Who he? I hear you ask.
Well, Carl Elsener was the boss of Victorinox – named after grandpa’s wife Victoria – which made that Swiss Army Knife that’s sitting ignored at the back of your sock drawer; after all, when was the last time you needed to extract a boy scout from a horse’s hoof?
Good old Carl took over the business as chief exec in the fifties and made it fly. All those clever little things you can get on the knives – fish scaler, memory stick, Bluetooth, MP3 player, toothpick, are down to him. A visionary man! (God, their product development people must have had fun.)
The knives were originally designed for Swiss army riflemen and contained all that was needed to service their rifles. The corkscrew was added for the officer model (says something about class in the military).
Then (so I read) the American GIs in Europe for the war started buying the knives and took them back to the good ole USA as keepsakes/presents/useful knives and sales became international.
And the business grew and grew and grew until 9/11 after which people can’t carry knives aboard aircraft and sales dropped by thirty percent. Fortunately Elsener had introduced a whole whack of other products – watches, clothing, scent, luggage – and so the business survived. And they then took over their only meaningful rival – Wenger – who had gone bankrupt.
So why do we love Carl Elsener? Well, he seems to have been a nice man. He rode to work on his bike and dressed simply, like a hands-on worker. When he took over Wenger, no-one lost their jobs! In fact, he never ever made anyone redundant. Ever! (If the obits are to be believed.) Plus, and here’s something for those many business fat cats out there who are slightly greedier (and unlikely to ever read this), the top salaries in his business were never five times more than that of his lowest paid worker! Boom boom! (Interestingly The Telegraph doesn’t mention this.)
So RIP Carl Elsener, the nice man whose knives went into space, up Everest, and were used to trim Fidel Castro’s cigars.
Have a look at the company’s website. But lock up your credit card first.
Carl Elsener, cutler, businessman, nice person, born July 1922, died June 2013.