MEETING COUNTLESS BUSINESS PEOPLE FOR INTERVIEWS IS PART AND PARCEL OF BEING A JOURNALIST, HOWEVER THE MEETING WITH ENTREPRENEUR HERMANN BÜHLBECKER IN HIS PRINT AND CHOCOLATE PLANT ‘HENRY LAMBERTZ’ IN AACHEN WAS A SPECIAL EXPERIENCE FOR US. HIS TREMENDOUS ENTHUSIASM FOR THE HOMEMADE PRODUCT RANGE, HIS DISCIPLINED DETERMINATION, AND HIS CHARISMA AS A HOST IMPRESSED US. THE EXTREMELY SOCIALLY ENGAGED BUSINESS MAN, WHO WAS AWARDED THE ORDER OF MERIT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY, IS WELL-KNOWN BEYOND GERMAN BORDERS AND HAS BECOME HIS VERY OWN BRAND THANKS TO HIS INTENSIVE NETWORKING ACTIVITIES ON THE INTERNATIONAL PLAYING FIELD.
Right from the start of our conversation, sipping his first aromatic cup of coffee and surrounded by homemade prints, Bühlbecker gets to the heart of who he is, ‘The elementary pillars of my lifestyle and business philosophy are a modern entrepreneurial thought, value-driven trade, and fully identifying with the Lambertz brand.’ Thanks to an effective shift in his corporate image, the political and economic science graduate expertly led the company to the top after taking over from his uncle in 1978, a success not only reflected in the company’s turnover. He succeeded in modernising the ‘slightly dated’ prints and make them attractive to younger generations. Even ‘autumn and winter baking’, a neologism by the CEO, became an international phenomenon and bakes are distributed during the Christmas period by the company’s very own Saint Nicholas, bishop robe and crosier and all, to needy children across numerous countries.
Next to customer-centric trade, top-notch quality, sustainability and avoiding overpackaging, haptic and optical elements play a key role in the product palette. ‘The colour range of the products are structured with visual elements taking centre stage: limited editions, for example, are basically black and gold, while Christmas pastries are decorated in red, and organic and healthy eating products attract the clients’ attention with their fresh bright green colour scheme,’ according to Bühlbecker. The product palette at Lambertz – and this is particularly fascinating – throws bridges across societies, the economy, politics, culture, music, sport, and fashion. A recurring presence in the international press and a vast network allows Hermann Bühlbecker to become a messenger of his own brand, although his Content Marketing requires a lot of effort and time. ‘Today, what passes as ‘content marketing’ has been around for thirty years: instead of buying advertisements, we tell stories.’
Even social engagement and responsibility are taken seriously at Lambertz. ‘We promote countless considerate and charity projects in Germany and abroad, support UNICEF and UNESCO and also sponsor huge sport events,’ highlights the entrepreneur. Every year, Bühlbecker receives an invitation from former US president Bill Clinton whose foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, reminds financially successful entrepreneurs of their duty to support social projects to the benefit of people and nature which can be carried out within 12 months. Every year, Lambertz organises the luxurious and avant-garde Monday’s Night in the old waiting hall of Cologne’s main train station. ‘The exclusive show is a homage to chocolate and unique in the whole world,’ explains Bühlbecker, positively glowing as he speaks. At the heart of the event are fantastical creative chocolate robes or clothes created using packaging materials, worn by renowned models and which have the thousands of invited guests swooning with admiration every single time. On this night, the entrepreneur gathers national and international VIPs around his figure, uniting lifestyle with ‘alluring fashion’.
Bühlbecker goes a bit more into detail as we grill him with more questions: ‘The idea is for the fashion show to take place all under my supervision and guidance. The creative team works on the show slogan – which changes every year – and the programme, plans the Gala evening, and drafts the select guest list. Famous designers create beautiful chocolaty dreams using pastry packaging materials and pure chocolate.’ The clothes are stored in fridges so fitting the outfits is a difficult and complicated task, for the material the team is working with is extremely fragile. After the event, the creations are returned to the designers or discarded. Another artistic highlight at Lambertz is their stylish calendar. Famous photographers expertly direct beautiful, desirable men and women to pose in unusual locations. Hermann Bühlbecker’s excellent sense for art and aesthetics is reflected in the yearly calendar. It’s a limited edition of only 1,000 runs, and the entrepreneur decides the recipients himself.
In the hustle and bustle of our times which are characterised by uncertain and shocking negative changes, Bühlbecker has come to represent what, in many ways, we can consider a bastion of immutability. He invests by always maintaining the continuity of his business and personnel, supports people who are living in the shadows, wins over his clients with the steadfast high-quality of his products, and still manages to create enough space for innovation, creativity, and art.