Rudolf Miele

Industrialist who oversaw the worldwide expansion of his family's business
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The Independent Online

Rudolf Miele was part of a generation of post-war German industrialists who forged the "economic miracle" by selling quality goods produced by a contented and skilled workforce. When he joined the family business, Miele, in 1949, it was known mainly in Germany and was manufacturing for a limited domestic market. By the end of his life, he presided over a company employing 15,000 in 34 countries, with nearly 70 per cent of its products going abroad.



Rudolf Miele, industrialist: born Gütersloh, Germany 4 November 1929; managing partner, Miele 1960-2004; married (one son); died Gütersloh 19 August 2004.



Rudolf Miele was part of a generation of post-war German industrialists who forged the "economic miracle" by selling quality goods produced by a contented and skilled workforce. When he joined the family business, Miele, in 1949, it was known mainly in Germany and was manufacturing for a limited domestic market. By the end of his life, he presided over a company employing 15,000 in 34 countries, with nearly 70 per cent of its products going abroad.

Rudolf Miele was born in 1929 in Gütersloh, West Germany. His grandfather Carl had been the co-founder of the domestic appliance firm with Reinhard Zinkann in 1899. They had hit on the idea of producing a wooden washing-machine out of a butter churn. Their offspring continued the business together and by 1929, after a lost war, revolution and political turmoil, they had produced Europe's first domestic electric dishwasher.

In 1949, Rudolf Miele went into the business. The future was unclear. There was fear of war in divided Germany. Unemployment stood at over 8 per cent. The Deutsche Mark had been introduced in 1948 and the Federal Republic was founded in 1949, yet Miele's market was an impoverished West Germany in pre-Common Market Europe.

After learning from the bottom up and gaining experience in other firms in Germany and abroad, Miele was promoted to management in 1953 and, by 1960, he had convinced his relatives and the co-owning Zinkann family that he was ready for a top job as managing partner.

He never questioned the company's motto, "Immer Besser" ("Forever better") and went in for new technology. He was also clear that the firm's prosperity depended on exports. In 1963 Miele set up a base in Britain and by 1970 was represented throughout Western Europe. Although Miele started operations in the United States in 1985 with a sales force of three, by 2002 it had almost 1,300 dealers and distributors producing sales of $120m.

In the face of increasing competition from cheaper products, Rudolf Miele still put the emphasis on quality rather than quantity. He contradicted those who believed the family business could not survive in the global market-place and refused to contemplate a stock-exchange floatation. He had intended to hand over to the next generation on his 75th birthday in November.

David Childs

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