Teenage tycoon earns a place in German legend

LOCAL HEROES: 2

IMRE KARACS

Bonn

In a land where conformity is a virtue and life is reduced to a steady progression along a carefully mapped-out career path, Lars Windhorst is something of a prophet. Even the German business press, enthralled by the wunderkind's fabulous talent for making money, cannot resist a few jibes. "Barbie doll in a pin-stripe suit", was how one magazine described the 19-year-old tycoon who has turned his father's garage into the nerve centre of a global empire.

But among his peers in German industry, the teenager is a living legend. Myths abound of the boy who perused the stock market reports instead of comics at junior school. By 10 he is said to have started dabbling in shares, at 14 he began tinkering with computers. Soon he was writing software and building computers in the family home in the small town of Rahden in northern Germany.

That was when he discovered the limitations of the domestic industry and globalised his operations. When he was 15 he flew to China to buy cheap computer components, which were then assembled by his school-mates and sold in his father's stationery shop. A year later he dropped out of school and went into business with a Chinese enterpreneur based in Germany.

At first the local banks refused him credit. His father had to persuade bank managers that Lars was a serious proposition, and had to sign all the cheques, a task forbidden under German law to those under 18.

Despite the credit squeeze and all the bureaucratic hurdles, the cottage industry mushroomed within three years into a world-wide concern, with offices in New York and Hong Kong, interests in real estate, computers, advertising and business consultancy, and an annual turnover of DM250m. The Windhorst empire's centre is now shifting from Rahden to the Far East. In Vietnam, there are plans in Ho Chi Minh City for a 55-storey Windhorst Tower, destined to be the emblem of this "one-man economic miracle" - as he is described in the Hong Kong press.

His knowledge of the Far East scene has earned him guru status, so much so that when Chancellor Helmut Kohl recently toured the region, Lars was the leading luminary in a government delegation packed with captains of industry. He is the sort of young enterpreneur Germany needs, Mr Kohl said: "Eighteen-, nineteen-year-olds who don't count on their pensions, but follow their dreams, take risks and go out into the world."

The Chancellor and the German business world are expecting great deeds from their teenage enterpreneur. This week he is due to meet Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, who had the monopoly on precocious capitalism before Mr Windhorst came on the scene. There is talk of a link-up between the two, provoking jibes from the press about the dawn of a "nerds' world".

Whether German youth would emulate him, as Mr Kohl hopes, is doubtful. Mr Windhorst's social skills with people of his own age seem somewhat limited and, it is rumoured, he dilutes his beer with Coke.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash