On the Trail of the Founder

His name is Carl Johann Freudenberg. The success of today’s technology company can be traced to him. It was 175 years ago – on February 9, 1849 – that he and a partner founded a leather factory in Weinheim. The company’s unique rise followed. Their enterprise would become a global company whose story has been superbly documented in a modern archive and other sources. But what does the record tell us about Carl Johann’s personality, about him as a human being? How do his thinking and actions continue to shape Freudenberg’s corporate values today? The detectives at the Freudenberg Archives are on the case.

Personal Destiny

1829 to 1844

Contemporary Witnesses

Turbulent Time

1848 to 1849

The Entrepreneur

The country was in the throes of political storms. In their midst, the bank that had handled the company’s bills of exchange and financed its leather business collapsed. The firm fell into economic difficulties and had to be dissolved in 1848. “Let’s return to the concepts of luck and the right ingredients,” Schneider says. “Freudenberg has the good fortune to be able to turn the crisis into an opportunity. He now has a strong family behind him who can give him seed money.” His father-in-law, who thought highly of Carl Johann, made the capital available to his daughter Sophie so she could help her husband with a plan to acquire part of the company. At the time, it was a progressive notion to involve a daughter in business matters.

Nine decades later, Friedrich Carl, the man born during the year of revolution, writes about the founding of the company: “Since the liquidation required the departure of the two owners, my father was able to choose between them. He chose Mr. Heintze. The firm of Heintze & Freudenberg ended up in Weinheim, taking over the small calf leather tannery in 1849.”

Why did he buy into a leather factory with Heintze and not into the leather shop with his uncle? For an entrepreneur, the leather factory offered far broader opportunities for designs and growth than “just” a leather shop. “This shows Carl Johann’s entrepreneurial vision,” says Schneider. And there was something else: “The conviction that he could pull this off in turbulent times is based on the fact that he had already extricated himself from a financial crisis as a young man. His personal qualities had made him a success. In a sense, it was a repetition of something that he had already handled. This time, he was determined to use his experience and strengths to his advantage.” Thus, in the middle of a revolution, he set out on a course that would lead to a global company. On Friday, February 9, 1849, the partners officially founded the firm of Heintze & Freudenberg with an entry in the commercial registry. The revolution was put down just a few months later.

The Foundation

1850 to 1874

The Mentor

What remains of the spirit of those early years? Or the traits of Carl Johann Freudenberg? After he bought out the Heintze family and the company became a sole proprietorship in 1874 – once again with financial help from his wife’s family – he was able to show his caring side as an entrepreneur. That same year, Freudenberg founded a health insurance association for his employees, the forerunner to the health insurance fund that the company later established. A general aid fund followed – it was for employees and their families who were in need. “You can see a connection to his experience as a child,” Schneider said.

The principles he formulated back then still form the basis of the Freudenberg Group's globally applicable business principles today.

175 years of Freudenberg

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