Heinz Dürr was considered an eternal optimist. He could even resolve difficult situations with his laughter. Now the former entrepreneur and top manager has died at the age of 90.
When Heinz Dürr, a Berliner by choice, visited Stuttgart, he inevitably passed the main train station. There, the former railway boss saw the huge construction site of Stuttgart 21. During his time as railway manager, he helped set the course for the billion-dollar project, the completion of which has been delayed for years.
“The trains will run, just a little later. That’s not a big deal,” the former manager, who always spread optimism, once told the German Press Agency. Dürr died on Monday in Berlin at the age of 90, as the paint shop specialist of the same name announced on Tuesday in Bietigheim-Bissingen near Stuttgart.
Dürr leaves behind his wife and three daughters. For over 40 years, he shaped German industry like few others: Dürr, who was born in Stuttgart, broke off his mechanical engineering studies to work in his grandfather’s company – the paint shop manufacturer Dürr – and later led it to the top in the world as company boss. He later took on roles in other companies – as CEO of AEG, Daimler CEO and CEO of Deutsche Bahn.
Since 1991, head of the German Federal Railways
In 1975, Dürr succeeded Hanns Martin Schleyer as chairman of the metal employers in North Württemberg – as a counterpart to the later IG Metall boss Franz Steinkuhler. He was one of the last people Schleyer spoke to before he was kidnapped by RAF terrorists.
In 1980, Dürr was called to head the badly ailing electrical company AEG as a restructuring manager. He did manage to pay off his creditors. With the sale to Daimler-Benz in 1986, Dürr moved up to the car manufacturer’s board of directors. However, he was unable to prevent AEG from selling out after the car manufacturer’s entry. Dürr was never able to completely free itself from the accusation of having failed at AEG.
Dürr’s contract as AEG boss had previously been extended when he unexpectedly became head of Deutsche Bundesbahn in 1991. Chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU) made him the offer. He was entrusted with the task of uniting East and West by rail. But it was only when the manager threatened to resign that the federal government initiated a comprehensive reform and the transformation of the railway into a stock corporation. Critics also had to acknowledge the transformation of the railway into a company managed according to economic criteria. Under Dürr as railway boss, not only was the first ICE put into operation, but the BahnCard was also introduced. He was not able to implement all of his visions: the Transrapid he favored never became a reality.
Resigned in 1999
In February 1999 he resigned as chairman of the supervisory board “due to differences of opinion” between himself and the railway owners’ association. Just a few months later, Hartmut Mehdorn, his favorite, became head of Deutsche Bahn.
“The train that followed was the most exciting thing of all: leadership, technology and politics, everything came together,” said Dürr, who liked to smoke his Davidoff cigarillos, later in an interview with the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”. “My opinion is that you don’t have to own a company to be an entrepreneur.”
Dürr was always a friend of clear words. In 2013, at the age of almost 80, he resigned from the supervisory board of his family company, Dürr AG, and still retained the title of honorary chairman: “I don’t want to be carried to the general meeting on a stretcher,” he said at the time in an interview with the “Stuttgarter Zeitung”. “I see myself here almost like Benedict XVI, who probably said, I don’t like it anymore.”
Fear of people
Companions describe him as an eternal optimist. Even his counterpart in the metal collective bargaining negotiations, Franz Steinkuhler, said of him: “He was likeable and always laughed.” Even when negotiations got tight, Steinkuhler remembers in a book about Dürr by Günther Sassmannshausen: “Then he got such a big laugh and said: Yes, men, what are we going to do now?”
But despite his numerous contacts, Dürr apparently had difficulty establishing relationships with people. “I actually don’t know what friendship is,” writes Dürr in his 2008 book “From the First Row. Notes of an Intrepid One.” “I can’t help when someone is in distress and wants to lay his head on my chest. I don’t like that. Somehow I’m afraid of people.” Dürr continues to write that he only complains to his family because he has few friends. “And people like me because I’m optimistic.”
According to the company, the 29.7 percent shareholding in Dürr AG remains in the hands of the Dürr family.
Dürr in the FAZ Dürr in the STZ Dürr in the WDR Dürr in the SWR