Has joining the family business always been a career goal? 'No. My father always said you have to do what you like because then you can get better; if you do something you don't like, it's not going to work. He saw [evidence of] that with a number of our customers and dealers in Germany, when they forced their children into their business. It was only after I had studied industrial engineering together with business administration in Germany, and then went to Switzerland to write my doctoral thesis, that the family asked me [to join]. But before I did, I worked for ... an automotive company [Hella]. It was something completely different but it was very interesting.'
When it comes to creating products, what comes first, functionality or design? 'I think they have to come together because design is also about how you use the product - ease of use, for example - and they have to come [at the same time]. Just like in a concert, you get different sounds and, if somebody's playing something wrong, you can hear it. So if the design doesn't fit the function, or the other way round, it will be noticeable very early. In the end, the product has to deliver perfect results and it's much more fun if this is done in a very easy way.
'Our development engineers have prototypes to test at home, to see if their families can operate the appliances. And we do frequent tests with people who don't own Miele appliances. We'll take them from the street, put them into a studio and record them, and see if they can [operate the appliances according to our instructions]. Just by looking at how they do it we learn a lot.'
How do you ensure universal appeal? 'That's one of the most difficult tasks, because we're a German company and we have German engineers living in Germany. Designing for Germans is not a problem. But when you look at our turnover, more than 70 per cent are outside Germany. So, when we're designing, we have to take into account the different needs of the consumers. Every day, we learn something about how people operate the appliances. For example, with ovens, people in Greece use a lot more oil and they [splash the food around] more, so we use a different coating. And baking is very important for people in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. They have different needs and we have different versions for them. With the coffee machine, we know that the Portuguese like to drink their coffee a little bit hotter than the rest [of the world], so we have a different preset for [machines sold there]. We try to incorporate all that we know about the consumers into the machines.
'We test our appliances abroad because we know that [ingredients] like milk and flour are different from place to place, and the taste is different. 'Al dente' spaghetti is different in Germany, northern Italy and southern Italy - so while automatic programs can help you, you have to be able to modify them.
'With our steamers, we took an idea from Asia. Our first steamer was a success all over Germany but people in Hong Kong and Singapore said they had to bend fish [to fit it in]. Our latest steamer has a much larger cavity and now people can steam a perfect fish. We now sell that version in Europe because people [there] also like the [additional] space.'