125 years of Bosch - Invented for life Robert Bosch: the man and the entrepreneur Visionary far-sightedness leads to international success

  • 2011 marks 150th anniversary of company founder's birth
  • An engineer and business leader who was ahead of his time
  • Founder's principles still shape the company today
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  • April 14, 2011
  • 125 years of Bosch
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press release

Stuttgart – The principles and social values of Robert Bosch, the company founder, continue to shape the corporate culture of the Bosch Group. “I would rather lose money than trust” was one of the principles that guided Robert Bosch in his business dealings. One hundred and twenty-five years later, many of his values, attitudes, and principles – such as credibility, reliability, and legality – continue to resonate, and form the basis of the Bosch Group's entrepreneurial and social responsibility. Technological innovations, high quality standards, an international presence, responsibility for associates' welfare, and support for charitable causes and civic initiatives reflect Robert Bosch's beliefs and offer a foundation for sustained business success that will safeguard the company's future. In 2011, Robert Bosch GmbH will be celebrating its 125th anniversary and the 150th anniversary of the birth of its founder.

A company is born
Robert Bosch was born in Albeck near Ulm in southern Germany on September 23, 1861. He was the eleventh of twelve children. His parents subsequently moved to Ulm, where he attended secondary-technical school from 1869 to 1876 and then served a three-year apprenticeship as a precision mechanic. After working for various companies in Germany, completing a year of military service in Ulm, and attending a semester of lectures at Stuttgart Polytechnic as a non-registered student, Bosch spent the year 1884 working in the United States, part of the time at Edison Machine Works. In 1885, he spent several months honing his skills at Siemens Brothers in the United Kingdom before finally founding his “Workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering” in Stuttgart on November 15, 1886. Electrical engineering was still in its infancy at the time, and Robert Bosch was keen to unlock its potential. He eagerly embraced the latest technical innovations. One example was his purchase of a modern English bicycle in 1890. He used it to visit customers at a time when most people in Germany were still riding high-wheel bicycles. And in 1889 he rented a telephone to help drum up business – a form of communication which at the time was far from common, as well as being very expensive.

Technical innovations begin to pay off
Robert Bosch's keen interest in modern technology was also the driving force behind his entrepreneurial activities. Referring to the early years of his workshop, he once said: “My business, which was originally very small, gradually began to develop more swiftly after long and painstaking efforts.” The drive to innovate and the high quality standards which had been central to Robert Bosch's efforts from the very beginning eventually paid off. In 1897, he modified a low-voltage magneto ignition device so that it could be used in motor vehicles – a groundbreaking innovation. Today, this is regarded as a milestone in engineering history. The incorporation of this innovative technology into a motor vehicle in 1897, and its subsequent modification to create a high-voltage magneto with a spark plug in 1902, was the commercial breakthrough that the fledgling company had been waiting for. Under the guidance of Robert Bosch, the company developed a whole series of technical and technological innovations that made people's everyday life and work considerably safer, more comfortable and more efficient. This business philosophy of providing effective solutions to enhance the quality of people's lives is reflected in the company's strategic imperative “Invented for life.”

Turning a workshop into an international industrial enterprise
Robert Bosch quickly saw the business opportunities offered by international collaboration and the distribution of his products in markets outside Germany. He firmly believed in the quality and competitiveness of his innovative products: “In my experience, there is nothing worse for a company that wishes to prevail and remain at the cutting edge than to have no competition,” he wrote in his memoirs in 1921. Bosch established his first sales office in the United Kingdom in 1898, and his first manufacturing site in France in 1905. The establishment of a manufacturing site in the United States in 1912 swiftly opened up new markets for Bosch products, and the company's worldwide expansion continued with the establishment of additional branch offices and production facilities. The decision to nurture the company's global presence and transform the business into a successful worldwide development, manufacturing, and sales network was one of the most important strategic initiatives undertaken by Robert Bosch.

Responsibility and social commitment
Robert Bosch was a socially minded entrepreneur. “Employer and employee are equally dependent on the fate of their company,” he wrote in an essay dating from 1920. Right from the start, he was determined to support his associates' welfare, as well as to tackle broader social issues. In addition, he improved on the working conditions that were typical of industrial production at that time, providing his factories with proper ventilation and lighting. In 1906, when he became one of the first employers to introduce an eight-hour working day, he was once again well ahead of his time. By cutting working hours and easing the burden on his workforce, Bosch was then able to introduce two eight-hour shifts in order to increase productivity – a strategic decision that benefited both the company and its associates in equal measure.

Occupational and further training still a priority
As a keen engineer, Robert Bosch placed great emphasis on the quality of his associates' work. His guiding principles called for work to be carried out efficiently and independently and stipulated that responsibility should be delegated to qualified staff. “The future of our industry, and any progress in the technical field, depends on the training of capable mechanics and technicians,” Robert Bosch said in an interview for the company's in-house newspaper in 1922. In the words of one of the mechanics who worked for him in the early days: “Mr. Bosch personally looked over the shoulder of each new recruit to assess the efficiency and the care with which he did his work. No botching or bungling was permitted in the Bosch workshop." Accordingly, the occupational and further training of his associates was an issue of the utmost importance to Robert Bosch. In 1913, he established his own training department with a dedicated workshop for apprentices, a decision prompted in no small measure by the inadequate support he had received from his own instructor during his apprenticeship as a precision mechanic in Ulm. Associate training and qualification still command an important position at Bosch to this day. In 2010, the company once more spent 200 million euros on training, 120 million euros of this in Germany alone. In 1929, the company founder also set up “Bosch-Hilfe,” a retirement and surviving dependents' providence fund for his associates.

Social responsibility as a guiding principle
A donation of one million German marks to Stuttgart Polytechnic in 1910 marked the beginning of Robert Bosch's civic initiatives. He subsequently donated the profits he made from armaments contracts in the first world war – some 20 million German marks – to charitable causes. The endowment of the Robert Bosch Hospital in Stuttgart in 1936 was a further example of his social commitment, and if Robert Bosch were alive today he would very likely be lauded as a social entrepreneur. His deeds and achievements are widely cited as a model of corporate social responsibility, and his legacy of social justice continues to be one of the company's most visible traits.

A staunch democrat even in difficult times
A liberal-minded entrepreneur and democrat, Robert Bosch was a loyal supporter and promoter of the Weimar Republic. After the first world war, he devoted a great deal of his own energy and capital towards furthering reconciliation between Germany and France and supporting efforts to create a European economic area without customs duties. Thus, Robert Bosch pursued both his economic interests and his personal ideals, which included a commitment to international understanding and free trade. “Free trade is the first step on the path toward international understanding,” was just one of his statements on this subject. Accordingly, he was all the more alarmed by the aggressive, Germanocentric policies of the National Socialists. His final years were overshadowed by his company's entanglement in the Third Reich's war plans and rearmament programs. Acting out of personal conviction, Robert Bosch and his company directors supported resistance to the Nazi regime and helped to rescue Jewish associates and others facing persecution. In 1937, Bosch brought the former Lord Mayor of Leipzig, Carl Goerdeler, into the company as an advisor. With the knowledge and support of Robert Bosch and his closest associates, Goerdeler organized a resistance cell against Hitler. For Robert Bosch, the outbreak of war in 1939 was a catastrophe – both on a personal level and for his country. His biographer Theodor Heuss wrote: He once said to me: 'I would prefer to work with 10 people to achieve peace than with 30 people to further the cause of war.'" Yet Bosch could only stand by and watch as the use of forced labor became a dreadful reality at his company.

Robert Bosch did not live to see the end of the war in 1945, the swift rebuilding of his company in the post-war years, and its renewed ascendancy as a global supplier of technology and services. He died in Stuttgart on March 12, 1942.

His final wishes
In 1938, Robert Bosch drew up his will, which included the main guidelines for his successors. The financial independence and autonomy of Robert Bosch GmbH were especially important for him, since they would secure the company's long-term success in the future as well. In his will, he put it like this: “As a matter of principle, the executors [of my estate] are expected to ensure that the business activities of Robert Bosch GmbH are carried out and carried on in a manner reflective of my wishes, i.e. of my spirit and will, i.e. to secure for these activities over a long period of time not only their bare existence, but also a strong and meaningful development to help them cope with the inevitable difficulties and crises of the future. To achieve this end, no sacrifice may be considered too great.”

Robert Bosch was a skilled engineer and a far-sighted business leader whose values and entrepreneurial approach continue to influence the way the Bosch Group runs its global operations today.

The Bosch Group is a leading global supplier of technology and services. It employs roughly 375,000 associates worldwide (as of December 31, 2015). The company generated sales of 70.6 billion euros in 2015. Its operations are divided into four business sectors: Mobility Solutions, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology. The Bosch Group comprises Robert Bosch GmbH and its roughly 440 subsidiaries and regional companies in some 60 countries. Including sales and service partners, Bosch’s global manufacturing and sales network covers some 150 countries. The basis for the company’s future growth is its innovative strength. Bosch employs 55,800 associates in research and development at 118 locations across the globe. The Bosch Group’s strategic objective is to deliver innovations for a connected life. Bosch improves quality of life worldwide with products and services that are innovative and spark enthusiasm. In short, Bosch creates technology that is “Invented for life.”

The company was set up in Stuttgart in 1886 by Robert Bosch (1861-1942) as “Workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering.” The special ownership structure of Robert Bosch GmbH guarantees the entrepreneurial freedom of the Bosch Group, making it possible for the company to plan over the long term and to undertake significant up-front investments in the safeguarding of its future. Ninety-two percent of the share capital of Robert Bosch GmbH is held by Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH, a charitable foundation. The majority of voting rights are held by Robert Bosch Industrietreuhand KG, an industrial trust. The entrepreneurial ownership functions are carried out by the trust. The remaining shares are held by the Bosch family and by Robert Bosch GmbH.

Additional information is available online at www.bosch.com and www.bosch-press.com, http://twitter.com/BoschPresse.

PI7234 - April 14, 2011

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