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Dr. Johannes Stellmann, Managing Director of WALA Heilmittel GmbH.
Dr. Hauschka has embodied a very special cosmetics culture since 1967. What does this involve in your eyes?
It starts with the way in which we develop and manufacture our products and continues with our skin care treatments. However, the overall driving force for our company, our origins and our use of resources are also all of a cultural nature. For me, the guiding principle is ‘different from day one’.
Different from day one? What was so different in the early days of Dr. Hauschka Skin Care?
Simply take a look at the way Elisabeth Sigmund worked. She essentially started to develop her own natural cosmetics in the early 1930s.These eventually then came onto the market in cooperation with us in 1967.If you think about it carefully, you will see that she developed these products for over 35 years before they hit shop shelves. She took a great deal of time for her work. This process was totally different to all others. Then, there are our origins. WALA was actually founded as a result of a charitable enquiry when Dr. Ita Wegman, co-founder of anthroposophic medicine, asked Dr. Rudolf Hauschka to develop medicines without any use of alcohol. These were intended for children, the elderly and the seriously ill. The result was the alcohol-free WALA medicines. This shows that we are actually a cultural organisation. We wear an economic gown but I believe that we are driven by a clearly cultural stimulus. Even our finances show that we are still a hybrid company.
WALA as a hybrid company? What does that mean?
‘Hybrid’ means that my commercial framework contains a large charitable element. We want to find a business structure that already takes on social responsibility when creating the value. To do this, we have a different mindset from the start. We look at the creation of a product followed by its use in a different cultural arc. This charitableness that others often incorporate at the end of their life is something we make part of the here and now, of everyday practice.
You referred to WALA as a cultural organisation. That surprises me as it manufactures medicines and natural cosmetics. What makes WALA a cultural organisation?
On a basic level, the culture dictates that we regard ourselves as ‘enablers’ rather than ‘makers’ with regard to both our medicines and our cosmetics. We support healing and flourishing. We do not aim to replace or suppress the immune system with WALA medicines, but to support it. Similar applies to Dr. Hauschka Skin Care products too. We support the skin to help it return to a normal skin condition. And in doing so, we actually train it. From this perspective, we are a training institute at product level. However, this is not in the form of a service; the trainer is a product, and I find that fantastic. We are very process oriented. And we are not about instantaneousness; we are not ‘this second’ people who offer rapid-effect creams. We are about allowing things time. Our company thrives on time, for example during gradual skin care treatments that I take my time to enjoy or manufacturing processes that take time to mature. This has a cultural dimension for me.
You once said that Dr. Hauschka develops products for people, not markets. Can you elaborate?
Take our Rose Day Cream for example. This has been part of our product range since day one, since 1967.It does not have any right to eternally exist per se but I do not currently see any reason why we should remove it from the market. I also choose to ignore standard product life cycle theories, which dictate that Rose Day Cream should be removed from the product range after ten years. That is not the way we work because this product is a classic. Why? Because we develop products for people, not markets. Elisabeth Sigmund asked what people need. She never asked where a market could be found, but instead always focused on the requirements of people’s skin. This is a completely different approach. It is about needs. And this approach continues to guide us today. We start with the question of what people need rather than where there is a market that we might be able to tap into. We prefer to put our money into product development, the manufacturing process and high-quality raw materials.
It is thanks to the WALA Foundation that you have this freedom to invest the money where you choose. What is the Foundation’s role?
The WALA Foundation is the sole owner of WALA Heilmittel GmbH. It offers us the major advantage that capital cannot be taken from the company as a result of either private interests or inheritance. In other regards, however, things are far more difficult for us than for other companies because we cannot obtain equity from external sources. In other words, we cannot approach investors and ask them to join us and bring a few hundred million euros with them. That road is closed to us. We operate without a safety net.
You use the profits in a very special way and say that this money is an enabling instrument for you. Can you elaborate?
Firstly, we view money as an integral part of all activities rather than just from a profit perspective. Right from the outset in the value-added chain, we ask ourselves how we can fulfil the responsibility that we bear. For example, if I pick up a jumper in a shop and buy it, I essentially trigger a manufacturing order for the new jumper that will replace it on the shelf. This means that I cannot remove myself from being responsible for what happens in the manufacturing chain. Ten years ago, I could have said that I did not know anything about this but in today’s digital age, I can find out about the manufacturing processes. If I take this responsibility seriously and transfer it to us here at WALA, I have to think forwards from the value-added chain to the product. That means I have to pay attention to how the raw materials I buy are produced. And then, I have to look at how we actually manufacture the product. And if I have done my job well, then hopefully we will generate a profit. The question then naturally arises of how we will use this profit. It is of huge benefit to us that we do not have to serve owners. Instead, for example, we can enable new partnerships for organic raw materials, which might not be produced otherwise. This was the case with shea butter from Burkina Faso, castor oil and mango butter from India and essential rose oil from Ethiopia. Alternatively, we can enable partners to become completely independent from us. Initially, project partners often rely on us 100%.We are extremely committed to making them independent within a few years whenever possible.
It sounds like the money you put into projects is a seed that multiplies as it grows.
Most definitely. And if we stick with the idea of the sower who has to accept that not every seed will grow, this also applies to us. You could naturally see this as us wasting money, but we are wiser after doing so than we were beforehand. When I start something, I also say “yes” to failure. I cannot develop without making mistakes. These are simply part of the renewal process. I therefore always talk about the ‘error compost’. One example is our new Dr. Hauschka Make-up line, which was launched at the start of 2017.We started developing the new line in 2011 and 99% of what we did went in the bin. But if we had not done this, we would have developed something mainstream black, rectangular, circular. We would never have devised the curve of constant width as the design for the powder trays and would probably never have decided to use purple rather than black for the packaging.
What is your vision for Dr. Hauschka Skin Care? What does the future hold?
The principle of being ‘different from day one’ will continue to guide us. We are committed to ensuring that our products meet both our own and all legal requirements with regard to quality and safety. However, we also always say that we try to forge our own path. My conduct is shaped by the inner commitment to doing things differently to others. And this takes courage. It also fits well with our central idea of learning as we work and working as we learn. Errors, failures and mistakes form part of this. Without them, I cannot learn.
Thank you for speaking to us.