day it’s con­sid­ered a ma­jor cen­tre for op­tics and is also home to Zeiss (which makes sports op­tics here), Mi­nox, Vis­tec, Op­toTech and around 70 smaller com­pa­nies. Col­lec­tively, they rep­re­sent 15,000 jobs and 2.8 bil­lion Eu­ros of an­nual turnover so the op­ti­cal in­dus­try is ex­tremely im­por­tant to the Hesse re­gion’s econ­omy. There are now 1200 peo­ple work­ing across the var­i­ous Leitz Park op­er­a­tions alone.

The 18-square-kilo­me­tre Schanzen­feld site was once a tank train­ing ground and was used by the Ger­man army up un­til the end of the 20th cen­tury. Now the Leitz Park com­plex em­ploys those 1200 peo­ple and, in ad­di­tion to the var­i­ous Leica op­er­a­tions, in­cludes a cou­ple of other ten­ant com­pa­nies also in­volved in op­tics. A large part of the site has been re­turned to its nat­u­ral state, fol­low­ing the ex­ten­sive plant­ing of trees and the re-es­tab­lish­ment of ponds and walk­ing trails.

The com­ple­tion of Stage III sees Leica’s fa­cil­ity ex­panded to in­clude a 129-room bou­tique ho­tel, a restau­rant and a smart new head­quar­ters build­ing which houses not only of­fices, but also a mu­seum and shop, the company ar­chives, and a large photo stu­dio. Also in the com­plex are pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties for two new op­er­a­tions – Ernst Leitz Wet­zlar GmbH which was for­merly called CW Son­derop­tic GmbH and orig­i­nally set up by An­dreas Kauf­mann to make Leica cine lenses; and Ernst Leitz Werk­stät­ten which will shortly be­gin mak­ing lux­ury watches un­der the Leica brand. There’s not just a syn­ergy here in terms of the skill sets in­volved (so, for ex­am­ple, the Leica watches have both sap­phire crys­tal faces and backs) but also that, be­fore he moved into op­tics, Ernst Leitz trained as a watch-maker in Switzer­land.

Kauf­mann’s vi­sion was al­ways for some­thing much more than just a man­u­fac­tur­ing plant, with the idea be­ing to cre­ate a ‘World Of Leica’ to ac­tively en­cour­age ex­ist­ing users and po­ten­tial cus­tomers to visit and par­tic­i­pate in var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties. These in­clude ex­hi­bi­tions – there are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces in dif­fer­ent build­ings – and ed­u­ca­tion via the Leica Akademie pro­gram which now also has an im­pres­sive new home in the com­plex. The new mu­seum is much big­ger than the one in the first stage and will be able to cover a much wider range of his­tor­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary cam­eras plus other prod­ucts such as lenses, mi­cro­scopes and sports op­tics. The new Leica Store on the site will also be much big­ger than pre­vi­ously… and def­i­nitely a ma­jor at­trac­tion if you’re a Leica afi­cionado.

It’s also Dr Kauf­mann’s idea to ap­ply Leica’s ex­per­tise – par­tic­u­larly in pre­ci­sion en­gi­neer­ing and op­tics – to other prod­uct ar­eas, hence the move into mak­ing high-end watches and also eye­care prod­ucts. The fourth and fi­nal stage of Leitz Park will be a ded­i­cated man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity for high-qual­ity oph­thalmic lenses.

Wider Op­por­tu­ni­ties

At the grand open­ing of Stage III – which also at­tracted a num­ber of lo­cal and fed­eral politi­cians – Dr Kauf­mann noted that his strict Protes­tant up­bring­ing meant that he could only mod­estly ac­knowl­edge his achieve­ments with, “We’ve done quite OK”.

Boris Rhein, who is the min­is­ter for Sci­ence And Art in the Hesse state par­lia­ment, coun­tered that, be­ing a Catholic raised in Frankfurt, he could be a bit more ef­fu­sive and noted, “It’s al­ways been vi­sion­ar­ies who have shaped the fu­ture of Leica”. He also com­mented, “What would our so­ci­ety be with­out pho­tog­ra­phy? Iconic im­ages have changed world his­tory”. And a very ap­pro­pri­ate quote from the Ger­man poet and nov­el­ist Her­man Hesse, “In or­der to make the pos­si­ble emerge, the im­pos­si­ble has to at­tempted”.

Nice to see a politi­cian ap­par­ently so ex­pertly across his port­fo­lio.

The ar­chi­tect in­volved in the de­vel­op­ment of Leitz Park de­scribed it as “…a mod­ern acrop­o­lis… a mod­ern acrop­o­lis above Wet­zlar”. Cer­tainly, the longer-term ob­jec­tives ex­tend be­yond just the man­u­fac­ture of high-end op­ti­cal prod­ucts. Tourism is one. The new ho­tel is be­ing op­er­ated by the Ger­man Ar­cona Group as part of its Ar­cona Liv­ing col­lec­tion of prop­er­ties which are specif­i­cally in­spired by artists and po­ets. In ad­di­tion to the Ernst Leitz Ho­tel – which is, not sur­pris­ingly, Leica-themed – there’s one ded­i­cated to the 18th cen­tury writer and poet Goethe in Berlin, and an­other to the com­poser J.S. Bach in Leipzig. This part of Ger­many isn’t as well-known as, say, Bavaria or Berlin, but there’s ac­tu­ally quite a lot to see and it’s easy to reach af­ter fly­ing into Frankfurt. If you’re in­ter­ested in his­tory – and not just that of pho­tog­ra­phy either – Wet­zlar and en­vi­rons has plenty to of­fer. The eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties are there too, par­tic­u­larly build­ing on the op­ti­cal en­gi­neer­ing ex­per­tise. Mak­ing the most of such a big au­di­ence, one lo­cal politi­cian took the op­por­tu­nity to call upon the Ger­man fed­eral gov­ern­ment to con­sider es­tab­lish­ing an op­ti­cal re­search fa­cil­ity in Wet­zlar, pre­sum­ably con­fi­dent the mes­sage would get back to Berlin. With the com­ple­tion of Leitz Park, stated Dr Kauf­mann, “Leica Cam­era AG has come of age. Leitz Park is a con­tin­u­a­tion of yes­ter­day and to­mor­row”. And it’s not just a ran­dom col­lec­tion of build­ings either, but has been de­signed around the tra­di­tional Ital­ian idea of a cen­tral pi­azza which serves to tie to­gether all the dif­fer­ent com­po­nents of the com­plex while also al­low­ing for a va­ri­ety of build­ing shapes… in­clud­ing one with a bal­cony styled to look like the eye­piece of a viewfinder. Kauf­mann de­scribes the end re­sult as hav­ing “…a pleas­ing sense of ur­ban­ity”.

Build­ing The Brand

When he ar­rives at my in­ter­view (not so very late, by the way), An­dreas Kauf­man doesn’t look like a man with a mil­lion things on his mind. He’s sur­pris­ingly re­laxed – a bit laid-back even – friendly and chatty for a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive, most of whom gen­er­ally tend to be very hard work for an in­ter­viewer.

It seems only po­lite to start by con­grat­u­lat­ing him on what he’s achieved with Leitz Park… which he promptly dis­misses with purse of the lips and a wave of the hand

“Well, we have a spe­cial po­si­tion at Leica and we’ve tried to

ex­press this a lit­tle bit through the ar­chi­tec­ture… some pho­tog­ra­phers in the USA are al­ready call­ing it ‘The Moth­er­ship’. I like this ex­pres­sion!”

“You’ve built this brand into some­thing quite spe­cial,” I per­sist.

“With the help of some pretty good peo­ple… that’s for sure,” he replies, ap­ply­ing yet more of that Protes­tant mod­esty.

“We’re try­ing to do things a bit dif­fer­ently here,” he con­tin­ues. “There’s too much em­pha­sis on tech­nol­ogy [in the cam­era in­dus­try]. Tech­nol­ogy is OK. We do tech­nol­ogy. We have tech­nol­ogy, but in the end it’s not about the megapix­els, but about cre­at­ing a great pic­ture which moves you.

“In the fu­ture, I be­lieve it’s go­ing to be more about the ‘look’. And, in my opin­ion, the look is all about the lens.”

“To make the pic­tures look unique,” clar­i­fies Ste­fan Daniel.

Leica’s long and il­lus­tri­ous her­itage is ob­vi­ously a ma­jor part of the brand’s cur­rent and fu­ture value, but it can also cre­ate chal­lenges when it comes to de­sign­ing a new prod­uct.

“How do you bal­ance the great ex­pec­ta­tions cre­ated by her­itage?” I ask.

Ste­fan Daniel an­swers, “First of all, it de­pends on the prod­uct line we’re de­vel­op­ing. If we’re de­vel­op­ing some­thing for M we al­ways have to keep the his­tory in mind. Com­pat­i­bil­ity be­tween the com­po­nents is su­per-es­sen­tial so, for ex­am­ple, a 1955 Sum­mi­cron lens is still valu­able be­cause it can still be used on to­day’s M10. When we launched the M8 we didn’t put elec­tronic con­tacts on the lens mount, in­stead we in­vented a six-bit op­ti­cal code so you could retro­fit all of the M lenses… or most of them, any­way… so they worked on the dig­i­tal cam­eras. And this com­pat­i­bil­ity means that the sec­ond-hand value of a [lens] prod­uct never drops to zero… which, on the other hand, also jus­ti­fies the pur­chase price.”

“This is to­tally unique to Leica,” states Dr Kauf­man. “It pre­serves the value and, with these vin­tage lenses, it also cre­ates the look… so the past is also part of the fu­ture, in our case.

“But what­ever we do, a Leica should al­ways look like a Leica, so we try to achieve this even with these cam­eras [he picks up the new C-Lux], which, of course, are not pro­duced in Ger­many. If we were to start mak­ing these mod­els in Ger­many – and we could – then we’d have to charge a lot more.”

There’s no ques­tion the mod­ern Leica is as much about the brand as it is about the cam­eras so, I won­der, where might this lead in the fu­ture?

Kauf­mann an­swers, “Well, watches are near to what we are do­ing in the M, be­cause when you look into the cou­pled rangefinder, there are a great many pre­ci­sion me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents in there… so there’s a re­la­tion­ship. It’s a dif­fer­ent prod­uct full stop, but there’s a re­la­tion­ship me­chan­i­cally. So what you might call ‘line ex­ten­sions’ these days are pos­si­ble, but there’s a cer­tain limit, be­cause our key fo­cus is al­ways cam­eras and op­tics. But then there are, let’s say on the sides, some po­ten­tial with prod­ucts like this – or maybe a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent – where you can say, ‘OK, it tells a story about Leica – a Ger­man brand based on me­chan­ics, op­tics, elec­tron­ics, soft­ware, ma­te­ri­als and de­sign’. These are the six ba­sic as­pects of Leica, so we can do cer­tain other things with them.”

Many pres­tige brands have ex­ten­sive mer­chan­dis­ing pro­grams – Fer­rari be­ing per­haps the most ac­tive here – so I ask whether is there po­ten­tial to ex­pand the Leica brand’s ‘reach’ this way?

Kauf­mann pauses for thought be­fore an­swer­ing, “Yes and no. The thing is, I don’t like the Fer­rari mer­chan­dise, al­though I know they earn a lot of money from it. But a T-shirt is still only a T-shirt.”

So does some mer­chan­dis­ing en­hance a brand or ac­tu­ally de­tract from it?

“Well, with Fer­rari it’s not so much of a prob­lem be­cause the cars are so high-end tech­nol­o­gy­wise that it does not cheapen the brand. In our case – as a Ger­man brand – we will be a bit more cau­tious. Ac­tu­ally, we do some­times do T-shirts be­cause we like T-shirts, but to cre­ate a ‘Leica World’ based on sneak­ers and T-shirts and base­ball bats, I would be against that. But, you know, we have some stuff in our stores, be­cause you don’t buy an M cam­era ev­ery day. If you could, you would be lucky, but then you’d prob­a­bly have to have a dif­fi­cult dis­cus­sion with your wife at some time.”

Ste­fan Daniel adds, “For us, the bor­der line is al­ways that if it pays into the brand ac­count, we will prob­a­bly do it. If it takes away from the brand ac­count, we won’t do it.”

Kauf­mann con­tin­ues, “Which means, for in­stance, when we de­cided to go into watches, it had to be a very high-end ap­proach where we did ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing de­sign­ing the move­ment which, by the way, has two de­sign el­e­ments that we’ve patented. It had to be unique, and we’ve come from the top here. And that’s what we see as the key po­ten­tial of these side ac­tiv­i­ties… to en­hance the brand. But the main em­pha­sis will al­ways be on these [he points to the cam­eras dis­played on the ta­ble].”

Af­ter 11 years of de­vel­op­ment, a to­tal space of 27,000 square me­tres and a 165 mil­lion Eu­ros spend (mostly by, it should be pointed out, the Kauf­mann fam­ily), is Leitz Park now fin­ished, the dream achieved?

An­dreas Kauf­mann smiles and nods slowly, “I think it’s enough… for the mo­ment.”

The Stage III sec­tion of the Leitz Park cam­pus as seen from Stage I which was com­pleted in 2014, in time for Leica’s 100th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions.

The de­sign con­cept is based on an Ital­ian pi­azza.

Dr An­dreas Kauf­mann

Leica’s L1 lux­ury watch. The “Leica” name on the dial uses the same style and font as on the top of the M6 35mm rangefinder cam­era.

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