Leica says it has been planning to open a new, larger plant for five or six years but when the Lehman financial crisis came along, any such idea was put on the back burner.
Leica CEO Alfred Schopf tells AP how he sees the future for a firm that was in the red itself a few years ago…
How much of a threat are smartphones?
I was asked the question in a Bloomberg [news agency] interview one and a half years ago. I see things totally differently. They [smartphones] are an ‘entry drug’.
What we must do is give the one billion customers who bought a smartphone last year an idea of how to improve their capabilities, [educate them] on the limitations of a smartphone image and how they can improve the quality.
I’m sure… there will be a lot of people on the planet for whom a smartphone is sufficient… but again you will find a group of people – whether it’s 1%, 10%, or whatever – who recognise the limitations and want to improve their image quality.
We want to grow with [smartphone users] but you have to teach them, and show them how they can improve.
You cannot play a Stradivarius without training… and you won’t play a Stradivarius if you don’t know what a Stradivarius can do for you.
First of all they need to understand this, then you have to create a desire. Then you have to teach people how to reach that stage.
Leica CEO Alfred Schopf
Presumably, you hope people will come to Leitz Park (which is free to enter) to help them achieve this?
Yes, of course. Look at the building from outside. That’s a statement. And if you take a look at what we have created inside – in terms of a gallery, functionality, showing the heritage, all the old products and iconic images – you won’t find a photographic place in Europe that is comparable with the site we see here.
For Leica, in the end, it’s all about the best image, and we want to teach people how to achieve this better image.
The only thing you can do with technology is to create ease of use – this is what we have now incorporated into the T system, for example…
There seem to be a lot of Japanese visitors here. Is this a market you are hoping to attract to Wetzlar?
Japan is one of the major markets we have. Just to give you an idea, we are doing roughly 1,000 analogue cameras per year, 60% of which are [bought] by Japanese people. So, in terms of photography, they still have an analogue attitude.
How do you see Leica’s future?
High and bright, like the building. Honestly, would we undertake such efforts if we felt that we cannot improve and progress?
Of course, we see a future full of opportunities. It’s pretty obvious, but you can’t have opportunities without risks – so you have to take the risk and decide on that risk.
Leitz Park has more than 700 staff (Leica also employs 700 at Porto, Portugal). Are you employing the same number at Wetzlar, as in Solms?
Yes, they [all] moved over, and in the past three years we have gained 300 people.
Leica’s new factory and headquarters at Wetzlar, Germany
What is the design of Leitz Park based on?
There are actually two lenses, and binoculars at the front where the canteen is… a bit of a homage to the products we are manufacturing.