Dusseldorf Theo Müller is regarded as the epitome of the “eternal patriarch” – a thoroughbred entrepreneur who cannot fail to stop. The agile senior still directs the fortunes of his dairy from the supervisory board. He had created this out of nothing using his own strength.
A village dairy with four employees, which he took over from his father in 1971, turned Müller into an international group – with around 24,000 employees and almost EUR 6 billion in sales. With a lot of skill, Müller made the local milk company from Aretsried near Augsburg into a brand. His slogan “Everything miller, or what?” Became the winged word. But as successful as the angular entrepreneur was in business, he has so far been unable to let go of the power in his milk empire.
Attempts to build two of his sons as successors have fizzled. A number of external managers at the head office have given each other a hand over the past few years. “It is not easy to deal with Theo Müller. The managers change as if through a revolving door, ”says a former business partner who wants to remain anonymous. However, he has the highest respect for his life’s work: “Müller is clever, keen on details and has an incredible entrepreneurial flair.”
Now the patriarch obviously had the feeling that the time was right for a change. On Wednesday the “milk baron” will be 80 years old and will surprisingly reflect on his family roots. On February 1, his eldest son Stefan is to take over from the father the supervisory board mandate in the Theo Müller (UTM) group of companies, a company spokesman confirmed a report by the “FAS”. The press-shy entrepreneur commented on the generation change in the following short words: “I am glad that Stefan is back.”
Stefan Müller, 52, had been working for his father’s company since the late 1990s. For many years he headed the largest and most modern production site of the dairy group in Leppersdorf, Saxony. The junior was also a member of the UTM Central Management. Half-brother Theo junior, who is said to look very similar to his father from the outside, was also temporarily active in the group. The patriarch has a total of nine children. Stefan Müller left his father’s company a few years ago, the exact circumstances are not communicated. Anyway, he stayed true to the milk afterwards.
Significantly more design power and responsibility
Today he is the managing director of Colostrum Biotec in Königsbrunn. The company claims to be “Germany’s market leader for top colostrum”. Müller has the first milk that the cow produces for her calf in the first 24 to 36 hours processed into nutritional supplements. “Colostrum increases and maintains mental and physical performance and promotes health,” says the homepage. The products are used, for example, in cancer therapy or in immunodeficiency. According to the Federal Gazette, the company had around 45 employees in 2017.
With joining the supervisory board of UTM, Stefan Müller gets significantly more creative power and responsibility. Industry circles doubt whether he can fill in the great footsteps of his confident father. They hope for more calmness and a clearer strategy from him.
Stefan Müller sits on the four-member supervisory board of the milk and delicatessen group together with his brother-in-law Andreas Hoh and lawyer Rainer Lorz, a long-time confidant of the father. The company announced this on Sunday on request. In the future, Till Reuter will head the powerful body. The former Kuka boss was only appointed to the supervisory board in September.
Some construction sites in the company are waiting for Stefan Müller and his colleagues on the supervisory board. The group, which is now based in Luxembourg, had grown strongly under CEO Heiner Kamps until 2015 – above all due to acquisitions in the delicatessen business. On his 75th birthday, Theo Müller had said in a good mood that he wanted to almost double sales by 2020 to up to ten billion euros. “Then you can congratulate me on the eightieth,” he said at the time. But this magical sales threshold now seems far away shortly before the birthday.
Many construction sites in the corporate empire
The company had withdrawn from the US market in 2015 after only three years disappointed. The purchased weakening restaurant chain Nordsee was sold in autumn 2018. Restructuring is underway at the crunching delicatessen subsidiary Homann; two plants have been closed. The milk subsidiary in Great Britain is also worried, otherwise the company’s “cash cow”. The business there is currently being streamlined. The Foston plant was closed.
Werner Motyka from the Munich Strategy consultancy observes “a certain sluggishness in innovation” that has crept into the dairy industry over the years. Unlike the competition, the Müller Group stubbornly ignores future trends, such as protein-enriched yoghurts or plant-based milk replacement products. “Theo Müller has had a major impact on the dairy industry in Europe,” praises the industry expert. With a change in the group supervision, however, fresh wind could come into the company.
It remains to be seen whether the whole blood entrepreneur Theo Müller will now retire completely from his private life. After all, he is the owner. The music lover has lived in tax exile on Lake Zurich since 2003. He defended his move to Switzerland by saying that his heirs would otherwise have to pay inheritance tax in the hundreds of millions in Germany. “This is extremely dangerous for a company in which everything is in order,” he said at the time.
Müller’s longtime confidant Heiner Kamps knows how much his life’s work is important to the senior. “He wants to keep the company for the next generation, his children,” he emphasized two years ago to the Handelsblatt. Even without official offices in the company, the busy patriarch is sure to get involved, believes someone who knows him.
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