Illuminating Leica’s Recent History: Interview With Andreas Kaufmann

From an unusual source — Film and Digital Times, which calls itself The Journal of Art, Technique and Technology in Motion Picture Production Worldwide — comes an interview with Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, who since 2004 has been the principal owner of Leica Camera. The interview provides more information on Kaufmann and how he came to own Leica than has been available via any English-language article we’re aware of.  It is slightly maddening — questions Leicaphiles would love to ask don’t get asked, and the translation is a little stilted.  But still, for Leica enthusiasts — yeah, the gang at Tulip Frenzy actually stopped listening to the new Black Keys album long enough to read this — this stuff’s cool.  Download the pdf and scroll to page 34.  Or enjoy this summary:

Kaufmann comes from a wealthy Austrian family in the wood products business.  After graduating from the University of Stuttgart, and forbidden from joining the family business (we don’t get told why) he spent 15 years (1983-1998) as a private school history teacher.  In the early 2000s, he and his brothers became what in the US we would call private equity investors. Through other investments in Wetzlar, Kaufmann ended up investing in Leica in 2004, buying 27% of the equity, with a view to learning the business and assessing its prospects before making a decision on his next move.  Only, just at that moment, the company went into its existential crisis.  (We remember it well: three CEOs in rapid succession, tremendous confusion about the company’s strategy, hints of a digital future, but it all rather opaque to us outsiders who were hanging on every word about the company’s fate.) He basically either could have let his investment be lost, or he could double down and buy the whole thing, which he did, to the consternation of his brothers.  It was Kaufmann who cut the emotional cord Leica had to film and forced the wholesale embrace of digital technologies.  The M8 was released in 2006 (clearly in progress when Kaufmann made his investment, but his money helped bring it to market.)  Three years later came the M9.  Two years ago saw the release of the S2.  Last year, Leica had a profit (EBITDA) of 42 million Euros on sales of approximately 250 million Euros — tiny by Nikanon standards, but a truly impressive achievement given how close to the brink Leica came just eight years ago.

Today, there’s a waiting list of a year to buy a Leica M-mount lens.  No dealer can keep an M9 in stock.  Even at $22,000 for the body alone, there’s a waiting list for Leica S2s.  And the reason Andreas Kaufmann is featured in Film and Digital Times?  Because Leica has released a full set of lenses for motion picture cameras.  Thank you, Dr. K.

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