• Special Features: Names, Places, Happenings
NATHALIE'S VIP PORTRAIT *
Wolfgang-Anton Graf von Faber-Castell
Leading producer of writing accessories
Where would an artist be without the tools of his trade? The world's most renowned artists, poets and philosophers all loved the special pencils produced by the famous Faber-Castell family. But let's set the record straight from the outset: Faber-Castell is not just a simple German pencil-maker that exports. It's an international group with 5.500 employees and 15 factories around the world, producing high quality products for writing, drawing and creative design. The company, led by elegant Count Anton Wolfgang von Faber-Castell, has operations in more than 100 countries and a turnover of approximately € 267 m.
I wanted to know more and followed the Count's invitation into his private kingdom. And hardly surprising - I discovered that the pencil king's life is as colourful as his products.
The ancestral castle of the Counts of Faber-Castell in Stein near Nürnberg (photo), which was built in 1903, is proudly set in a magnificent park. The gigantic Art Nouveau monument is still reminiscent of the golden age of the German industrial revolution. Today, the Faber-Castell castle is used for art exhibitions, concerts and private festivities. In 17It was Lothar von Faber, one of the most important men in the company's 244-year-old history that was responsible for discovering the famous green, hexagonal-shaped pencil. After his daughter married Count zu Castell-Rüdenhausen, the company became famous under its brand name of `Faber Castell'.
A fresh coat of paint can work wonders. While today's company boss, Anton Wolfgang Count von Faber-Castell, shows me around the production(photo), I am amazed about the good repair of his century-old firm and the bright colours on its walls. He certainly knows how to take advantage of the positive effects of a bit of colour in his long-established company.
We work with colours and that's why we also want to bring a bit of colour into our working environment. We have asked a very well-known artist to help us implement this colour concept. This is intended to freshen up the company inside too, so the work places will also be improved.
Faber Castell is one of the oldest companies in Europe and you are, I believe in the 8th generation of this company. Today very few family enterprises can boast eighth-generation ownership. Was it a difficult position to inherit at the time?
It was definitely a challenge. I don't believe that any inheritance that has such a long tradition is ever easy, but it has some very positive sides....you have a task that is very interesting, you have possibilities that you do not have to such an extent in a normal job. Working as an entrepreneur is of course risky and difficult, but with the right attitude, it also has a lot of interesting and positive aspects to it.
You are the sole boss and you have a number of companies abroad. How do you manage to do all these things? Isn't it very difficult?Put you under a lot of stress?
My wife isn't sitting next to me at the moment... (smiles)
No, I don't think the travelling itself is the problem. Business trips, in my opinion, enable one to see things where they are happening a lot more clearly than is possible from the HQ here in Germany. The one-to-one discussions in the subsidiaries are essential when you have an international business. The problem is that you don't leave enough time for your private life, for that extra day or so which one always intend to add on for pleasure. I always mean to do so, but it rarely works. In fact, I only ever manage it when I fly to the farthest point of the earth, such as Australia. That's where my younger brother lives and I always add on an extra weekend then.
Apart from Australia you are also in Brazil a great deal - for the company...
Yes, we have a very big plant there and a unique project for wood supply. We have own reforesting programme and our company processes pencils from reforested wood.
The group's massive reforestation project in the Brazilian woodlands which covers approximately 10.000 hectars in the region of Prata is a key focus. Fast-growing pines flourish in poor conditions and are easy to replant. Count Faber-Castell initiated this 'ecologically perfect project' 20 years ago, meeting demand for wood in production and - at the same time - reduce dependency on timber suppliers. In 1990, the group established a lead and coloured pencil factory in Indonesia, also using wood exclusively from forested tree stocks.
That is fantastic, indeed. So you are very environment-conscious.
I also know that Faber-Castell has a long tradition of social responsability towards their employees (Remark: for example no forced labour, no child labour, no excessive working hours, safe working environment and fair payment etc...). I am aware that you have over 5000 people working for your company world-wide...but what about your writing instruments?
How many pencils do you produce each year? Can we mention figures?
Yes, there is a figure that varies between 900 million and 2 billion pencils.
Today, Faber-Castell is one of the world's leading manufacturers and sellers of high-quality products for writing, colouring, and creative design – a famous name all over the world. 2000 different articles, ranging from wax crayons for children to exclusive fountain pens are divided in product categories with five fields of competence (“Playing & Learning”, “Art & Graphic”, “Premium”, “General Writing” and “Marking”). 85% of the company's sales are achieved abroad.
There are hard and soft varieties of the Faber-Castell pencils. Children love them and artists cannot do without them. With their pointed tip, they are always ready for use and there when you need them. This good old pencil is the evergreen in the pencil world. Count "Toni" successfully made it into an everyday cult.
But let's get back to the roots of the 400-year-old writing utensil which in the beginning had absolutely nothing to do with colour or lead. The pencil actually consists of a graphite-clay mixture which results in the `famous black' that artists go on so much about! Even Vincent van Gogh wrote: “The pencils by Faber are the best. They have a dark-green exterior and cost 20 cents a piece!”
How good were you in drawing classes?
I wasn't bad at painting, yes it's true, and I hope that this at least will come out in my daughter. She likes sketching and obviously has the right materials at her fingertips. It's really handy for her that in this case, we have the company to go with it.
But how do you see the future of your company? How can pencils possibly survive the age of computers?
Count Faber Castell:
Poor countries will always need simple tools such as pens and pencils. Industrialised countries may be less. However, in rich nations the office sector and all its technology will always be an important market for us and as you know, we also offer "lifestyle products" (i.e. the luxury Faber-Castell-Collection) and, of course, the "playing and learning products" aimed at pre-teens. I don't think that mankind gives up the handheld writing habit so there will always be a market for our writing instruments.
This is actually unusual, because in the old days the aristocracy went into the industry far less than today, usually opting for farming, forestry, or earlier the army or church. I believe that the worst affected today are those people who own a large castle with high maintenance costs, but who have little land or forest resources.”
Talking of castles...You have one too, but you don't live there.....
I don't live there, because I know what the maintenance costs involve.
There are no doubt very high......
They are still within our means, because the castle is not that old, but the maintenance costs are normally considerable and almost beyond reason for buildings of this size.
Have you ever lived in this castle?
No, I have never lived there, but my parents have lived there and my brothers and sisters. I, personally, only know the castle in its Sleeping Beauty slumber, from which it has now been woken, but not yet totally.”
Built as an major expansion on the traditional seat of the von Faber family at the turn of the 20th century, Schloss Stein was created to be a symbol of the modern industrial lifestyle of the counts of Faber-Castell.
The newer, bigger castle quickly became the landmark of the town of Stein, with its huge bell tower proclaiming the importance of the family and its endeavors. The interiors were decorated with an eye towards the prevalent eclectic style of the period. Neorenaissance, Gothic, Baroque, Louis XVI, Classicism and most importantly Art Nouveau - Jugendstil in German -
can all be found in the rooms of Schloss Stein. The elegant main stairway, with white and colored marble as well as Jugendstil mosaics, is impressive for its airy height and spaciousness.
Three of the rooms were designed by the most renowned contemporary Jugendstil practitioner in Germany, Bruno Paul.
Life in the castle was defined by the rhythm of the seasons. Receptions were held in fall and winter, with parties and dances in the ballrooms of the upper levels.
As the days grew longer the family moved to its summer residence, a hunting lodge in Dürrenhembach southeast of Nuremberg. Just before the beginning of WWII, on 1 May 1939, the count's family moved to its summer residence outside of Nuremberg. Shortly thereafter, the castle was commandeered
by the German Army, the Wehrmacht. Schloss Stein managed to survive the war years without major damage, and in 1945 it was turned into a barracks for Allied troops.
During the Nuremberg Trials it served as the living quarters for international attorneys and court reporters, including Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.
The US Army then turned the castle into a headquarters for its press service, finally leaving in 1953.
The count's family did not move back into Schloss Stein, and for more than three decades the imposing building stood empty.
At last, in 1986, Anton Wolfgang Graf von Faber-Castell opened the castle doors to the public on the occasion of the 225-year jubilee of his family's firm.
Since then it has been used for art exhibits and business conferences. The Faber-Castell Academy seminars take place on the top floor of the castle.
Nathalie : Would you have liked to live there if you had the opportunity?
Under ideal circumstances yes, but nowadays such circumstances are almost unattainable, because firstly, it is no longer possible to find staff and, secondly, we would have to do an awful lot to make the castle habitable in the way I would want it.
Your castle actually became so well-known, because a film was set there: `Fathers and sons' - isn't that right?
.....yes with Burt Lancaster.....
...Did that have any effect on the castle?
Yes, it had positive effects, because we did some restoration work for some shots. That certainly brought some life back into the castle. We also tried to refurbish the rooms to reflect the era. That definitely inspired the idea of the castle as a museum. I say museum on purpose, because it is hardly realistic to live there any longer. I prefer to live out in the country.
The ten-minute drive up to the Count's country seat is a royal pleasure. The 350-year-old hunting lodge is about 20Kms away from the family castle, discreetly hidden on an extensive private park. The main house which was extended when he moved in, also comprises guest houses, stalls and a restaurant. The Count and his American wife Countess Mary have created a very stylish retreat for themselves and their children, a retreat that is both tasteful and colourful.
The house belonging to Anton-Wolfgang Count Faber-Castell, who enjoys his art collection and interior design hobbies when at home, is a perfect example how one can combine old and new. "Why should one replace good, old proven quality when it is still in a respectable condition" - that is the credo of the pencil magnate who, in the old English tradition loves tailor-made English suits, hand-stitched shoes and a nice, well looked-after home.
How do you define luxury?
Luxury in the context of homes.......I think one should actually be happy when one can still obtain the necessary staff. I am afraid I can see a time coming when I will have to iron my own shirts again (smiles) or start cooking..., although that is a very nice hobby.
If you put luxury in the same category as comfort, then for me it is actually the possibility to visit nice hotels at any time in the year to relax - I have just stayed in one which you did a feature on recently.....! That is a particular luxury for me!
And what do you dream about?
That reminds me of what I would regard as a greater luxury - something that I haven't done for a long time... ! To find the time to hire a yacht. Not a sailing yacht, but a large motor boat on which I could spend 2-3 weeks each summer. Luxury in the form of objects is not something I find very important! Except if it is a Faber-Castell pencil...
...for example from the Graf von Faber-Castell Collection, a range of extraordinary writing instruments and accessories. To Count Wolfgang-Anton, they embody 'Luxury in Simplicity' by combining selected materials, functionality and superb aesthetics. Besides the
Limited Edition of the "Perfect Pencil" which was produced
for the 240 year anniversary of Faber-Castell (established 1761), my personal favourite is the 'Pen of the year 2004'.
A nonpar fountain pen in magnum size with a barrel handcrafted of amber by the artists who restored the world famous Amber Room in St. Petersburg.
Faber-Castell Vertrieb GmbH
Nürnberger Straße 2; 90546 Stein / Nürnberg
Tel. ++49-911/ 9965-0; Fax:++49-911/ 9965-760
SPECIAL FEATURE INDEX
* This special feature "Graf von Faber Castell" has been one of more than 200 VIP-Portraits, produced by Nathalie Gütermann for her TV-Shows 'Nathalie's Lifestyle' and 'Nathalie's Art of Living' that were broadcasted between 1990 - 2003 in Germany and in 15 countries world-wide. The content has been updated with actual information in 2004 for Nathalies-Lifestyle.com © 1990 - 2004.
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