“How often does a company get the chance to rescue a cultural asset in its home country?” This is certainly something to consider, especially with regard to the broadly skilled banker, car enthusiast and owner of Berlin‘s Royal Porcelain Factory (KPM), Jörg Woltmann.
The exquisite German empire KPM was founded in 1763 and still to this day is considered one of Berlin’s traditional trades that has a famous international reputation and a turbulent history. Jörg Woltman, who has felt a strong connection to the fine porcelain since a young age, has contributed greatly to the company‘s steady endurance.
Woltmann was confronted with the inevitable responsibilities of being a businessman as a child. He became used to bringing his mother‘s cheques to the bank after she became an independent dealer for women‘s wear in Lichterfelde. What he didn‘t know was that this daily procedure would soon shape his future.
This portrait is the first part of a new collaboration with Be Berlin/Berlin Partner, that introduces an individual selection of entrepreneurs and creatives within the Berliner industry and their individual workplaces.
After high school he completed an apprenticeship as a banker from 1965 to 1968, and after this decided to pursue Business studies at the Berlin School of Economics, later he undertook Law studies until the year 1972.
Before the purchase of KPM, Jörg Woltmann was a mere user but not a collector – now he is both. He remembers dearly those Sunday family reunions with an array of the fine china used to serve festive meals on the special plates and drink from the special cups. At this time, Jörg was not even allowed to wash the glistening ceramics that are now ironically produced under his administration.
Cars are Jörg Woltmann‘s second largest passion in life. Whether it is due to private or entrepreneurial reasons, his energetic affection cannot be tamed for these aesthetically pleasing, mobile machines. “I have always loved cars. I bought my first car before my 16th birthday without even possessing a driver‘s license. Back then I took eight driving lessons over the course of two years. I thought it appropriate to treat myself every 3 months. During my studies I would drive my Jaguar E Cabrio to the demonstrations with a red flag in the backseat.”
Woltmann financed his studies through car dealing. At the age of 22, he already had 45 employees working at his extremely young business. However, shortly before finishing his education, he decided to sell the various car dealerships in Berlin. “Among other things, I actually bought myself a KPM service.”
Over the years Jörg has acculmulated an eminent collection of motorized vehicles. His favourites consist of new and vintage cars, that include his Aston Martin or the Mercedes-Benz SL Roadster from 1960.
In 1979, he established, alongside patrilineal friend Dr. Stange, the public bank ABK, which is a financial institution for civil servants. He is the sole shareholder, banker, and entrepreneur of this institution. Almost 27 years later, Jörg decided to take over KPM Berlin while simultaneously conducting his other usual businesses. The endearment for his hometown was a contributor in this decision. As one of the few original Berliners, he grew up during the capital’s division and observed its drastic and extraordinary metamorphosis.
“One definitely got used to standing always in the wrong lane at the border crossing. But nowadays it is not only about the facts of the German reunification, but as well it is about the constant changes that take place within the city. One is able to witness the constructing of a new house by passing it on a daily basis and being a vital testimony of its deliberate completion. As my bank‘s office building is located on Invalidenstraße, I would notice everyday the different street directions around the central station. But this really happens all over Berlin. It was out of the question to leave the city behind as a resident and as a businessman. In regards to KPM, I knew if I wouldn‘t have bought it, it would have probably landed in the hands of some Chinese consortium. I simply didn‘t want one of Berlin‘s cultural assets to perish that easily.”
Besides personal reasons, Woltmann’s access to the company also has to do with a business aspect. His financial institution supported the manufacturer’s privatization in 2004. But regardless, the purchase of KPM was not such an obvious step. “All my business consultants were strongly against this idea. Their only advice was to let it go bankrupt. But eventually I only thought about it for 20 minutes.” On the 26th of February in 2006, Woltmann took over one of the world‘s last luxury brands.
“I didn’t know how tedious porcelain production would be until I bought KPM.” To this day, about eighty percent of the products are crafted by hand. “Of course we would profit with the digitization of things like 3D scanners. However, the final production is only possible by hand. No machine could ever produce the same quality. I have always been fascinated by the fact that even to this day some things are just better done by human hands than by a machine. This equally applies to cars and our porcelain. Once, an article was written about me that mentioned how nice it must feel for a mature banker to finally be surrounded by something else than soulless money. I completely agree with that.”
Since the purchase of this delicate, traditional company, Woltmann has concentrated strongly on its marketing. “Whatever product carries the KPM sign will also contain the quality of KPM,” he promises. As the name suggests, the company still functions as a manufacturer. Each elaborately produced dish and every ornamental porcelain piece carries the distinctive blue sceptre hallmark and becomes a unique specimen within the world of china.
Since 1793, KPM’s most significant element is in the style-defining detailing of their products. Stylistic eras such as Classicism or Modernism are clearly visible in the tableware. “I never would have put so much energy and motivation, as well as financial and entrepreneurial arrangement into a company outside of Berlin,” says Woltmann. “The takeover of KPM was never a desire but really a pure necessity.”
This portrait is the start of a new collaboration with Be Berlin/Berlin Partner, focusing on workplaces and introducing a curated selection of entrepreneurs and creatives within the Berliner industry. See the special curation of Be Berlin/Berlin Partner here.
To get an insight into our concept development for this new section on Freunde von Freunden read our Journalpost about FvF Workplaces.
Photography: Anna Rose
Text: Zsuzsanna Toth
Translation: Lara Konrad