A look back turns into a fascinating journey with signposts that define this and perhaps also other family-oriented enterprises. Surely what is typical only reinforces the generally familiar, but the special features that are revealed may uncover the secret behind the success of a hidden champion in a striking manner.
In the summer of 1875, we head out from Oberkochen down the Kocher through the dreamy-romantic Wiesental valley, and what do we see: shortly before Unterkochen, what a surprise – suddenly the workday has raised its jovial flag in the form of smoke from blacksmith forges. What has taken place? The “RUD Friedensinsel” selected by our two founders Carl Rieger and Friedrich Dietz in 1875 as the location for their blacksmith shop was well considered. Back in the mid-14th century, ironworks had developed in Unterkochen, East Württemberg thanks to brown iron ore deposits and a wealth of wood. The waters of the Kocher supplied energy for fabrication – and so the chainsmith trade also established itself here. In addition, a remarkable island location created here by the course of the Kocher river was cause and good reason to define “Friedensinsel” in the year 1898 as the name of this plant and its home for all of time. A memorial to this naming donated by the fabricator Ernst Rieger in 1992 still serves as a reminder at the park entrance to the site even today. Later on we will come back to the meaningfulness of this unusual name for an industrial site.
But first we want to explore the reasons behind the actions of the two founders in somewhat greater detail. Right away we encounter another, even older testimonial to industrial history in Aalen. We are referring to the company Erlau located in the Erlen-Au meadows since 1828. It’s well-appointed work master was our Carl Rieger and its entrepreneurial travelling salesman was our Friedrich Dietz, who also promoted the sale of chains and other products. The Supervisory Board of Erlau AG – by the way the first corporation in southern Germany in its day – denied both gentlemen the salary or wage increases they had requested. It was a decision that would have consequences. Quickly and without delay, the two of them decided to found the chainsmith shop in question 3 km up the Kocher. It’s rise and subsequent success is probably still difficult for the protagonists in the Erlen-Au to digest. With their founding team of 16 chainsmiths, the two of them cheerfully embraced their quickly growing business.
Today we know that RUD and Erlau can therefore jointly look back with pride on 180 years of industrial history. We also know that, true to the political statement “what belongs together should grow together”, 113 years came and went before Erlau AG in turn came into the fold of the RUD family company in the year 1988.
But a lot of water flowed down the Kocher before today's RUD family company had established itself with far over 1,000 employees and an impressive international presence. That is to say, 5 generations of entrepreneurs witnessed the highs and lows, the peculiarities and well-deserved successes that could have been taken from a textbook on sustainability along with the willingness of family companies to take risks. While only the first indications of industrial, rather than just manual, activities could be seen in the founding period – as evidenced by the first trade fair appearances and awards in the early years of 1877 and 1881 – it was the sole owner’s son Otto Rieger after the death of the childless co-founder Friedrich Dietz who introduced the electric welding of chain links back in 1908 as the first in Germany. 1910 can be defined as the year the first set of snow chains was born in, birthplace Unterkochen. Really this testimonial should go down in German industrial history – having occurred at a time when the motorisation of road traffic was still in its proverbial infancy. Up to the industrial production of high-grade chains for all types of conveying, hoisting, securing, pulling and tie-down applications which commenced after World War II and the market leadership claim in the fabrication of tyre chains, RUD has followed a guiding principle like a red thread: We want to be first!
This claim was realised in an impressive manner back in 1935: Dipl.-Ing. Werner Rieger (graduate engineer) was the first in the world to develop the track chain mesh and thereby went down in the history of automotive accessories as the inventor of the track chain! Entrepreneurial activities at RUD were never speculative. Technical ideas consistently formed the starting point – along with a strict, uncompromising quest for quality. This principle has been retained into today’s 5th generation, which has set these values in stone as part of its mission statement.
But let us return to the exciting life of a community of entrepreneurs and employees who worked together in paving the way to the current day with milestones defined by remarkable partnerships.
Back in the year 1910, a full 10 years before the law that would later require a works council, Otto Rieger Senior formed a council with the 7 most senior chainsmiths. Loyal, worthy employees became permanent RUD staff and were rewarded with voluntary pensions, recuperation subsidies and extra holidays as long ago as 1960. All of these are social trends that have become generally accepted in the meantime – but at the time 50 years ago they were downright groundbreaking. RUD was also the first operation in the region to implement cashless salary and wage payments – which allowed some wives to see what their husbands were making for the very first time and therefore did not lead to joy in certain cases…!
This convincing, exemplary, highly cooperative partnership was borne by the almost mythical 4 entrepreneurs and brothers Otto, Ernst, Emil and Dipl.-Ing. Werner Rieger, who left their mark on the family company for far more than half a century. And on the German and international chain industry, where the four chain brothers enjoyed a downright legendary reputation. They were also officially recognised by a state visit to the company by the Federal President at the time, Gustav Heinemann. And by the presentation of 1st place in the federal competition “Industrie in der Landschaft” (Industry in the Landscape) by Count Lennart Bernadotte.
The biography of the Rieger family – how could it be otherwise – is inextricably linked to the plant, brand and employees. From the founder Carl Rieger in 1875 with a staff of 16 employees to the rise of Otto Rieger Senior in 1892 and growth to 60 employees to the arrival of the “4 chain brothers” starting in 1929 with 200 employees by the end of the war, a continuous “chain of responsibility” extends to our day, linking all entrepreneurial activities as the recipe for success. The number of 1,400 employees around the world is topped by the even larger number of proprietary rights consisting of an impressive array of patents, utility patents and applications.
In the 4th generation, Dr. Ing. Hansjörg Rieger has been managing the family company since 1968 along with his sons Dr. Jörg Steffen, Johannes and Dr. Benjamin Rieger.
This succeeding 5th generation suffered a heavy blow with the tragic death of their brother Florian Rieger in an accident. His raging passion and entrepreneurial talent came to an untimely end with his unforgotten achievements of developing the plants in Brazil and Romania.
East Württemberg is proud to be known as the region of patents and talent. The people who are part of the RUD family company truly made their contribution in this regard. For 180 years, through 5 generations, on every continent – but firmly rooted in their native home, all international presence notwithstanding.
And let us not forget the extent to which the fortunes of an entrepreneurial family are also reflected in personal lives and culture. In preserving the artistic legacy of the exceptionally gifted, internationally unforgotten coloratura soprano Trude Eipperle-Rieger, bearer of the title of “Kammersänger” and wife of the Ernst Rieger, today’s Rieger family plays a significant role in the region's cultural events. And if the name Friedensinsel as a special concept has been rightfully realised, let this be complemented by a reminiscence from days that have hopefully gone forever: the war with its cargo of bombs also threatened to destroy Stuttgart along with the art treasures found there. Prof. von Graevenitz, Director of the Academy of the Arts at the time (and, by the way, father-in-law of one Robert Bosch Junior), asked for asylum for his most important sculptures and pictorial works on the Friedensinsel. There – that is to say here – these art treasures found a peaceful exile and so survived the fear of destruction in those days. On an island of peace in the truest sense. I believe this too is part of a social and cultural history not every company and entrepreneurial family has experienced, mastered and therefore made its own.
Let us not forget the cheerful human side. Just one out of numerous possible anecdotes is to be revealed here (and only very discreetly)… The sister of those legendary 4 chain brothers, Emma Rieger, was the adored young love of an Aalen student named Erwin Rommel, later a German field marshal. As an episode of historic truth, we can report that he often rode his bicycle alongside the train from Aalen to Unterkochen in order to arrive at the Unterkochen railway station in time to welcome his beloved. The fact that he later made his way through the sand of the desert with chains from the parental home of his young love is only mentioned here as part of this chronicle without further historic evaluation!
Finally, in light of what was said, two prominent protagonists of the entrepreneurial family philosophy get a chance to have their say. So the Managing Director of the “Deutsche Stiftung Familienunternehmen” (German Foundation of Family Companies), Prof. Brun-Hagen-Hennerkes with his highly profound perception: “Family companies are a pillar of the job market. They work meticulously with a long-term focus. Those who tend to think of tradition and complacency misjudge their innovativeness. But they also bear great risk. More than 95 percent of the 3.2 million companies in Germany are family companies. They also create most of the jobs.” He continues to inform us: “Estimates indicate that over 50 to 60 percent of the 28 million employees subject to social insurance contribution work for family companies.” And, he concludes: “Family entrepreneurs are by no means better people than the managers in anonymous corporations. But they have different motivations…”
And Professor Dr. Hermann Simon has once again included the RUD family company in his standard work “Hidden Champions of the 21st Century”, a reference for the success strategies of unknown global market leaders. Meaning: RUD has earned a permanent place in the upper echelons of this group of companies!