Many successful people had a mentor in their career. I myself have mentored a number of individuals, and it’s a privilege for me to be able to offer guidance and an honor to be considered worthy to fill this role. I also had mentors both early and late in my career. One of them passed away recently and I was saddened to hear this while I was attending this year’s ICALEO in Orlando, FL, a LIA event where in the past, he and I were apt to meet.
Professor Berthold Leibinger, the former CEO and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Trumpf, passed away in Stuttgart, Germany, on October 16, 2018, following a long illness. Many obituaries and chronicles of the career of this outstanding gentleman, who “dedicated his whole life to his work as an entrepreneur and patron of the arts,” will be published globally—so rather than repeat his biography, I would like to add an insight into what made up his unique character.
Berthold Leibinger in 2010. (Courtesy: Trumpf)
I first met Dr. Leibinger when he was expanding Trumpf in the U.S. in the 1980s. It was at a Trumpf open house in the Farmington, CT sales offices, where he took me aside to ask questions regarding articles I was then publishing about laser sheet metal cutting and the annual market report I was publishing in my magazine, Industrial Laser Review (the predecessor to today’s Industrial Laser Solutions).
In his fashion, he complemented my editorial work, even referring to the earliest paper on the subject that I had presented at an FMA event in 1974. I was to learn this was a Leibinger trait—a little praise, given in a quiet, almost calm manner, to be followed by a more stern comment on some matter of his concern (this also gently delivered) and then him gripping my arm with varying strength, depending on the intensity of the admonishment. I can’t remember all the issues we discussed, but I mainly recall the way he delivered the message and how, be it praise, criticism, or a rebuke, it was always structured the same way.
We had many occasions to meet over the years—at trade shows, conferences, open houses, and company workshops, where he always found time to talk with me. The best times were at company-sponsored events in Germany he invited me to attend, where he allocated time for just the two of us to talk about the growth of the laser market and how ILS could be a factor in this growth. He was a wise man and I always left these meetings with fresh ideas on how I and ILS could be more involved.
We developed a relationship that exceeded business. He was very kind to me and my wife Ginny, ensuring that on our travels in Germany, we had opportunities to see what he considered were places that showed off a non-tourist view of the country.
Under his leadership, Trumpf grew to one of Europe’s largest machine tool companies and the world’s largest industrial laser company. As his responsibilities at Trumpf expanded, we saw less of each other—but on the occasions we did meet, it never changed from the format of the first meeting, a gracious greeting with some form of praise, followed by an object message, always couched in the gentlest of terms. I can’t say this was his style with everyone, but it was with me and I tried to emulate him in my dealings with others.
It was only when I learned of his passing that it occurred to me that Berthold Leibinger had—intentionally or not—been a competent, instructive mentor. And more than that, a kind and generous gentleman. I shall miss him and the world of industrial lasers will miss his thoughtful analyses, his sharing of Trumpf business news, and his leadership in expanding laser cutting technology globally.—David A. Belforte