One of the most dazzling entrepreneurial personalities in German post-war history is disembarked. Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler-Thumann, matriarch of the Franconian automotive and industrial supplier Schaeffler, is retiring from active work on the supervisory board at the age of 81.
After the Annual General Meeting in April, she only held an honorary role, as the company announced. Schaeffler-Thumann, which is mentioned in the same breath as entrepreneurs such as Liz Mohn or Friede Springer, is a symbol of the rise and crises of the supplier empire.
"The last three decades of my life have been shaped by my commitment to the Schaeffler company and the large Schaeffler family. I will remain closely associated with the company as a shareholder and am happy to be leaving the next generation in good order," said Schaeffler-Thumann .
"We owe her a great deal"
The supervisory board and management paid tribute to the lifetime achievements of the entrepreneur who was born in Prague and grew up in Vienna. "My mother's tireless commitment through the company's ups and downs was crucial to Schaeffler being one of the world's leading technology companies today, mostly in family hands. We owe her a great deal and wish her all the best," said her son and Chairman of the Supervisory Board Georg F.W. Schaeffler.
The former CDU politician Katherina Reiche is to take her place on the supervisory board. She is the head of the energy supplier Westenergie and is considered a hydrogen expert. Hydrogen is one of the future fields at Schaeffler.
Schaeffler-Thumann, who actually wanted to become a doctor, moved to Franconia from her place of study in Vienna after marrying her husband Georg Schaeffler. After her husband's death in 1996 and her son's move to the United States, the then 55-year-old suddenly found herself alone at the helm of a billion-dollar company.
"Elegant in appearance, with a penchant for perfection, unusually strong-willed and determined not to show any weakness, Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler makes it clear from day one that she feels up to the task," wrote the author and historian Gregor Schöllgen .
"In addition to tireless diligence, brilliant perception and iron discipline, management qualities include, above all, the talent to know one's own possibilities exactly. As well as their limits," wrote long-time companion Wolfgang Reitzle on the occasion of his 80th birthday.
"Boldly treading new paths"
CEO Klaus Rosenfeld is also full of praise: "Ms. Schaeffler-Thumann has significantly shaped the Schaeffler Group for 25 years. Under her aegis, the company has continuously expanded its market position, repeatedly reinvented itself and boldly blazed new trails," said Rosenfeld once about the partner.
But Schaeffler-Thumann also stands for a tightrope act that almost ended in one of the most spectacular bankruptcies in Germany. In 2008, together with her son Georg, she took over the much larger automotive supplier Continental. Shortly thereafter, the US investment bank Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. Schaeffler and Conti were caught up in the financial crisis it triggered. The German state did not want to step into the breach.
"You can't call for state aid in a mink coat," said then Labor Minister and current Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Schaeffler took the path without a state. An unusual pact with trade unions, employees and the banks - sometimes even in the strudel - should pave the way out of the crisis. Schaeffler made the leap to the stock exchange in 2015. When Schaeffler-Thuman says goodbye, the supplier is in a brilliant position - despite far-reaching changes, especially in the automotive industry.
The matriarch has stayed out of operational events for years. She has not been seen in Herzogenaurach for a long time. Schaeffler-Thumann lives with her husband, former BDI President Jürgen Thumann, in Kitzbühel, Austria.