Warning about fraudulent Online Sites claiming to offer Faber-Castell products. More information

Interview with CEO Stefan Leitz

Since March, Stefan Leitz has been the new chairman of the board of Faber-Castell. His start was in the middle of the Corona crisis. An interview about the charisma of the brand, the effects of the pandemic, painting templates, and products for new target groups.

1. Mr. Leitz, how did you perceive the company from the outside?

Faber-Castell has been with me since I was a child, and so have my own children. I have always been fascinated by the unique company history, but also by the product range. Both give the brand its global appeal. Certainly, something that Count Anton-Wolfgang Graf von Faber-Castell has played a decisive role in shaping during his 40 years of managing the company. Against this background, the idea of running the company as a second CEO from outside the family had great honor.

2. You come from the FMCG industry, i.e. "fast-moving products". Where are the parallels to our paper, office supplies, and stationery industry - and where are the differences?

First of all: the differences are much smaller than you might expect. In both industries, brand management plays a decisive role, as well as the ability to take the consumer's view and inspire end users. Modern communication and a high level of innovation are important because there are few growth markets, but e-commerce is a new distribution channel. I see some differences in terms of consumer needs, competitors, and distribution channels. The FMCG industry is significantly faster and there are more start-ups than in the PBS industry.

3. What about Faber-Castell, and how has the company mastered the crisis so far?

First things first: We had a single corona case in the company right at the beginning and managed it very professionally. A great first impression of how measures were taken to protect people. This reflects a great appreciation for the employees.

4. And what is the economic situation?

Faber-Castell closed the financial year with a turnover of 555 million euros. In March, the first significant slump in the corona epidemic occurred. Unfortunately, these have accelerated further. As in many industries, the medium-term effects are not yet predictable for us either. However, we must expect a further significant downward trend in sales and earnings. Covid-19 will also leave its mark on us. The background to this is the fact that four of our international production sites were affected by the lockdown for weeks and, of course, the stationary retail trade as well as schools and universities worldwide were closed for a long time and are still closed in many countries. Faber-Castell is traditionally very strong in Latin America, for example in Brazil and Peru. There are currently no signs that the crisis measures are coming to an end. The school business - our most important season - has in some cases not taken place at all. The cosmetics market is also currently experiencing a sharp decline. We are of course feeling this directly. Nevertheless, it is astonishing to see the energy and creativity with which our subsidiaries are tackling the crisis:
Online business is more strongly activated, international meetings take place in virtual space, cohesion, and exchange within the group is intensified and gives us more dynamics. I would like to maintain this momentum for the future.

5. Are there any trends emerging in the Corona crisis? Where are the opportunities for Faber-Castell?

As I said: the brand has a global appeal. Thanks to its international orientation, Faber-Castell is widely positioned, with different focuses in individual regions. We have a strong, often market-leading position in our core business. As a family-owned company, we have a long-term orientation, which is right and important. I see great potential for the next decade: both geographically there are still white spots, even though we already have a global orientation. We are strong worldwide in our core business of "wood-cased pencils", but I am sure there are still many business areas in which we can catch up if we focus even more closely on consumer needs. These have changed, especially during the Corona crisis. During the pandemic, creative products for children and adults were particularly in demand; at the same time, we registered a 300% increase in downloads of painting templates and tutorials on our website, and in Brazil, the number of subscribers to online courses grew by 4,500%.

6. Millennials hardly use pen and paper anymore. How do you intend to reach this important target group?

This is not quite right. Millennials are generally more adept and quicker in dealing with digital media, but they work "hybrid", i.e. they use the means of communication that are appropriate to the situation. This could well be a pen for notes and university transcripts. For this target group, we have developed our range that focuses on young, hip products, such as our "Grip fountain pen" with numerous ink colors, but also text markers and our "Sparkle" pencils with a glitter effect. The approach primarily takes place via social media. At the same time, we will intensify our existing activities in digital communication with consumers.

7. How important is the quality aspect - given the increasing cost pressure?

Quality is and remains an important prerequisite for a successful brand. Particularly if you tend to operate in the premium mass segment rather than in entry-level price ranges. At the same time, we also have to be externally oriented here: How important is which quality to the consumer? And how much is he willing to pay for it? So we, too, have to cope with increasing cost pressure and develop our efficiency every year.

8. Where do you see the company in ten years?

I am convinced that our vision "Unleash creativity" ist extremely future-oriented. Creativity will become more and more important in the age of artificial intelligence and already goes far beyond the artistic field. The pen will continue to play an important role, just as the weekly markets are in great demand despite or alongside home shopping.