Learning from the past and looking to the future, a luxury shoemaker, a musician, an economic researcher and urban planner told us about their view on thinking about and planning for the long run
Richard Till Reiter
CEO of Ludwig Reiter with daughter and assistant Magdalena Reiter
“Gustav Mahler said, ‘Tradition is not the worship of the ashes, but the preservation of the fire.’ “
Over four generations, the Ludwig Reiter Shoe Manufactory has withstood the test of time. For Till Reiter, the founder’s great grandson and current CEO, keeping up with the latest trends was never the goal. “I like making a distinction between short-term fashion, and style, which is the result of a way of living.”
Reiter, 54, is the second oldest of three brothers who are all part of the company, a 130-year-old manufacturer of classically handcrafted shoes, but the sons taking over was never a given, “In fact, at one point, it even looked like none of us would,” Reiter remembered. Dressed in a blue-checked shirt and tweed jacket, Reiter, is a tall, elegant man, who shows no signs of the pressures his level of responsibility entails.
“Running a family business has great benefits, and not necessarily material ones,” he said, “it’s more about how you can arrange your life. This is very important to me – not to have a job from which the money comes and then a life to which the money goes, but rather to have a symbiosis.”
At Ludwig Reiter, the next generation is already on hand: Reiter’s daughter Magdalena, 25, tall, blue-eyed, and refined like her father, works as his assistant. Like her father, she was never pushed. “It was never required,” she said, and then paused, considering. “It was just something I grew up with, that evolved through observation.”
Her father looked on proudly: “I am impressed by her ability,” he confided, and she is already finding her sea legs. “A decision is only made under conditions of uncertainty; when you don’t really know what will be better. It comes from your gut and not from your head,” he said.
“That’s the skill that a good entrepreneur needs to have.”
“My father opened a lot of doors for me, of course. But then you have to be alone in the room.”
Her father, Arik Brauer, is a living legend whose astounding range of talents – painter, musician, writer – comprise too long a list to include here. The impressive scope of his career is paralleled by his biography: a child of Lithuanian Jews, he lived through and survived the Nazi regime in Vienna and then married an Israeli woman with Yemenite roots.
Following in his footsteps would be daunting for anyone, but Timna Brauer is equally well-known – a household name in Vienna. An accomplished and highly respected musician she is at home in three cultures and four languages and has performed worldwide. Among her many albums in German, French, English and Hebrew, her latest CD, Chant for Peace, brings together Christian and Jewish sacred music, and recently went gold.
Having a famous father didn’t hurt Brauer’s musical career, but it was her mother, also a musician, who mainly encouraged her as a child. A creative environment filled with music and art was the way things were. “Today I understand how lucky I was to grow up in this setting. At the time, I thought everyone had parents like mine.”
For Brauer, the radical diversity of her heritage is what shaped her identity.
“This is what I have inherited and passed on to my own children: not to judge, to always ask yourself what the other truth is behind this truth. Whatever your tradition, religion, culture, it’s important always to question yourself, not to be sure that you’re right.” She cited her earlier album, Voices for Peace, as the perfect example, for which she learned Muslim songs in Arabic.
As founder of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism, her father may be most respected as a painter, but Arik Brauer’s name is still most recognized by older Viennese for his 1970s self-titled number-one album. “Music is more accessible than painting,” Brauer said, and early on in the counter-culture era of folk music and early rock, it was his most lucrative way to support the family.
For Timna Brauer, music has stayed at the center of life, but painting hovers not far offstage. Only a hobby till now, it is something she’d eventually like to do more of.
“Painting is the opposite of performing,” she said. “When you sing, you are extroverted, communicative. When you paint, you have to go inside to become inspired. I think that’s why my father is so centered, because he does both.”
Research Group Coordinator for Labor -Market, Income, and Social Security –Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO)
“A healthy job market ensures a solid social security system. The high unemployment rate is now putting young people’s faith in our system at risk.”
For Christine Mayrhuber of WIFO, the most important aspect of economics is putting it into a social context. Co-founded in 1927 by the Austrian economist Friedrich August Hayek, the Wirtschaftsforschungs Institut is a non-profit organization that studies the economy outside of any specific business or political context. For Mayrhuber, the opportunity to work on economic issues that are politically and socially relevant was what drew her to WIFO.
Vibrant and approachable, Mayrhuber, 47, let out a hearty laugh when I told her that before I moved to Austria, I had never given a second thought to retirement. I laughed, too, I was only half-joking. When I first arrived, I was surprised to find that pension plans came up in casual conversation, even among twenty-somethings. She was happy to explain why.
“When someone, who has just started working in Austria, looks at their pay stub for the first time and notices that 30% has been deducted for taxes, they can’t help but wonder: Where does all this money go? Does it really go to my pension fund? I think this huge difference between gross and net income is something specific to Austria.”
Austria is also known for its stability. The country’s ability to weather the financial crisis of 2008-2009, she explained, was the result of built-in shock absorbers – the long-term political measures like part-time work and premium models, as well as employment opportunities offered by the public service sector. She also cited Austria’s strict regulations that call for ample collective bargaining agreements that guarantee a fair minimum wage.
With unemployment reaching an unprecedented high, a new storm cloud is looming over the Austrian economy and here, Mayrhuber was not laughing. And some young people here may no longer want to think in the long term.
“There is a big discussion among experts and politicians, who are saying that our pension system is no longer sustainable,” she said. “Young people have lost their trust in this system.” So while the discussions regarding pay stubs will continue, this time they may come from a totally different perspective.
“I don’t have a car, I bike to work, even in winter. A city is the sum of its people and each of their individual decisions. How you get to work has an influence on the whole network.”
Meeting Angelika Winkler at the Magistratsabteilung (MA) 18, next to City Hall, one would expect a Kafka-esque bureaucratic labyrinth. Instead, there was an open, sunlit landing lined with airy, glass-walled offices – transparency conveyed in the MA 18’s approach to urban planning.
Casually dressed in a leather jacket and jeans, Winkler explained how urban planning is about “change management”.
“Many people don’t like change because they’re very comfortable in their current situation. You have to talk to people and listen to their views, but also sometimes try to convince them to accept changes they might no be open to.” Recent controversies have included negotiations between drivers and cyclists for the Mariahilferstraße pedestrian zone, and between car owners and pedestrians for expanding the city’s Schanigärten (sidewalk cafés).
“You can’t make everyone happy,” she said. “All you can do is try and do your best to make a plan that accommodates the majority.”
Vienna has a tradition of large-scale, long-term urban planning – like the drinking water supply established in the early 1800s that still provides Vienna with pure mountain spring water and, more recently, Winkler points to the construction of Donauinsel in the 1970s. This recreational park was created when the Danube was re-dredged for flood control – a testament to Vienna’s openness to practical, forward-thinking urban planning initiatives.
Winkler also credits the spirit of optimism (Aufbruchsstimmung) that prevailed in Austria following its emancipation at the end of WWII.
“It was the beginning of a new era, a time for making long-term strategic plans. In a way, we were starting from ground zero on many levels.”