Ms. Stihl, two and a half years ago, you exchanged a management position at the Brazilian subsidiary for a seat on the STIHL Advisory Board in Waiblingen. Was that a good decision?
Yes, very much so. The move from Brazil to Germany was quite a change for me and it was also difficult for me to leave the operational business behind, but today I can say that it was definitely the right decision. I am no longer a CFO but an advisor, and I have to take a Group-relevant and strategic perspective. I find it both enjoyable and very interesting.
You are probably quite used to moving to new locations.
I was born in Hamburg, grew up in Waiblingen, went to boarding school on Lake Constance and then lived in London for almost ten years, studying and working as an auditor. Back in Hamburg, I spent five years as Managing Director of a medium-sized drinks manufacturer while also completing my Master of Science. Though it was hard to study while also working, I enjoyed it. During my time as CFO at Stihl Brazil, I also completed my Executive MBA at INSEAD in Fontainebleau.
You are the daughter of the former STIHL legal advisor Rüdiger Stihl and granddaughter of the company founder Andreas Stihl. Would you say you were predestined to go to the top of the company?
In one sense, yes, because I am an only child and therefore the only one who could take over my father’s seat on the Advisory Board. However, if you asked me two years ago if I wanted to leave operational responsibility, I would probably have shaken my head.
You once told a journalist that you wanted to be an architect as a child. Why didn’t you go down that road?
To be honest, I didn't know if I really have the greatest of talents for architecture. And my curiosity to get involved in our family business was just bigger. After my first degree, I completed an internship in our company and worked in almost all departments, from sales and marketing to production and development. I got pretty hooked on the technical details. I also love being in our factories – I like the smell.
Do you use STIHL tools at home?
Yes, I own a cordless blower, clearing saw and cleaner. But I only recently got a garden, which is why my power tool fleet is still manageable.
What is your first memory of STIHL?
I wasn’t here that often when I was a child, but I still remember my father’s office. We children were also always taken to company events. Funnily enough, I also have an orange t-shirt with a STIHL chainsaw in my mind. I thought it was fantastic. Actually, a retro version of that would be great.
Have there been occasions when you regretted having the family name?
Definitely, although 30 years ago our company was of course much smaller and less well-known than it is today. On my very first day at school, a girl said to me: “I’m not allowed to play with you.” I didn't expect that.
And what is the advantage of growing up in an industrial family?
The biggest advantage is having the means for a good education. I count myself very lucky for that. It makes you more independent, is reassuring and lets you act more freely.
What does the STIHL brand stand for today?
It stands for reliability and quality. Through our products and services, we help our customers to do their jobs more effectively.
And what does STIHL stand for as a company?
Outwardly, great innovative strength and customer orientation. Internally, continuous improvement of our processes so that we always remain competitive. I would also say that we are known for long-term partnerships and a good relationship with our employees, customers and suppliers.
What identifies STIHL as a family business?
At STIHL, we often celebrate colleagues’ 25-, 40- and even 50-year anniversaries at the company. And the Executive Board and family are always part of the celebrations.
It is also typical for family businesses that, when investing, we do not focus on the short-term return, but rather the long-term perspective. My uncle, for example, is known for his love of building. When he arrives at a factory and sees an aerial view of the site at the entrance, his first question is always: Where are the plot boundaries?
Another example is when we launched the first cordless power tools to market in 2009, which made us pioneers in our industry. At the time, it was by no means certain that battery technology would be so successful. But we took the risk, and today it’s paying off.
STIHL is currently active in more than 160 countries around the world. Is it still a Swabian company?
Of course. Swabians are renowned for their ingenuity. This is reflected in our strength of innovation and the quality of our products, as well as our loyalty to our headquarters here in Waiblingen, but also to the other plants in Germany. Even as a globally active company, you must not and cannot forget your roots.
STIHL has a non-family management team, a Supervisory Board, and an Advisory Board of which you are a member. How are the tasks distributed between the committees?
Our Supervisory Board is the committee in which our employees are also represented. The Advisory Board, which includes members both from within and outside the family, defines the strategic direction. Our Executive Board implements it.
But you’re right: The fact that, as Advisory Board members from within the family, we are virtually constantly present and engaged in the company means that we are also relatively close to what is happening.
You are part of the third generation of Stihls. Is anyone from the fourth generation already in the company?
We held the first shareholders’ meeting this year, where there was a program for the fourth generation with a factory tour and a kind of training program. That generation is currently between 16 and 25 years old. Of course we would be delighted if they were to complete internships at the company. We want to inspire them for the company and one day hand over our company to them in good condition. And naturally we hope that one day, a fifth generation will take over too.