Saturday, August 04, 2007

Mr Deichmann, the world shoe merchant

I had not heard of Deichmann when I started working in Switzerland, but soon there was no escaping his name. Specially as the Deichmann shoe empire grew and grew, and as his philanthropic activities grew in India, and then in Africa and Israel, and so on.

As a result, I came to admire the man greatly, even though I have never met him. Apparently, there was a biography of Deichmann published last year in German, but I was unaware of it, because I read German only when I have to, and certainly do not keep up with publishing in Germany.

The above is one set of facts which you need to know. Now put those aside, while we turn our attention to another set of facts which you need to know, before I bring everything together towards the end of this short posting.

Andreas Malessa is a radio and TV journalist and author. He came to our home to interview my twins, Suresh and Jyoti, about their novel Conspiracy of Calaspia, and their forthcoming new novel. Regretfully, I was not able to be there for the occasion. So Mr Malessa kindly left a "small present" for me. It turned out to be the English translation of Deichmann's biography, written by Hanna Schott and Andreas Malessa!

This was the first time that I became aware even of the German book, let alone the English one.

So now we come to synthesis of the two sets of facts above: I have finished reading the book very quickly. It is (somewhat unattractively for the English reader) titled Why are you rich, Mr Deichmann? and published by R. Brockhaus Verlag, Wuppertal, Germany.

The translation is perfectly comprehensible, but there are what may be called various "Germanisms" in the text, which give it a curious flavour. The book(all too briefly) covers the family's antecedents, Heinz-Horst Deichmann's experiences during the Second World War, how a medical doctor came to be one of the world's top shoe businessman, and his philanthropic and business activities. There is a brief section on the children, now that Heinz-Horst Deichmann's son Heinrich Deichmann has taken over the running of the business. And finally there is tribute by the old family friend Johannes Rau, then President of Germany, to Mr Heinz-Horst Deichmann.

The story is told very simply, almost sparsely. A few sentences cover the millions invested in philanthropy and, equally important, the months of time every year. The acquisition of imporant companies is covered in a sentence, sometimes less. So this is a rather understated story, whose full magnitude hits you only on reflection. A powerful story of an extremely rich man who enjoys life but lives modestly so that he can help humanity. Sphere: Related Content

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