THE GREATEST ALTRUISTS WERE EGOISTS BEFORE
In conversation with Florian Kohler, Managing Director of GMUND PAPER
Gmund on Lake Tegernsee is as picturesque a place as it gets. Nestled among trees on the outskirts of the town lies the homonymous paper factory. The Mangfall river on one side, a mountain creek on the other. But when Florian Kohler compares his company to the Gaulish village with its famous protagonists Asterix and Obelix, rather than referring to the idyllic location, he alludes with as much pride and amusement to his company’s repeated success in outwitting the giants of the paper industry. For example, his winning the contract to produce both cover sheet and endpaper for Barack Obama’s new book – and that also for the American market, which is a spectacular move in the industry. »We simply claim to make the best paper in the world: more appealing, in higher quality, and definitely more eco-friendly,« he confidently explains his secret to success – only to cut himself off again: »No, I’m just teasing. Actually, I believe ninety percent of our success is based on that stodgy concept called hard work.« And, of course, on an infectious enthusiasm for sustainable paper production. This becomes evident on the guided tour of the plant. Kohler knows every machine and every process down to the tiniest detail – and he communicates with his employees at eye level. An appreciation that also contributes to the company’s success. »Our staff here is truly amazing,« he raves, »they all pull together as team. We wouldn’t be where we are if they didn’t.«
Sustainability in action
The importance of sustainable innovation for the company, despite its long tradition, is also apparent in the factory’s on-site restaurant, where astounded visitors get the feeling of sitting in a hip fancy Berlin eatery rather than in Tegernsee in the wealthy Upper Bavaria. »Mangfallblau « is hence a fitting name for the restaurant – and it is the only vegan place in the entire region. Meanwhile, it has also become a popular venue for executive retreats requested by companies large and small. »Tradition is something beautiful,« says Kohler, »but businesswise it is also very dangerous. I like to compare it to driving a car. What is more important? The rearview mirror or the windshield? The windshield, of course, the view ahead – into the future!«
Kohler’s creed is that a company always has to preserve a certain a startup spirit; only then is it capable of evolving and surviving on the market. And that pays off – not only in hard cash. In 2021, for example, Gmund Paper was honored with the prestigious German Sustainability Award. The magic word in this context is hemp, which has allowed Kohler and his staff to embark on a new chapter in sustainable paper production. »Naturally, everybody understands the qualities of hemp,« explains Kohler. »And not just because of the hilarious reference to smoking it. Hemp has an incredibly strong fibre, the plant can be grown without pesticides, and the paper can be recycled several times. It’s the perfect material. I am profoundly convinced that paper is the most ecofriendly mass product in the world. But you can always do more.«
When paper goes design
But the factory not only raises the bar when it comes to sustainability, as paper development is another field of inventive genius at Gmund. For example, on the occasion of the Bauhaus Centennial in 2019, Gmund Bauhaus Dessau came to life. »Bauhaus approached us through an agency at the time with the idea of creating this paper, and we immediately got hooked,« Kohler recalls enthusiastically. »We then delved into understanding the intellectual design setting of that time and how we could transfer that into the present. We decided on three very pure colours: a neutral White, since Bauhaus, despite being colourful, is also associated with monochromatic colour schemes. Then a slightly more rugged White, still neutral but a tad warmer, which renders images perfectly in print.« And finally, a Black emerged as a third variation. Here, Kohler and his team tried to produce THE Black, devoid of any blueish, reddish or green colour components, as is customary with black papers. This Black also evolved from the idea of neutrality and monochromaticity to get as close as possible to a contemporary interpretation of the Bauhaus philosophy. An in-depth work approach that reaps rewards.
The Gmund Business
Florian Kohler would not do as well on the market with his company if he didn’t also have a good nose for business, notwithstanding his commitment to sustainability and superior design. He thus managed to secure protection for the Gmund Bauhaus Dessau brand, which now embodies one of the company’s lighthouse projects. »It is a great product,« says Kohler, »and it’s not even expensive. Many designers fail to realise that we also produce our papers for industrial customers. So we also focus quite strongly on the application solutions, from books to packaging, and on generating aesthetically appealing and eco-friendly products in the process.« As a consequence, Kohler despises greenwashing of any kind just as much as any form of bleeding-heart activism. »I am a devout atheist, and I am a committed capitalist, « he says of himself. »I am edgy, and I don’t like phony altruism. Actually, the greatest altruists were huge egoists before.«
Florian Kohler, paper and design enthusiast, nature lover and an avid cyclist who enjoys travelling across entire countries on a bicycle, was born in Tegernsee in 1962. After studying Computer Science and Marketing, he spent time abroad at Papeteries de Montévrain in Paris, France, and at Wiggins Teape Paper in Basingstoke, England. He joined Gmund Paper in 1984 and was appointed member of the Executive Board three years later. In 1995, Florian Kohler became Managing Director and Partner, and in 2004, sole Managing Director.
Founded in 1829, the Gmund Paper Factory today enjoys an international reputation as one of the most innovative paper manufacturers ever – and not just with reference to sustainability and technical innovation. Paper design holds a key role in the company as well. Consequently, the company also bestows the Gmund Award on applications of their products that excel in both environmental and aesthetic standards. In their in-house Gmund Retail-Service Division, Florian Kohler and his team also offer their customers advice and application solutions ranging from carrier bags to packaging. Under Florian Kohler‘s leadership, Gmund Paper today also spearheads the development of highly sustainable products. A commitment that yields returns. As a result, the company won the German Sustainability Award 2021 for its innovative hemp paper.
More information on Gmund Paper via gmund.com
The conversation with Florian Kohler was first published in the MCBW MAG as part of MCBW 2022.