Andreas Kaufmann has a genial warmth that one does not always expect from corporate leaders. Perhaps that’s because he led a very different life before becoming chairman of the supervisory board of Leica Camera.
Born and raised in Germany, Andreas and his two brothers inherited Frantschach, a large pulp and paper company owned by their family. But since there was no expectation for the siblings to enter the management ranks, Andreas was free to pursue other interests. In university, he studied political science, history and literature, and later became a founding member of the anti-establishment Green Party. For 15 years, he also worked as a teacher while pursuing various investments.
One of these investments eventually brought him into contact with Leica. The brand had first made a deep impression on him at age 20, when his fiancee at the time came home with one of its cameras. “She said, ‘Look what I have’. And I said, it’s a camera,” he recounts with an affectionate chuckle. “She said, ‘No, look again’. I did. And I said, it’s still a camera. She replied: ‘No, it’s a Leica’. I can still remember the tone in which she said some things, and there was a certain note in her voice when she said that.”
That relationship eventually ended (“It had nothing to do with the camera,” he assures us), but Andreas’ love affair with Leica would blossom decades later. In 2004, he acquired a stake in the vaunted German camera maker. Leica’s exquisitely engineered cameras had redefined photojournalism and street photography in the 20th century, but at that point in the 21st century, it was flailing a little. The all-important transition to digital photography was one challenge, but “the cameras themselves were not a problem”, Andreas asserts. Leica had started exploring digital technology as early as 1994, and has been able to shift its whole portfolio of cameras into the digital category while remaining lauded for its technical excellence.