Expecting the worst Tengelmann weighs options as CEO Karl-Erivan Haub presumed dead

Karl-Ervian Haub, head of the Tengelmann Group, has been missing in the Alps for over a week. There is little hope of finding him alive and the family is faced with big decisions.
The three Haub brothers: Karl-Ervian (left), Georg (middle) and Christian (right).

On Friday, Karl-Erivan Haub’s family announced there is little chance of survival for the avid skier who went missing along the Swiss-Italy border more than a week ago. Finding the retail magnate alive would be a miracle. The family and the company have little other choice than to look to a future without him, as search teams continue trying to recover the billionaire’s remains.

While Mr. Haub was not directly involved in the company’s operational business, he often made long-term strategic decisions for the group, which recently reported sales of €9 billion. Since 2016 when the Tengelmann Group sold their legacy supermarket chain Kaiser’s to Rewe and Edeka in a major anti-trust battle, the group has been more or less a holding company. Its investments - such as fashion discounter KiK, OBI home improvement, Babymarkt.de and discount store TEDi - have been managed by non-family executives for years.

16 p16 Tengelmann-01

This means the company’s bottom line will likely survive the heartbreaking loss of its figurehead. Mr. Haub’s brother Christian Haub, co-CEO of the Tengelmann group, told employees, “Our family company is in a solid position, and has a stable and experienced management team, both in the holding company and in the business segments. So there is no cause for concern, at least in this respect.”

Tengelmann could now even begin to look more like a family investment vehicle, or family office, than a holding company, which could suit Christian Haub if he were to fill his brother’s shoes. Christian Haub is well-versed in portfolio management, having worked as an investment banker in New York for several years. He also manages Tengelmann’s US investments. The family made no mention as to whether Christian can or wants to take over his brother Karl’s tasks, which often included meeting with top company managers and taking trips to countries like South Africa, where the 58-year-old and his managers looked for retail trends and emerging markets.

It is also speculated that Stefan Heinig, a co-partner in the discount stores KiK and Tedi, will take on a leading role in the future. He has close ties to the family and is an experienced retail manager. “Heinig as the trader and Karl-Erivan Haub complemented each other very well,” said a source close to the family who wishes to remain anonymous.

Karl-Erivan Haub also helped Tengelmann buy stakes in several startups, including online fashion retailer Zalando, and Delivery Hero, a food order and delivery service, similar to Grubhub in the US. He was one of the first entrepreneurs to invest in German startups, giving a total of €20 million to Zalando in 2009.

He was the fifth generation to run Tengelmann, which was first founded in 1867. He took over the company from his father Erivan Haub in 2000. The elder Haub passed away in March of this year.

Florian Kolf leads a team of correspondents, who cover the trading and consumer sector for Handelsblatt. Kirsten Ludowig is deputy editor of Handelsblatt's companies and markets section, specializing in the trade sector. To contact the authors:[email protected] and [email protected]