Would You Hire a Theater Graduate to Lead Your Product Development Department?

by | Dec 27, 2023

In my line of work, I frequently encounter skepticism towards such unconventional choices. Yet, it’s precisely this kind of bold thinking that opens the door to transformative and innovative hiring practices and true creative leadership. The emphasis is on the “creative” part.

Braun’s Vision: Beyond Financial Success

In the early 1950s, young German brothers Erwin and Arthur Braun inherited their father’s company. You might know Braun mainly for their electric shavers, but this was an innovation powerhouse that transformed our perception of electric appliances.

In today’s terms, when the brothers took over the company, it was a business generating a staggering 100 million in annual revenue. However, for Erwin, the visionary of the two, financial success was just one facet of the picture. He envisioned something far more profound: a bold and creative revolution in modern life. Not just making a better radio (which they did at that period) but changing how people lived in their spaces.

His aspiration was to inject an extraordinary level of creativity and artistic insight into the hardware sector, an industry traditionally ruled by a focus on functionality and a legacy of engineering. His strategy? To recruit individuals with diverse, unconventional backgrounds, thereby fostering a culture of innovation and creativity.

Fritz Eichler: A Theater Graduate’s Influence on Braun

The story of Braun, a brand synonymous with cutting-edge design and innovative consumer products, is a compelling example of this strategy in action. It’s way more than just improving technology products; it’s a great example for the courage to think differently in business leadership. This iconic company’s influence extends far beyond its own product line, inspiring Apple’s design philosophy (Just google “Apple Braun” and see for yourself).

Reimagining Product Design with Artistic Insight

But a bold vision requires equally bold decisions. In a move that would seem almost stupid to many professionals, Erwin turned to an unexpected field for his next hire: the world of theater. He brought on board a theater graduate, not just as a mere addition to the team, but as part of the management to help realize his creative vision – Dr. Fritz Eichler.

Meeting Erwin in 1939 in the military in Weimar, Fritz, with his profound knowledge of art history and passion for theater, resonated with Erwin, sparking a connection that would later prove pivotal for Braun.

Collaboration and Innovation: The Eichler Approach

So you might be asking yourself, what can someone with a background in theater and art history bring to the table at a company, right? If it’s all about engineering excellence, sure, it might seem like they wouldn’t contribute much. But when it comes to transforming how people live, that’s a whole different story. That’s where you really need imagination, creativity, and a knack for thinking ahead.

Eichler’s influence on Braun was immediate and far-reaching. He immersed himself in every aspect necessary to advance this creative vision. This included everything from conceptualizing products to directing commercials, seamlessly weaving culture into Braun’s product designs. His theater and art history background provided a fresh lens through which Braun, as a company, viewed its products – not just as functional items, but as integral parts of a larger cultural narrative, imbued with originality, taste, and aesthetic appeal.

The Lasting Impact of Creative Leadership in Business

In fostering collaborations, Eichler was instrumental. His work with creative minds went beyond traditional industry boundaries, establishing a dialogue rich in creativity and innovation – like the ones he built with architects at the ULM school. Even after Braun’s acquisition by Gillette, Eichler remained a key figure, shaping the company’s design strategy as a Board Member for Design. His role was crucial in protecting and nurturing the creative vision within a larger corporate structure.

Eichler’s approach transcended just the design of products. He wove stories into each product, ensuring they resonated with consumers on a more profound level. By conceptualizing the ethos of “For a modern lifestyle-” he helped Erwin set the vision that guided employees to blend innovation, aesthetics, and functionality in a way that was both unique and relevant to consumers.

 

Dr. Fritz Eichler, a theater graduate who revolutionized product design at Braun
Image Source: Braun Archive

In one interview, Eichler reflected on his role, “A good theater director talks to the actors, develops and discards scenes, changes the set, and draws inspiration from all walks of life. He is constantly in dialogue, summarizing thoughts, mindful of the budget, the audience, and even the critics. I brought this way of working to Braun. Additionally, having an artistically oriented viewpoint – I enjoy painting, which in my old age has become a fulfilling purpose in life – meant my work at Braun wasn’t so different from my theater and film work. I was the interlocutor.”

In the business world, where creativity and innovation are desired, the story of Erwin Braun and Fritz Eichler is a beautiful reminder of courage. It highlights the immense value of leaders who dare to think differently about recruitment, recognizing the potential in unconventional backgrounds.

Why is it relevant?

Just a few months ago, the World Economic Forum, of which I am a proud member of the Cultural Leaders, published The Future of Jobs Report. It highlighted that the most crucial skills for workers now and in the coming five years are analytical and creative thinking. I am not worried about our ability to train for analytical. My real concern lies with fostering creativity. It feels like we’ve boxed ourselves in, limiting our ability to see beyond traditional roles.

Erwin Braun didn’t require a report to understand the importance of creative vision and abilities in a world increasingly driven by innovation. Braun intuitively knew that to achieve something truly unique and impactful, one must think and act differently.

His decision to bring a theater graduate like Fritz Eichler (and painters, photographers, and other artistic profiles) into a leading role at Braun was not just about filling a position; it was about infusing the company with a spirit of creativity and imagination, qualities that are now recognized as key drivers of success in our modern economy.

So, the next time you come across a CV with an arts background, remember to think beyond engineering excellence. Consider the potential for imagination and innovation that such candidates can bring to the table. In our fast-changing world, with technology and creativity becoming more and more intertwined, thinking differently isn’t just valuable – it’s crucial.

 

 

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