Memories of a company are not just confined to dingy cellars or cold loft spaces. The most important information and the most beautiful pictures are often stored in the minds of employees or their family members rather than in thick files on metre-long shelves. What also makes personal memories so valuable is their fleeting nature. Preserving the experiences and knowledge of contemporary witnesses for future generations is one of the most important tasks for any historian.
There is another reason, however, why interviews with previous employees are particularly close to our hearts as company historians: The impressions left on them and their anecdotes are like peepholes into the past. A little side story, even though it might seem like something casually dropped into the conversation by the person telling it, it can make a faded old photo come to life. And that, ultimately, is our main goal, to bring the past to alive.
We recently interviewed seven previous employees of MANN+HUMMEL, whose stories supplemented the information that we had been researching in the preceding months, and were incorporated into many sections of the anniversary book. These people’s memories astonished us and made us smile. Below you will find just a few of the stories people told us.
Roland Hagmann is a top chef with many years of experience who had been flirting with the idea of taking over his parents’ hotel when he heard that MANN+HUMMEL were looking for a head chef for the canteen. Hagmann was sceptical at first, but people encouraged him to sign up, he recalls. “MANN+HUMMEL would be a great place to work, they told me. Everyone wanted me to get a job at MANN+HUMMEL. They informed me that the company was very people-orientated, on its way up, and that it would be a good step for me to take.” His decision was made, and Hagmann joined the company in 1963. He would go on to turn the canteen into a staff restaurant. The plant had two in-house butchers working in the kitchen in those days, preparing 900 meals fresh every day. On Fridays, ‘Maultaschen’ day, this number was even higher. The ‘Maultaschen’ (pasta squares) were so popular that employees would often take an extra portion home with them! Roland Hagmann went on to work as restaurant manager for almost four decades.
Karl-Heinz Knorpp joined MANN+HUMMEL in 1957 aged 13 and stayed almost 50 years. His recollections gave us an insight into the many different phases of the company’s development. Take the 1950s, for example, when the company’s structure was a more ‘manageable’ size: “In those days we could look out of the window upstairs and see Mr Mann walking around downstairs. Nearly everyone knew everyone else.” Knorpp also told us about times of company internationalisation, when he got to travel around the world and was involved in setting up new locations. He also mentioned interesting encounters and busy years when he took no time off whatsoever. Sometimes, he even had to call his wife during his current trip and ask her to pack his suitcase for his next trip!
Last but not least, here is our interview with Alwine Zehender, Adolf Mann’s last secretary. Memories of her boss aside, she also told us how she appreciated other individuals, such as technical manager Alfred Wacker. Although short-tempered at times, as Alwine tells us, “we were also very fond of him – all of us would have gone through hell and high water for him.” That’s not the kind of personal description you would ever find on file in HR!
Our interviews with former staff got me thinking about a speech we stumbled upon during our research. It dates from 1966, with Adolf Mann speaking on the occasion of the company’s 25th anniversary. On that day, he stated that, when setting up the filter plant there was, “no material objective, no challenge as regards the market and sales opportunities, and certainly no focus on capital under management or any profit motive […],” but rather a, “clear and predominant focus on human problems. This […] inevitably has led us to building our ventures around people to a certain extent from the very beginning, actually putting the human being at the centre of our economic activity at all times – then, now and, I hope, in the future too.” All of the personal memories shared with us recently seem to suggest that his wish has been fulfilled.