“If you have 1,000 employees in a region like Uri with a population of 35,000, and there is a whole family behind each of them, then you know what responsibility is.”Max Dätwyler
Max Dätwyler said on the occasion of the company’s 100th anniversary in 2015. He has lived up to this responsibility his whole life and – together with his brother Peter – secured not only the continued existence of Datwyler as a company, but also the retention of jobs in the Swiss canton of Uri through a unique succession arrangement. The fact that he calls this the greatest achievement of his entrepreneurial career says a lot about Max Dätwyler as a person.
An Urner Away from Home
Max Dätwyler was born on January 29th, 1929, the second of three children of Adolf and Selina Dätwyler-Gamma in Altdorf, where he attended only elementary school. His parents then sent him to Trogen in Appenzell for secondary school. At the express request of his father, he then studied chemistry in Zurich and got his doctorate without much enthusiasm, but very successfully. At the same time he graduated as an economist and finally joined the family business. From 1961 he headed the Datwyler subsidiary Firestone in Pratteln, Basel-Landschaft.
Only at the age of 50 did Max Dätwyler return to the canton of Uri, where he quickly felt at home again and, most importantly, connected with artists and cultural creatives. He proved as early as 1965 just how close to his heart the small Swiss mountain canton had always been when the Dätwyler brothers donated the much-acclaimed illustrated book “Uri – Land am Gotthard” (“Uri – country at the Gotthard”) to the canton for the company’s 50th anniversary.
Difficult Legacy – Successful Entrepreneur
As an entrepreneur, Max Dätwyler took on a difficult legacy. Father Adolf Dätwyler was a shining light on the economic scene in Uri and demanded that his sons, Peter and Max, continue leading the company in his spirit. However, they could only guess what that was exactly. In 1958 they transformed Datwyler Inc. into a holding company, which ensured their survival as a group of companies, and shortly thereafter expanded abroad. In 1986, they listed Datwyler on the stock exchange. In 1990, they withdrew from operational management and secured the independence of the enterprise with a unique succession arrangement, for which they renounced substantial assets. Even then, the group had 3,500 employees and generated annual sales of CHF 700 million. By focusing on high-quality sealing components for the healthcare and automotive industries, the Dätwyler brothers laid a strong foundation for global expansion.
Max Dätwyler was a prudent and responsible entrepreneur for whom there was always something “beyond supply and demand,” as he still stresses today. “This culture of the family business continues to shape all of Datwyler’s decisions to this day and expresses itself in its values,” says Paul Hälg, CEO from 2004 to 2016 and current Chairman of the Datwyler Group.
Since withdrawing from the operational business in 1990, it is above all his commitment to culture which is on Max Dätwyler’s mind. From his parents’ house, he made a home for the Uri Music School. He initiated and financed the Uri House of Art and the Danioth Pavillion, thereby opening to the public his huge collection of works by the great Uri artist Heinrich Danioth. The Dätwyler Foundation, founded by him and his brother Peter, today contributes significantly to Uri’s cultural life with its annual donations of CHF 0.5 to 1 million.
For his passionate commitment, he received the honorary citizenship of the Swiss canton of Uri in 2002, the Altdorf Medal of Honor in 2008 and the “Golden Bull of Uri” in December 2012. Max Dätwyler made his last major commitment on the occasion of Datwyler’s 100th anniversary in 2015: He initiated and provided support for the history of the company, “The Power Of The Unseen” (NZZ Publishing House). The philosophical title comes – not surprisingly – from himself. On January 29th, 2019, Max Dätwyler celebrates his 90th birthday.