The banker from Berlin with a great love for beauty — An interview with Jörg Woltmann, the owner of KPM.
Bernhard Roetzel: You were born in 1947. What would your mother have thought if she could see you sitting at the KPM Café?
Jörg Woltmann: My mother was still alive when I bought KPM in 2006. I knew that she was a bit worried but also proud that I rose to this difficult challenge.
Was buying KPM jumping in at the deep end for you as it is has been frequently described? I assume you did some homework about the company before you closed the deal?
It’s true, I jumped in at the deep end. And I bought something that I never wanted. A manufacturing business. I only realised later how hard it would be.
What was your personal link to KPM?
I grew up with KPM. When I sold my first business at the age of 28 I bought three things. A nice car. A beautiful watch and the porcelain set “Kurland” from KPM for 8 persons. Today I own a collection of cars, a collection of watches but the porcelain is still the same I bought back then. It is simply the best. I wasn’t aware how much work goes into it. 25 people work on a single cup alone. It takes 29 steps to complete it and 14 working days to make it in white. Imagine this in Germany with our cost of labour.
How much does such a cup cost?
About 80 or 90 Euro.
It puts the price very much put into perspective if you consider what goes into it.
Exactly. Once you’ve toured the workshop you will never discuss the prices again.
Who are your main competitors in Germany?
Meißen and Nymphenburg.
What are the differences between these three?
Usually people like either Meißen, KPM or Nymphenburg. We differ strongly in terms of style. KPM stands for a certain Prussian strictness but it had a very productive phase in the Bauhaus era and in the “Neue Sachlichkeit”. Meißen is more playful and famous for their intricate paintings.
Is it possible to define your typical customer?
They have changed a lot. Customers still buy sets but rarely for 12 or 24 persons. Some customers create their personal sets by picking pieces from different collections. Young people love our coffee to-go cups made of porcelain. Our customers love culture and real values. Our design, the high quality and the craftsmanship also play an important role. There is a difference between a handmade cup and and machine-made cup.
Have you become a porcelain expert since you bought the company?
Before I bought it I was a mere user of porcelain, today I am a porcelain lover and collector. I am not an expert in the technical sense although I know exactly what is going on at the production.
How close is your contact to the people who work here?
I know them all, most of them by name. And I know what everyone is doing.
Do you run your bank and KPM yourself?
Each company has its own management. At the bank I am still involved in the operational business as a member of the board. I am responsible for marketing and sales. At KPM I am the shareholder but I am here on a daily basis.
How do you organise your working day?
At KPM the production starts very early in the morning so I am here from 7:30 am until 11:20 am. From noon until 6 pm I work at the bank. It takes only 15 minutes by car to get there.
You have a passion for cars. You ran a car dealerships to finance your studies?
During the oil crisis I bought 5 car dealerships which was both a passion and a pastime. When I finished my studies I started a business offering financial services. After school I trained at a bank.
Do you still have time for your car passion?
No. I hardly move my cars which is a pity of course. Buying KPM wasn’t part of my plan and it takes a lot of my time in addition to the time I need for the bank and running the hotels that I own. I also value the time with my family very much.
Which cars do you love most? English or American?
My heart beats for English cars. Almost all of the cars I own are English. And then the dream of my youth, the 1960 300 SL Roadster.
Not the SL with the gullwing doors?
No, in my opinion the convertible was more beautiful. There is also a little story behind this car. When I was 12 I threw flowers at a wedding. The groom gave his wife this roadster as a wedding present. When I saw this I decided that I wanted this car too and 20 years later this dream was fulfilled.
Which colour is it?
Black with green leather upholstery which is very rare and the original condition. It’s one of the best in the world because it has never been refurbished. It’s still the original varnish and the original interior.
In an interview you said that you don’t separate between work and life? Do you go on vacation?
I have started doing this in recent years.
Where do you go?
Although I own hotels I don’t like to spend my vacation in a hotel. I like to come home. We own a summerhouse at a lake outside Berlin which I love a lot. And also in Ibiza and in Palm Springs, we always are near the water. But I have cancelled more flights in my life than I actually went on because some business matter kept me in Berlin.
Other hobbies? Golf? Hunting?
I used to play golf but I gave it up when I bought KPM. I couldn’t spare the time, I didn’t have the calm for golf anyway. I’ts difficult for me to wind down, I can only do that on holiday.
What defined Berlin after the wall came down?
Do you have favourite places?
I like what has developed around Gendarmenmarkt in the district of “Mitte”. The revival of Kurfürstendamm is also exciting. Berlin has really become a unique town.
Do you get a lot of requests from companies that need help since you bought KPM?
Of course. Because only few understand why I do this is. I didn’t want to become a porcelain maker. It was pure patriotism that drove me. I was never about making money. I bought one of the last luxury brands that was available worldwide. And I bought a part of our cultural heritage. Which entrepreneur gets the chance to do this? Since I bought KPM I learned that money doesn’t offer you happiness, only recognition. I received the “Bundesverdienstkreuz“ and the“Berliner Verdienstorden“. At some stage in life you realise that it is important to have a lot to say in heaven.
I have seen you at events in Berlin frequently in recent years. Do you go out often?
Yes, this comes with my position. But I carefully select where I go. I receive about four invitations per day and I accept four per week that I find interesting and entertaining.
You always dress elegantly. Is this also one of your passions?
Yes, this has always been the case. Each morning I go to my wardrobe and consider what to wear. Which tie, which pocket handkerchief, which suit. Then I select the matching watch, shoes and cufflinks. Every detail must be right. Sometimes I base my choice on the car that I will drive.
You match the colour of the clothes with the colour of your car?
I was only joking and I think it would be an exaggeration. But when I drive a sports car on the weekend I don’t wear suit.
Do you wear bespoke suits?
I own bespoke and made-to-measure suits but the number is within limits. I don’t want to overdo it.
You often say that you see yourself as a Prussian in the sense of valuing Prussian values. Are you a modest person?
Yes, I would say so. I am very disciplined and I have high demands which includes myself. Sincerity, honesty, straightforwardness are very important to me. Let me put it this way. I have never felt like changing the side of the street because I want to avoid someone. If you are self-employed you must lead a disciplined life. If you party until three in the morning the alarm will go off at 6:30 am nevertheless. It has to be like this.
Are you recognised on the street. Are you approached by people?
Yes, people often thank me for saving KPM and the positive direction it has taken since then.
You were less well-known before you took over KPM?
In business circles I was well-known because at 32 I was Germany’s youngest bank owner. Today I am probably the oldest one. You are selfmade. Does that give you a special feeling? Yes, I am proud that I started from scratch and built everything on my own. Of course I have also been lucky and met the right people in the right moments.