ElringKlinger AG

Doing good
brings us together

The long-standing connection between ElringKlinger and the Lechler Foundation goes back to Paul Lechler (1849–1925), a successful businessman, social reformer, and philanthropist who paved the way for the foundation that now bears his name and – through his trading company – for ElringKlinger AG. To this day, the Lechler family, which owns the majority of ­ElringKlinger AG’s shares, has maintained the tradition established by Paul Lechler of donating ten percent of their income to charitable causes through the Lechler Foundation. In a joint interview, Dr. Stefan Wolf, CEO of ElringKlinger, and Dieter Hauswirth, Chairman of the Lechler Foundation, discussed the continued focus on Paul Lechler’s values, current joint projects, and future collaboration between the automotive supplier and the foundation.

The Lechler Foundation has adopted the motto “Doing good brings us together” for its work. Is that also an appropriate way of describing the connection between the Lechler Foundation and ElringKlinger?

WOLF — Absolutely. At ElringKlinger we feel we have an obligation to uphold certain values that go back to the philosophy of our founder Paul Lechler. In fact, those values can be found to this day in our guiding principles. Although ­ElringKlinger is now a listed company and has to meet capital market requirements, we still retain something of the character of a family business.

HAUSWIRTH — The motto also reflects Paul Lechler’s belief in charitable work and the Lechler family’s close links to Christianity. Paul Lechler once said: “Faith must not simply be a matter of ideology; it must be lived out through our actions.” For me, that principle is every bit as relevant today.

What is the purpose of the Foundation, and what are the main areas in which it provides support?

HAUSWIRTH — One of the Foundation’s main objectives is to draw the attention of policymakers to social issues that currently need greater attention. Traditionally, the support we offer is directed at young people, the old, and those who are disabled. In recent years, for example, the Lechler Foundation has been particularly active in the field of inclusion. Between 2008 and 2014 it donated a total of six million euros for beacon projects in this area. We have also conducted studies of the projects supported by the foundation as a way of demonstrating to policymakers that inclusion is possible. Last but not least, it was also due, in part, to our work in this area that the federal state of Baden-Württemberg has now established an annual budget for measures to improve social inclusion.

WOLF — Inclusion is certainly an important issue. ­ElringKlinger works with the BruderhausDiakonie Center to create long-term jobs for people with disabilities. On account of our company background, we believe we have an obligation to demonstrate social responsibility and help bring about greater social inclusion. In my view, that should be one of the main goals of all business activity. As well as striving to make a profit, companies should consider how they can get involved in cultural, social, and environmental issues. This really ought to form part of a more holistic business philosophy. Paul Lechler was an early pioneer of that approach.

HAUSWIRTH — I would love to see more companies embracing the philosophy pioneered by Paul Lechler and fortunately maintained by ElringKlinger.

A large proportion of the funds raised by the Foundation are currently being used for conversion work at the Paul Lechler Hospital in Tübingen. Why was a new building necessary?

HAUSWIRTH — The Paul Lechler Hospital goes back nearly a hundred years. It started off as a convalescent home for people who came back from missionary work with a tropical disease. The hospital has established a very good reputation over the years in the field of tropical medicine. The new building was needed to ensure that the hospital continues to meet the latest operating standards. It will house a large geriatric department and a palliative care center – another area in which the hospi­tal enjoys an excellent reputation.

WOLF — It’s worth pointing out that the area of tropical medicine is now much less dominant than it was, because many diseases can now be avoided with the help of preventive medical techniques. By contrast, there is a greater focus on palliative medicine, and this will be one of the main activities in the new building.

“Through its work, the Lechler Foundation would like to show policymakers in which social areas action is needed.“

Chairman of the Lechler Foundation

The Paul Lechler Hospital and ElringKlinger recently col­l­aborated on a project to construct a “One World Bench”. Where did the idea come from?

WOLF — Some years ago we set up a modular training program for employees with the potential to become future managers. One of the modules involves organizing and implementing a project outside the program’s usual focus on automotive issues in order to develop the participants’ social skills. Projects such as this are immensely valuable because they allow you to gain experience of the kind you might never acquire otherwise. Every time I talk to the employees involved in the program, they tell me how much they have learned. One of our earlier groups, for example, designed a sensory barefoot trail for severely disabled people. The latest group decided to make a bench for the gardens at the Paul Lechler Hospital. The idea was to create a meeting place for old and young people between the hospital and the neighboring kindergarten.

HAUSWIRTH — There is also an impressive philosophical side to the project. I was particularly struck by the focus on ­inequality – the fact that we may all live on the same planet but global wealth is distributed very unevenly between the two hemispheres. The bench can also stand for the successful links between the Paul Lechler Hospital, the Lechler Foundation, and the young people at ElringKlinger who put so much into the project. Most of all, though, I’m delighted to see people ­actually sitting on the bench whenever I visit the hospital.

“On account of our company background, we believe we have an obligation to demonstrate social responsibility.”

CEO, ElringKlinger AG

Looking ahead, how do you see the Lechler Foundation and ElringKlinger working together in the future?

WOLF — At ElringKlinger we aim to maintain a strong business and in doing so ensure that the Foundation has the funds it needs through our dividend payments. What is more, the future of the Foundation is secure because the shareholdings associated with the Lechler family are transferred over the years to the Foundation.

HAUSWIRTH — Obviously, I would also like to see ­ElringKlinger maintaining its track record of success as it moves forward, as the Foundation will benefit directly from the company’s performance. At the same time, I can ­assure ElringKlinger employees that the money generated by the company – some of which finds its way to us via the Lechler families – will be used responsibly by the Foun­dation.