His idea revolutionised the toy market and put smiles on children’s faces all around the world but I’m sad to say, PLAYMOBIL head Horst Brandstätter died on 3 June 2015 at the age of 81 years.
Children knew him as ‘Mr Playmobil’, but to most of his employees he was simply ‘HOB’. Right to the end, when he was at home in Zirndorf in Bavaria, Horst Brandstätter came into the office every day. His company – geobra Brandstätter Stiftung & Co. KG, manufacturer of the toy classic PLAYMOBIL – was his passion and his life’s work.
He entered the family business in 1952, aged 19, and trained as a mould maker. He was only 21 when, as a joint shareholder, he began to promote innovation within the company. Brandstätter’s aversion to the backward-looking phrase: “We’ve always done it that way” also dates back to that time. The tireless company boss had no time for such thinking, being convinced that a company and its employees must keep growing in order to be equipped for future challenges. His visionary ideas and his courage for reform soon resulted in significant economic success for the Brandstätter Company: in 1958 the production of hula hoops became a sales hit throughout Europe.
During the oil crisis of the early 1970s Brandstätter, who always trusted his gut feeling, again put his entrepreneurial skills to the test. He requested his master mould maker Hans Beck (1929 – 2009) to develop a completely new toy system which could be continually expanded. His specification was to achieve the maximum amount of play value for the minimum amount of plastic.
This resulted in the 7.5 centimetre play figures – a Knight, a Construction Worker and a Native American – which were first introduced to the general public as ‘PLAYMOBIL’ at the 1974 toy fair. “Their success at that time saved us from bankruptcy,” Brandstätter later admitted, himself surprised at how fascinated children still are with his idea. “People seeing the Playmobil figure for the first time are usually unimpressed; it looks so simple. Adults don’t immediately see the value of Playmobil. Its appeal is in the stories which it triggers in children’s heads.”
Until the end the 81-year-old had no time to waste thinking about retirement: Instead he put all his efforts into considering what should happen to his life’s work – his company and its more than 4,000 employees worldwide – after his death.
“I have established a corporate foundation which will take over from me as proprietor. This charitable foundation supports children. The future of the company is thus secure, and at the same time I know that it will be managed according to my wishes.”
With Horst Brandstätter, the PLAYMOBIL family has not only lost its leader, proprietor and patriarch, but Germany’s toy industry has also lost one of its most distinguished personalities.
Brandstätter was always thrifty but by no means tight-fisted when important company investments were involved. In May 2013 he proudly broke ground on the new PLAYMOBIL Logistics Centre in Herrieden – an investment of EUR 80 million. Until the end of his life he was resolute and far-sighted, but never shied away from making unconventional decisions.
When almost all the toy industry moved production to the low-wage economies of Asia, he opted for a collaborative production network in Europe. The largest facility is situated in Dietenhofen in Bavaria, with other manufacturing sites in Malta, the Czech Republic and Spain. Aware of the need to remain competitive, Brandstätter was nonetheless adamant about retaining control over the quality and safety of his products.
With his life’s work Horst Brandstätter leaves behind a success story which will hopefully endure. His 4,170 staff members worldwide and his management team will continue to navigate his ship as a corporate foundation, so that PLAYMOBIL keeps on bringing smiles to children’s faces all around the globe.