Interview with Mr. Markus Benz Interview with Mr. Markus Benz Interview with Mr. Markus Benz

Interview with Mr. Markus Benz December 10th, 2011

Interviewed by Robb Report

1. Walter Knoll focuses on high-end products, in the residential as well as office sector. In the latter, your clients are CEO’s and company owners mainly. Can you please explain what is special about your approach to the so-called “leadership area”?

In my opinion, leadership is a very personal issue and it has to do with the personality of the leader. Some leaders are led by dominance, others are stimulated by balance. The mix of all these components creates the personality and you have to take them into account in order to be personal. In WK designs, we can do that by combining the form and materials we used. We can fulfill highest expectations of the leaders and we have proven it in many renown projects for prestigious companies around the world. On the other hand, leadership also refers to the integration of electronic equipment and media means. For example, in video conferences, we often incorporate the cable management that allows people to make use of their laptops while listening to the presenter. These are part of modern leadership. In this case, furniture itself can not work unless being combined with technical features in a nice way. Fortunately, we can accomplish this quite easily since we are interior designers.

2. Do you think that breaking hierarchical structures in office spaces is a promising approach for traditional countries in Asia, such as Vietnam?

It is also the question of personality and what the leader can offer. In modern companies, decisions are prepared and made in teams so that everyone can get involved in comprehending common points. Working in teams also helps every single member to proceed on the same pace. As a result, the group needs furniture to present its ideas. In modern office layout, we often see a shared table with a lot of space for people to sit down and communicate. It’s not new that “two heads are better than one”.

3. In Vietnam, people believe their workplace is an extension of their family and often regard family-like conditions and relationships at the workplace as ideal. How do you feel about that and would you have a design-concept for that?

We are lifestyle interior design company, not specialists in work-spaces. When selecting furniture, people often base on two main reasons: Personal identity (representing themselves through furniture choice); and corporate identity (using trademarks to give clients a special value). We did the showroom-concept for Audi, the shops for Chanel, Armani, etc…These small parts/things are their communication tools. We are specialists in terms of brand-relating or representative areas of the companies. We mainly design boardrooms, executive offices, client areas, lobbies… Workspace is not our subject since we don’t have furniture for that.

4. You are known to cherish working with architects. Among others, you worked with Lord Foster, Hadi Teherani, and Ben van Berkel. Who is your favourite architect and what was the most unforgetable experience in cooperating with such stars as Norman Foster for example?

They are all my favorites, they give me special experience when working together. It is extremely interesting to work with talented and well-known architects like Norman Foster. Once, Norman wanted to refurbish the German Parliament – a prestigious building. At that time, I was young but so ambitious that I wanted to get the order for Walter Knoll. Later on, he asked me to put some special features on the project. That was the beginning of our long-term relationship, which followed by Foster 500 Chair - one of the most successful chairs in WK history and in the furniture market as well. For me, he is competent, very special. If you mention Ben van Berkel, you should not miss the Circle Sofa, the piece of art that he created for the Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart. The sofa has a low point that resembles the lounge and the high point as a chair. Undeniably, these are futuristic thoughts. All ways of living merged into one piece. He is also the first architect to construct completely with computering possibilities; a real specialist in morphing, lighting and combination.

5. Walter Knoll is expanding internationally and you opened new showrooms in Bejing and Jakarta. Will you continue focusing on the Asian region and what are the special challenges that you face here?

It’s all about building-up the communication with the design community. To start, we need a right partner. We are lucky to have Bellavita as wonderful partner, who are very capable and have a deep understanding of the design language. Moreover, a lot of people now travel a great deal so they can find WK in numerous destinations, not to mention that WK is now approachable in almost all developed Asian countries. Traveling is a kind of education which provides you with valuable experiences. For me, an immature market like Asia is really attractive. Some experts use the word “unbelievable” after studying the potential for luxury products in the market. I don’t see any specific challenges here since we have wonderful showrooms, highly-trained people and reliable partners. I strongly believe that to be successful in this market is just the matter of time and investment.

6. Walter Knoll stands for top quality, longevity and award-winning design. It must be a great job to be the CEO of such company?

It’s a great job but it does attache certain difficulties and pressure. After buying the company in 1993, we had to go through a heavy restructuring process. We always want to take people with us in any situation. WK also strives to generate new ideas to attract new clients. Skills are developed to maintain a continuous growing process over the last 18 years. At the beginning, the turnover was just 7 million Euros and now the number is 8-fold. The export percentage is 55% now, compared to almost 3% in 1993.

7. Which is the biggest achievement that satisfied you most during the last 18 years?

Creating a culture that respects every single person. We deepen social relationships by investing in liability and sustainability. You have to be in contact with the people and designers you work with. This is a kind of longterm involvement. It gave us the chance to be more intense in the things we do. We want to build things with longevity.

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