Playmobil head, Horst Brandstätter died on June 3rd, 2015 at the age of 81 years.
To children, he was known as Mr Playmobil, but to most of his employees and friends, he was known as Hob.
Brandstätter was with the firm right until the end, coming into the office every day. His company – geobra Brandstätter Stiftung & Co. Kg, manufacturer of the toy classic Playmobil – was his passion and life’s work.
He entered the family business in 1952, aged 19 when he trained as a mould maker. It was not long until – at the age of 21 – he began to promote innovation within the company, adopting an aversion to the phrase “we’ve always done it that way.”
The company boss was instead convinced that a firm and its employees must keep growing in order to be equipped for future challenges. His vision and courage for reform soon resulted in significant economic success for the Brandstätter Company and in 1958 the production of hula hoops became a sales hit throughout Europe.
During the oil crisis of the early 1970s Brandstätter, who always trusted his gut feeling, again put his entrepreneurial skills to the test. He requested his master mould maker Hans Beck (1929 – 2009) to develop a completely new toy system which could be continually expanded. His specification was to achieve the maximum amount of play value for the minimum amount of plastic.
This resulted in the 7.5 centimetre play figures – a Knight, a Construction Worker and a Native American – which were first introduced to the general public as ‘Playmobil’ at the 1974 toy fair.
It was the success of Playmobil that saved the firm from bankruptcy, Brandstäter later admitted.
“People seeing the Playmobil figure for the first time are usually unimpressed; it looks so simple. Adults don’t immediately see the value of Playmobil. Its appeal is in the stories which it triggers in children’s heads,” he said.
With the help of Playmobil, Brandstätter’s company – of which he was by now the sole owner – went on to become Germany’s top-selling toy manufacturer. Most recently, in 2014, the worldwide sales of the Brandstätter Group amounted to EUR 595 million.
As a typical “down-to-earth Franconian” – as Brandstätter liked to describe himself – he has always been loyal to his roots, but he nonetheless spent 20 winters in his house on Jupiter Island in Florida, so that he could pursue his sporting passion of golf all year round.
This also gave his managers and employees an opportunity to manage the company on their own, without the captain being a constant presence. Brandstätter explained his strategy: “When the captain is the only one who knows where the compass is, and he falls overboard – then the ship is doomed. If I am not there, my employees will have to reach their own decisions”.
Until the end the 81 year old had no time to waste thinking about retirement: Instead he put all his efforts into considering what should happen to his life’s work – his company and its more than 4,000 employees worldwide – after his death.
“I have established a corporate foundation which will take over from me as proprietor. This charitable foundation supports children. The future of the company is thus secure, and at the same time I know that it will be managed according to my wishes.”
In May 2013 he proudly broke ground on the new Playmobil Logistics Centre in Herrieden – an investment of EUR 80 million. Until the end of his life he was resolute and far-sighted, but never shied away from making unconventional decisions.
When almost all the toy industry moved production to the low-wage economies of Asia, he opted for a collaborative production network in Europe. The largest facility is situated in Dietenhofen in Bavaria, with other manufacturing sites in Malta, the Czech Republic and Spain. Aware of the need to remain competitive, Brandstätter was nonetheless adamant about retaining control over the quality and safety of his products.
Throughout the years he has always been a reliable anchor for consumers, trading partners and employees alike. On the one hand he was an old-school boss, and on the other open-minded and determined to promote and draw out the potential of all his employees – whether old or young, man or woman. To the end.
With his life’s work Horst Brandstätter leaves behind a success story which will hopefully endure. His 4,170 staff members worldwide and his management team will continue to navigate his ship as a corporate foundation, so that Playmobil keeps on bringing smiles to children’s faces all around the globe.
Brandstätter died at his home in Zirndorf in Bavaria.