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Dr Stellmann. Do you still remember when you first came into contact with WALA?
Unconsciously, probably when I was born. I must have had the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck five times, and then Arnika from WALA was there. I consciously remember that my mother used Dr. Hauschka Cosmetics, I grew up with it. It was still in the classic grey and white design back then. I remember how it smelled and how it looked when applied. It had this light, fine sheen...
Is that a reason why you've only made a few superficial changes to it over the years? Dr. Hauschka is famous for its classic, refined packaging design, isn't it?
No, this restraint corresponds more to WALA's values than to my childhood memories. The company always put focus on the products and the effect they have. There was never much promotional fanfare about it.
Dr Lettmann, you are now at the helm. In today’s corporate culture, it has become a staple for a new CEO to quickly introduce changes. Do you have any plans to make changes to the packaging?
No, I won’t do that. I'm no more concerned with superficialities than Johannes is. I don't see a revolution for WALA either, but rather an evolution. For me it's about development, about the image of metamorphosis. About a natural transformation into something that appears to be completely different, and yet it’s the same on the inside – adhering to the same fundamentals, the same principles.
Are there any elements of this metamorphosis of WALA that spark your particular interest?
Yes, I will focus on four points in particular: first come our customers and patients. Then the element of rhythm, which makes WALA so special – we still have a lot of potential there. The third point is development – of the individuals but also of the organisation. And the fourth is the subject of mind and matter. For me, it goes without saying that we should not only embrace the unity of spirit and matter in our lives, which is the basis of WALA, but also strive to explain it.
Do you remember when you first became aware of WALA?
And when I was handed Mr. Lettmann's application, I thought: he absolutely has to come to us.
And when I was handed Mr. Lettmann's application, I thought: he absolutely has to come to us.
What was special about Lettmann?
On one hand, he had this enormous professionalism and the CV of a well-versed financial expert. But what really grabbed my attention were his values which immediately shone through, his genuine interest in people. And, it was the first time I saw that the candidate's children, who were very small at the time, were in the cafeteria with them.
We lived in Munich at the time. My family was in the area at the same time as my interview. Then at some point it was said that I could just bring them to lunch. We sat in the cafeteria, the children were playing and that confirmed my first impression: that this is a special company.
Looking back, I think that my inner process was unprofessional, because I had already decided to hire him when I had the CV in my hands. And then I tried to build up a certain distance again. However, we all know Mr. Lettmann, who has shown himself to be an even greater professional than he already appeared to be in his CV. But he also told me where he met his wife. May I say where?
At a clown course. And that was probably what I had read between the lines in that application....
With me it was similarly personal. This Johannes Stellmann, the figurehead of WALA. Here’s someone who had a clear orientation, set standards but at the same time there was an openness, genuine interest, and the willingness to be flexible. The combination of firmness and flexibility really impressed me. And so I came to Bad Boll, from the big city. With my wife, our two children, the dog and everything that goes with it.
Mr Stellmann, what was it like for you when you started here?
In a way, I had three beginnings here. The first was at the foundation, in the summer of 1998. I was there for four years. And then came that fateful day. It was at the end of April 2002 – the then managing director had a fatal accident with the then head of the science department and one of his children. The company was already in a difficult situation, in every respect. And then Mr Kossmann, one of the two co-founders, called on a Saturday afternoon: "You know what kind of question we will be asking you tomorrow." And I said to him on the phone: "And you know, Mr. Kossmann, I'm not saying yes." This was because I had just started my own business, which was a dream of mine from when I was young, and things were just starting to go really well. So what I said to the foundation was: “I'll do it, I'll find the right person, train them and then I'll leave.” What followed was a very special time in this company with quite different faces: on one side are essential medicinal products, the beginning of raw material partnerships; and on the other almost sophisticated cosmetics. After two and a half months, I went to Mr. Schuster, who was already President of the Board of Trustees at the time, and said: "Mr. Schuster, I'm applying."
Dr Johannes Stellmann served in the management of WALA for over 20 years.
What would you say are the biggest differences and similarities between WALA twenty years ago and today?
Well, the company was definitely a lot smaller and still very internally focused. But this pioneering spirit, this willingness to take risks now and then, – we had it then and it still rings true today. And even then there were impressive personalities at work who watched over the very essence of WALA like a hawk. There was never any discussion about changing the fundamental values. That was not always easy in the context of opening up WALA, which was the way we decided to go forward. But it made a big impression on me at first.
And yet you were very young at the time and suddenly you had to take responsibility for the unique way of doing things.
Yes, that's true. As Managing Director of WALA, you hardly ever make a decision yourself, but you have to be responsible for 99.9% of them. But I had the advantage, as Philip Lettmann does today, that I had previously been at the Foundation and therefore already knew the company quite well. But then again, the devil is in the details.
Now, after all these years, can you recount a story?
When I started, the finances were a mess. We had no liquidity and a lot of debt. And then one day, pale as a corpse, the financial officer at the time came and said: “We reported wrong figures to the bank: An item number slipped into our turnover".” I just said: "Hopefully the item number started with one and not nine." But, of course, it started with a nine. And then I said: "Now we have to keep our ears to the ground and just not say anything to the bank. Because if we tell them that we entered item numbers instead of turnover, they’ll get really nervous” In the end, it didn't matter at all because we grew very quickly. But it was just the state this company was in. It was only after about a year that we were able to think seriously and calmly about the future again.
And when you now look back over this long period, is there anything you can say you did not manage to do? Or maybe haven’t had a chance?
Of course, many things. A company is always in a state of unstable equilibrium. And we’re talking about a company which voluntarily overburdens itself all the time. There really are a lot of different departments at WALA, and Philip is very generous in not pointing fingers.
Mr Lettmann, if you’re taking the lead now, we can assume that you at least have the numbers under control. But how do you see the peculiarities of WALA?
Well, I’m not the sole person who has the numbers under control – we have them under control together. And in the 17 years that I've been here now, both sides have always been important to me. On the one hand the numbers, data, facts. But on the other: all the intangibles, the people, the processes, our values. It's not either-or, but both. For me, the task is the same today as it was yesterday – to keep bringing all of this together in a good way.
Surely, that sounds easier than it is. And yet: isn't there something like a new vision beyond that?
There is a vision, but like Johannes, it's not my personal one. I think that is also something we share, something that connects us – that we are very happy to look far into the future. And we do have one great advantage here, which is that the founders have already created the vision of WALA. This vision reaches far, far into the future. Healing, with living processes, in connection with nature and people – and in that respect, I don't think it's a question of personal vision. Rather, it is the question of how we succeed in reviving this vision of our founders, over and over again, in the living community.
How can it succeed?
My view is that of contemporaneity. I believe that if we manage to keep this vision alive in our time with our fellow human beings, then we will prosper in the future.
Mr. Stellmann, what is the difference between WALA 25 years ago and now that Philip Lettmann is taking over as CEO?
At that time we were, so to speak, at the take-off of natural cosmetics. Because for the first time the suppliers were able to produce things of the high quality that we need. In addition to that, the demand really picked up. We also had real protagonists of natural cosmetics. The prime example is Julia Roberts, who was still perceived in a very focused way in very few media. Today, the media hub is split between Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and the like. The market is much more established, with new competitors constantly emerging. And the big players in the industry are discovering natural cosmetics as well, not to mention the retail giants' own brands. Compared to the jungle Philip has to navigate his way through now, we lived on an island of the blessed back then.
Mr. Lettmann, how do you intend to meet this challenge. You already said that customers are the first thing you’ll focus on?
The difference is perhaps that we used to deal more with female customers for whom what we do here was more a matter of course. Today we first have to explain what we do. Explain, not lecture. And that's a question of communication. Its importance has certainly grown enormously.
Dr Philip Lettmann takes over as Chairman of the Management Board of WALA on April 1, 2022.
How do you see that in the field of medicinal products? You two will be partners there in the future. Similar questions arise in the field of medicinal products, where you’re heading next, Mr. Stellmann , and at WALA.
The field of medical products is also quite different today from what it used to be. Back then, the legal framework was much more relaxed. And people were either fans, or completely indifferent to us. Today, the legal framework is very restricted. And we also meet a curious paradox: on the one hand, we have harsh criticism. But on the other hand, there is a great interest in our form of therapy. An interest that is now confidently communicated to doctors who used to be considered demigods in white.
The situation is indeed similar in both fields. And that helps us, because when we talk about cosmetics, we're talking about medicinal products, and when we talk about medicinal products, we're talking about cosmetics. We can only understand WALA as a unit of cosmetics and medicines. It's about the question of health, it's about the question: "How can I support health by stimulating living processes in people and in our society?" Our answer to this is based on the vision of our founders and formed in dialogue with our contemporaries.
Finally, from contemporaries to you two personally. You haven't only been working for WALA for the last three months, during which you could be seen as a twosome, but in fact have a long history here, as close colleagues. Is there a moment that illustrates your special collaboration?
Yes, the cheese sandwich. Of course, there were the many trips we took together, where we had time to philosophise. And that's when we realised, we have a lot more in common than just working for WALA. And one facet of that is – the cheese sandwich. That each of us always had a cheese sandwich with us, regardless of the other. The cheese and bread for both of us always come from the Sonnenhof, which is WALA's Demeter farm. So, on the one hand we have a very broad and deep spiritual connection. And then it becomes very material, right down to the cheese sandwich. Which, when the situation called for it, we shared as brothers.
Thank you for the interview.