May 2018
Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG. (Photos: Ralf A. Niggemann)
Leica Camera AG

Carry On The Spirit

Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera AG, takes a look at the forthcoming completion of the third construction phase in Leitz Park.

In 2014, Leica Camera AG moved into their new corporate headquarters in Wetzlar. It was a reminiscence to their history and a departure to the future. Only two years later, the first turf was cut for the next construction phase. Now, in June 2018, Leitz Park III will be opened.

W3+: Dr. Kaufmann, Leitz Park is growing at an enormous speed. The dynamic is impressive. Isn’t it a little bit frightening, too?

Andreas Kaufmann: Whenever you make a decision in business you always have to consider the risks involved. I’m not afraid but sometimes I wake up in the morning and become aware of the extent of what has been created here in the past years and what is still to come. You have to keep in mind that the Leitz Park project was planned to be carried out in a sustainable manner over a long period. It all started with the purchase of the plot of land in 2007 and the first construction phase in 2009. In 2014, we moved into the new corporate headquarters. The overall plan will finally be finished with the completion of the third construction phase.

W3+: You mean the concept of the open campus which will be completed during the current construction phase?

Andreas Kaufmann: Exactly. On the east side, we have the forum with the Leitz Café and the adjoining company buildings. Towards the west, a kind of modern market place is arising, framed by the new buildings. The two parts are connected and form a unit. From the beginning, we deliberately didn’t want a mere accumulation of functional buildings as one would expect in an industrial area. Instead we wanted to give Leitz Park the character of a spacious urban quarter.

W3+: What is going on in this new space?

Andreas Kaufmann: There will be a variety of buildings which have been planned and built in an organic way, so to speak, with view to their individual function. The Ernst Leitz Hotel, for instance, has to fulfill completely different structural and aesthetic requirements than the Leica museum and archive. A lot of attention is given to the extension of the Leica Akademie. The multistory building will have six floors after all accommodating offices and a new company. Towards the street, a production building is built for CW Sonderoptic. At the moment, the company has to share a building from the first construction phase with VIAOPTIC. The planned Optics Center of the THM (University of Applied Sciences for Central Hessen) could be set up here as well. Right now, we are still discussing the matter with the responsible people – hopefully to good effect. So, we are creating a lot of new things and provide more space for what is already there.

W3+: The World of Leica Experience has been a great success: In 2017, you had more than 30,000 visitors, and tours are booked out for months in advance. So why an extension?

Andreas Kaufmann: The World of Leica Experience is indeed a crowd-puller. This success made it evident to us how great an interest there is in Leica as a brand and in Leica’s history. It is a substantial element of our brand that Leica left a distinct mark on the history of photography. This is undisputed and the reason why we will have the Leica Museum on the new grounds. The possibilities we have there will exceed anything which we have been able to present in the World of Leica Experience so far.

W3+: So, it is intended as a place of “pilgrimage” for Leica enthusiasts?

Andreas Kaufmann: There are actually quite a lot of intensely adoring Leica enthusiasts who – like me – have been getting on in years. The museum will certainly be a focal point of their interest. But from our point of view the expansion of the Leica Akademie is just as important because it has grown considerably during the last years. The demand is enormous! Not only among our faithful fans but also among an increasing number of people who want to start exploring photography with Leica.

W3+: Do you have an explanation for this?

Andreas Kaufmann: As a matter of fact, everybody is a photographer nowadays but without knowing what he or she is actually doing. We assume that 80 percent of the smartphone users will never need a camera. But since almost everybody uses a smartphone nowadays, the remaining 20 percent who will decide in favor of a photographic camera at some point are quite a lot. So, for us, it is important to convey the corresponding enthusiasm in showing these people what camera photography can do best. The Leica Akademie contributes to that enthusiasm in the same way as the future Leica Museum.

W3+: If you want to be hip and get a lot of attention you have to go to Berlin, New York, or Tokyo. Why Wetzlar?

Andreas Kaufmann: Leica and its myth are strongly connected with Wetzlar. We have Leica stores and Leica galleries in all metropolises around the world. The exhibition “Open your Eyes! 100 years of Leica Photography” has been touring the world since 2014. In Madrid, we had more than 100,000 visitors. Currently, the exhibition can be seen in Rome. On the globe in front of our headquarters, Wetzlar is shown as a little red dot. But this dot is the crucial point. Moreover, the large numbers of visitors show that we are getting a lot of attention here as well.

W3+: In a company as rich in tradition as Leica, is it an extremely difficult tightrope walk between where do we come from and where do we go?

Andreas Kaufmann: We are deliberately taking the walk on this tightrope because there is such a strong connection between our future and our provenance. This concerns both the pre-eminent reputation of our brand and the distinct declaration of loyalty to Wetzlar as our location including all investments involved. And it is reflected in the development of new products where we follow a credo which is more than just a creed: Leica outside, Leica inside. This goes for all products: for the Leica M just as much as for the Leica Q or the new Leica CL.

W3+: As a Pietist one could say: Do your job, sell cameras. But you give the impression that the job has always been about more than selling. Is it in your nature as a business man to always consider both sides of the term corporate culture, that is to say both the corporation and the culture?

Andreas Kaufmann: Well, yes. But this is a key note in our company, not a cause I have taken up alone. The various generations of the Leitz family were extremely committed to cultural and social causes. And they created an impressive corporate culture. We are, of course, unable to replicate this par for par because the times they lived in were different. But we can carry on in their spirit. That’s what I try to do with the means at my disposal.

W3+: Assuming, Ernst Leitz, Oskar Barnack, and Max Berek would come back to Earth for one day and go on a tour through Leitz Park together. What do you think would they say?

Andreas Kaufmann: Part of my family comes from Berlin and was steeped in the Prussian tradition. The highest praise one could get was the sentence: “You did quite ok.” I imagine that Ernst Leitz, Oskar Barnack, and Max Berek would say something in this vein. (Laughs) I don’t know if the three of them also witnessed the company’s difficult years from above – but considering those years, maybe they would even be a little bit proud of today’s development. If it was possible I would invite them to the opening of Leitz Park III on July 15th and 16th and show them round today’s World of Leica personally.