Lobmeyr is a global brand with a history that spans almost 200 years. Glassware sets and chandeliers manufactured by the Viennese family-owned business have written design history time and time again. Andreas Rath, who together with his cousins is the sixth generation to run the company, explains how to seamlessly perpetuate such success.
Mr. Rath, you have been one of Lobmeyr's managing directors since 2000. In your view, what are some of the highlights if you look back at the company’s history?
Andreas Rath: Some of our grandfather’s designs, such as the chandeliers for the Metropolitan Opera in New York and his cup series from the 1950s, for which he received the German national prize for design. Those were without a doubt highlights. But restoring chandeliers – such as in the Liechtenstein City Palace in Vienna – is also a highlight, because they then once again shine like new and that makes our customers happy. This kind of work is also rewarding for our craftspeople, because they have a job that truly fulfills them, and so they leave work satisfied in the evening.
You were born into an entrepreneurial family, but when did you realize that you were ready to take over the management of the company?
I always had a very strong interest and attachment to the company. When I was a schoolboy, I worked in the warehouse and in sales. Later, I went on to train as a belt maker, a trade that can be compared to that of a brass smith. After finishing university, I first worked in controlling at a bank and it was only at the age of 30 that I decided that I saw my future at Lobmeyr.
So you brought your passion for craftsmanship to the management level?
The passion is shared by all three cousins who have now become the owners. We all have some craftsmanship skills, but I’m the only one who has actually received any training in this area. Knowing and understanding the techniques of the craft is essential to our work, for example, we need to be able to explain to the master glassmakers which tools are best suited for drawing the stem of a wine glass from a batch of hot glass.
Do you think the fact that the three owners are cousins and not siblings is an advantage?
It’s hard to say whether that makes a difference. But if I compare our situation with that of our fathers, the three brothers who ran the company before us, I would say it’s an advantage that we’re cousins. I think it might make it easier for us to address more sensitive issues. But it goes without saying that we don’t always share the same opinion. It’s impossible to completely avoid conflicts.
But the emotional connection to a company can also be an advantage, because after all, emotional ties are what set family businesses apart.
You’re absolutely right. At the outset, I considered whether it wouldn't be wiser to put our family business in the hands of a professional manager and number cruncher. But I now know that the emotional connection and interest in the company is a very important factor.
Especially since Lobmeyr's products are so unique. In some cases, you produce true works of art.
Yes, a lot of knowledge has been passed on within our family. We didn’t have our own production facilities until the 1920s. Until that time, we developed designs, which were sometimes the work of someone within the family, but very often, even back then, came from external architects and artists, who today would be called designers. It was not until the period between the two wars that we acquired or built workshops, which still exist today. These workshops are where we cut and engrave glass. And because we don’t produce our own glass, we have to go from glass factory to glass factory to see if they can meet our requirements. We have to know how glass is made, otherwise it’s not possible to implement our designs the way we want.
Do you still find it exciting to see what started out as a design then become tangible, for example a chandelier?
Of course! Seeing a new design become a reality is always exciting. It is my cousins, in particular, who supervise many of the prototype-related processes. As the owners, we are involved from the very beginning and usually do several design revisions with the designers. We always try to keep up with the times, but we are also still very interested in the way things were done in the past. And the knowledge we have retained of old production techniques can also be incorporated very well into new designs.
It was under your generation’s leadership that the company became open to very modern designers. Did that trigger discussions in the family?
It was a difficult step. But as the new generation of owners, we first went through a brand essence process and gained clarity about Lobmeyr’s essence, namely design and craftsmanship. Our customers appreciate Lobmeyr’s authenticity and the contrast between the new, cutting edge products and the traditional products, such as our very first set, which we made for the imperial court in 1835. And when they see those side by side, they realize the broad range of our work over almost 200 years. Incidentally, we decided a number of years ago not to invest any more money in advertising – only in new products. This actually strengthens the brand and is much more fun.
Have you been able to attract young customers during your time as Managing Director?
Thankfully, yes. We are seeing more and more young people in our store in Vienna, and Lobmeyr products are very popular for wedding registers. In addition, we have 300 dealers around the world. Our strongest markets outside Europe are the US and Japan. In Japan they still have great appreciation for craftsmanship. We also have customers in China, but we have decided not to address the Chinese market separately because we still see potential in our traditional markets. Also, because our products are handcrafted, our production is limited. So we are only able to grow very slowly.
Were there any conflicts during the generational transition? You are the sixth generation to take the reins…
There were no conflicts during the handover of the company, but we inherited a conflictual relationship that had prevailed between our parents. Because it was often not possible to address conflicts in the family, they became more and more virulent. We had to find a new way of interacting. The handover itself had been well prepared for. It had already been determined that only one successor was permitted per owner, and that this successor could then also join the management team. All three cousins were enthusiastic about the company, and we are now all equal partners and managing directors.
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Do you believe that one of the strengths of family businesses lies in the fact that decisions are often made faster and on a sounder basis?
Yes, at least for companies of our size. We have about 50 employees and very flat hierarchies. Communication is efficient and decisions are made quickly, partly because all the owners have internalized the same values. When certain questions arise, all three of us know what the answer has to be.
Do your children share your passion for Lobmeyr products?
Not quite yet. I have a 15-year-old daughter. She is more enthusiastic about playing the piano. But she does already have a certain amount of interest; in the summer she came to work with us. I asked her to help with our new website.
You are 55 years old. Are you starting to think about retirement?
No, our company has such an incredible history and reputation. We built the first electric chandelier, and the first chandelier with neon tubes. We have made designs that are exhibited in museums. All of these factors motivate and inspire me to keep going.
All images: © Lobmeyr
The Viennese family-owned business will soon be celebrating its 200th anniversary: founded in 1823 as a trading house for glassware, it has since become a venerable brand renowned for its chandeliers and beautiful glassware sets. Lobmeyr became famous in the 19th century as a supplier to the imperial and royal rulers, and its chandeliers can still be found in the Hofburg in Vienna or at Schönbrunn Palace. But the company’s transition into the modern age was also highly successful, reflected, for example, by the spectacular chandelier it created for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Lobmeyr also elaborately restored the magnificent chandeliers in the Stadtpalais Liechtenstein. Lobmeyr is currently managed by the sixth generation of the founding family: Andreas, Leonid and Johannes Rath. Lobmeyr glass has also long been recognized as a high-quality brand outside Europe.
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