INTERVIEW / Robert Mayr

Werte / N°24

We need

a greater

sense of

compassion

Trees and forests are a particular passion of Eva Mayr-Stihl and her husband Robert Mayr. That’s why they set up a foundation to fund projects with cultural and environmental goals

This sculpture by Ólafur Elíasson points the way to the foundation’s headquarters in Waiblingen. Art has always been part of the cultural iden- tity of Eva Mayr-Stihl and Robert Mayr’s foundation

Mr Mayr, we recently experienced one of the worst flood

catastrophes in German climate history. In the states of Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria, enormous quantities of flood water caused damage on an almost indescribable scale. Nature and the environ- ment are among the focal points of the foundation you set up together with your wife in 1986. Is there any connection between your passion for sustainability and the fact that Stihl has become a leading manufacturer of chainsaws, hedge trimmers, shredders and mowing robots?

Let me start out by telling you that flooding is one of the very first memories from my childhood years. My parent’s house in Bavaria stood close to a fast-flowing stream. In 1945, a month after the end of the Second World War, there was terrible flooding. Five people drowned, two of them in the house immediately adjacent to ours.

I was only five years old at the time, so you can imagine how these scenes remain deeply etched on my memory. But let’s get back to your question about sustainability. Hans Carl von Carlowitz can be regarded as fathering the concept of sustainability. He was the au- thor of the very first book about forestry, Sylvicultura oeconomica, published in 1713. Our company has its origins in the forestry sec- tor. There are laws stipulating that the number of trees felled may not be larger than the number of new trees, and these regulations are of great significance to the environment. Several years ago, the foundation established a Chair of Forest History at the University of Freiburg, with a special emphasis on sustainability research. And, more recently, we started funding a Professorship for Forest Genetics at the same institution. The goal is to grow trees that have greater resistance to the effects of global warming.


Does this mean you focus on areas with which you and your company are familiar?

That’s correct. The guiding principle of our foundation is to work in areas we understand, and find partners with whom we can build personal and trustful relationships. That’s why we also concentrate on local and regional areas in which we can achieve concrete results.


Trees are plants with which most people have an emotional bond. What about you?

If you’re asking whether I’m a tree-hugger, then the answer is no. But I love nature! During my childhood, I spent entire summers barefoot and outdoors. I also did a lot of skiing and mountain climbing. Nowadays, I still take my two dachshunds for walks through woods and fields at least twice a day. I’m a real country boy...


…who is committed to climate protection.

As all of us should be. This is an area in which the foundation is particularly active. We provide the funding for the German Forest Science Award, and support both the Berchtesgaden National Park and the Technical University of Dresden’s Forest Botanical Garden. Funding also goes to the Woodworkers Museum in Ruhpolding, documenting the life and work of forestry workers and foresters. The German Dendrology Society in Ahrensburg, dedicated to the scientific study of wooded plants, also receives support.


These experts tell us that Germany is also home to species of ancient trees such as chestnuts, yews and Swiss stone

pines – making forest dieback all the more catastrophic. What do you consider to be the main causes?

As we all know by now, it’s climate change. Compounded by the choice of tree species in forests.


Timber will play an increasingly important role in future; among other things, as a construction material to replace concrete. What’s your opinion on this?

I’m basically in favour. However, the construction industry mainly uses spruce. That’s a problem for conservationists because they op- pose monocultures.


It’s not doing any damage at all to Stihl’s business. Rev- enues and employee numbers continue to grow. Can you give us any figures for 2020?

Sales revenue for 2020 was 4.58 billion euros, and we had 18,200 employees. We are active in more than 160 countries.


Based in Waiblingen-Neustadt, Stihl is very much a “hid- den champion”. Stihl’s products are immediately familiar, but its owner family is quite the opposite. Why is discretion so important?

We are a family of owners not fairground barkers. We’re not inter- ested in the type of publicity that stems from tabloid journalism. And perhaps our reserve has something to do with the Swabian temperament.


As someone born in Bavaria, how would

you characterise this temperament?

There are well-known stereotypes – the self-confident Bavarian and the hard-working Swabian. As with most clichés, they contain a grain of truth. Bavarians are somewhat more extrovert and cos- mopolitan, while Swabians are more introvert and thrifty. As al- ways, exceptions confirm the rule.


Interestingly enough, the foundation also supports the

preservation of regional dialects. There’s a Bavarian dialect prize, for example. What about the Swabian dialect?

We are now committed to supporting the Swabian dialect too! There’s a close connection between dialect and mentality that I find extremely interesting. Dialect expressions such as “Uns ko koaner” [No one is a match for us] reflect the healthy self-confidence typical of many Bavarians.


Do you prefer Bavarian Schweinshaxn [knuckle of pork] or Swabian Maultaschen [stuffed pasta cases]?

Both. With possibly a slight preference for Maultaschen. Do you know the Swabian dialect name for them?


No.

Herrgottsbscheisserle [God’s little cheaters]. The name goes back to the time when pious Christians weren’t allowed to eat meat on Good Friday. So crafty monks came up with the idea of concealing it in pockets of pasta so that God couldn’t see it. I regard that as a further revealing insight into the Swabian character.


Inventive with a touch of cunning as well?

You could put it that way.


What are the values that define you and your wife,

as entrepreneurs and in your private life?

Modesty and respect are traditional family values passed on from generation to generation. Andreas Stihl, our company founder, set the example in this regard. He treated each and every one of his employees with the greatest respect, and bequeathed this mindset to his children and grandchildren. Responsibility for our family, our company, and the society and environment we live in are at the very top of our agenda. That’s why the foundation was established – we wanted to give something back.


What is the foundation’s annual budget?

Approximately ten million euros at this point in time. Around 35 percent is reserved for medicine, science and research, and 20 per- cent for art and culture. The remaining amount is used for a range of other foundation purposes.


Why does art and culture receive less funding?

That’s a difficult question. We support three large hospitals, includ- ing the Klinikum Stuttgart, the largest hospital in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Medicine is more existentially crucial to peo- ple than art. Also, science and research probably bring more direct benefits to people than culture. But that doesn’t mean my wife and I don’t have the highest regard for art and culture.


Visitors on the way to the foundation’s headquarters first pass the Man on Seahorse figure by Stephan Balkenhol

and then the Pavilion for Waiblingen sculpture by Ólafur Elíasson. Is art an integral part of the foundation’s

cultural identity?

Without a doubt. We provided the initial funding for the construc- tion of the “Galerie Stihl” in Waiblingen, and also support individ- ual exhibitions. We have a really diverse programme, and interest is growing all the time.


Do you and your wife have a private collection?

Let’s just say we buy things that we like, including works by Otto Dix, Käthe Kollwitz, Marc Chagall, Willi Baumeister and Horst Antes. Our house in Bavaria has a predominance of Bavarian folk art, old votive paintings and antique rustic furniture.


How do you see the future of the foundation?

My statistics professor always said that the future is an undiscov- ered country. Foundations, however, and ours is no exception, are established to exist in perpetuity. What I can say with certainty is that we will be continuing to focus on our three core areas: medi- cine; science and research; and art and culture. We believe these ar- eas to be critical for humanity’s survival. We also intend to remain unwavering in our core convictions: discipline, decency, fairness and liberality. The work of our foundation is rooted in empathy for other human beings. Because one thing is crystal clear: we need a deeper sense of compassion for our society and the world of nature. And this is what we will continue to advocate.

Text

Eva Karcher


Illustration

Paula Sanz Caballero

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This is the number of projects that

received funding in 2020 alone, despite the coronavirus crisis

“Modesty and respect are traditional values in our family, passed on from generation to generation”

Robert Mayr

0
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million euros is the amount of

funding provided by the foundation since its inception

“The guiding principle of our foundation is to be active in areas we understand”

ROBERT MAYR

“The work of our foundation is rooted in empathy for other human beings. We remain unwavering in our core convictions”

ROBERT MAYR

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is the year in which the

Eva Mayr-Stihl foundation was

established in Waiblingen

Facts & Figures

Founded in 1926, Stihl manufactures equipment for the forestry, garden and landscaping, and construction sectors. Right from the very beginning, the company’s mission was to make working in the great outdoors easier. And they met with success. Stihl has been the world's biggest selling chainsaw brand since 1971. In the 2020 fiscal year, the Stihl Group grew its sales revenue to 4.58 billion euros, and staff numbers increased by 9 percent to 18,200 employees. Eva Mayr-Stihl is the daughter of the company founder. In 1986, Eva Mayr-Stihl and Robert Mayr, her husband, set up their foundation. Initially named after her father, the foun- dation now funds a range of projects including the Nation- al Heritage Trees initiative. Eva Mayr-Stihl has received a number of awards for “outstanding commitment”, includ- ing the Cross of Merit (1st Class) of the Federal Republic of Germany.

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