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It’s 4.30a.m. at The Moodie Davitt Report Interim Hamburg Bureau (room 227 at the Ameron Hamburg Hotel Speicherstadt). Another early start (I was up at 4a.m. yesterday to make the early morning flight from Heathrow with British Airways, who then contrived to lose my bag) to catch up on events both here and around the travel retail world before the mid-morning flight back to London.
My fleeting visit to this great Hanseatic city was to attend Gebr. Heinemann’s annual media conference, to me one of the journalistic highlights of the year. Heinemann may be one of the giants of the business (number six in The Moodie Davitt Report’s latest ranking of the world’s Top 25 travel retailers) but it is also one of the most understated.
The firm, founded by brothers Carl and Heinrich Heinemann in 1879, traditionally kept a very low public profile, preferring to let its results rather than its owners or management do the talking. And while the corporate persona remains one of getting on with business rather than shouting about it, the changing, ultra-competitive nature of the travel retail sector over recent years and Heinemann’s own globalisation has spurred the need for a more public profile.
The cover copyline of the press brochure read, ‘Writing travel retail history of tomorrow – since 1879.’ Perfectly put.
That need has partly found voice in the company’s annual media conference. This is an excellent initiative that sees the family owners and members of the executive board deliver an overview of all aspects of the retail-to-wholesale business followed by an extensive question and answer session and a lunch that invariably features some pretty interesting Heinemann wine exclusives (yesterday a wonderful minerally Dreissigacker Gundersheimer Riesling and a sumptuously intense Baron Edmond de Rothschild Château Clarke from the magnificent 2010 Bordeaux vintage).
My colleague Dermot Davitt and I report on the major conference findings elsewhere. In this Blog I will focus instead on the human side of yesterday’s proceedings. In that regard, there were two important standouts.
Firstly, the day felt like a very public passing of the baton to the fifth-generation of the Heinemann family in the form of recently appointed CEO Max Heinemann, son and nephew respectively of co-owners Gunnar and Claus. Max presided over affairs with the company’s – and family’s – trademark blend of humility and professionalism.
Both Gunnar and Claus spoke about the significance – the sheer moment – of this generational change. To see Max Heinemann deliver his overview of the business’s performance and prospects, flanked not only by these two towering figures of our industry but also by those outstanding long-term servants of the firm and travel retail, Raoul and Kay Spanger (30 and 40 years respectively with Heinemann), was to watch an innately “Heinemann-esque” changing of the guard. 140 years. Five generations. A new flagbearer. The cover copyline of the press brochure read, ‘Writing travel retail history of tomorrow – since 1879.’ Perfectly put.
The other human stand-out? Well, I already mentioned his name. Gunnar Heinemann. How good to see this wonderful, warm and wise human being back at the top table where he belongs after a long and tough battle with illness through late 2017 and 2018.
Gunnar spoke only briefly at yesterday’s conference but as always his words were well-chosen and laced with insight and gentle good humour. After the lunch was over, he invited me and fellow journalists up to his office not for business but just to talk about life over a late afternoon coffee. It was one of those rare enriching moments, where everything slows down, and that make all these 4a.m. starts worthwhile.
The fifth generation will no doubt serve Heinemann proud. Meanwhile, the fourth is not only going strong but, I am delighted to say, getting stronger.