Interview with Dr. Andreas Kaufman, Chairman, Leica Supervisory Board

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Text & photograph: Edward Teo

The day after the┬áDecisive Moment by Leica & Magnum event, Leica management as well as selected Magnum photographers were made available for interviews by journalist and bloggers. While the morning wet weather and Paris peak hour traffic did pose some problems for the schedule, I managed to have a couple of 1-on-1 interviews with Leica’s supervisory board chairman, Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, and Alex Majoli from Magnum Photos.

Dr.Andreas Kaufmann, Chairman, Leica supervisory board
Interviewed together with Bryan van der Beek (SPH)

Q: How was the response to launch of the M9-P?

Dr.Kaufmann: The first batch of production of the M9-P, 15 hundred have already been sold and shipped out today, with another 15 hundred on backlog. As for when the second batch of M9-Ps will be shipped, there is a difference between what I would like to have and what the production is able to do, I think that it will take another 6-weeks because we also have a huge backlog on the M9, S2 and X1.

We ramped up production last year by more than 100 per cent. When a manufacturing company does this, it’s a little tricky regarding quality control, because you can’t do this every year, but as far as I see it, we were able to maintain our quality but still have a backlog. The demand is seriously outstripping demand, especially in the lens department, notably the high priced lenses. E.g. the old Noctilux used to sell about 500 pieces a year, and planned for production between 500-800 pieces a year, but the demand is in the range of 3,500-4,000. This is the highest priced lens we have, and there’s still a backlog after 12-mths.

Q: With such sustained high demand, are there any plans to increase capacity with a new facility?
Dr.Kaufmann: Yes, we have this project in the pipeline which is called the Leitz Park 2, which will be the new facility and building for Leica camera with a museum and gallery, including the original blueprints by Oscar Barnack, as well as the first ever Leica camera delivered to a customer (sn126). This is a huge 25,000 square-meter green building project, showing modern German architecture adapted to Leica. We have a plan in place to double our turnover over the next 4 years, and the new building will be able to cater for this production.

Q: Which is the best performing Leica product line?
Dr.Kaufmann: Definitely the M9. I alway say that the M9 is our Porsche 911. Porsche produce great other cars, but the iconic Porsche is always the 911. It is very iconic design-wise, so we are very careful with our designs. You saw the M9-P, I think that it is a really a cool camera actually (as he grabs his M9), I don’t have one, because the customers come first.

Q: While there is a resurgence of professionals using the M9, the largest market share for the M9 is probably the higher-end consumer. With that, might we expect that Leica cater developments more towards what the consumers preferences?
Dr.Kaufmann: We develop the type of cool stuff we would also love to buy, and I think that this is the right approach. Henry Ford once said that “if I were to ask my customers what they want to have, they would have asked for a better horse”. But we are looking into this, we’re listening, but don’t build cameras according to market studies. But there will be some technologies that could make sense. HD, wireless, Geo-tagging all could make sense. We are studying these, and usually at the end, we’ll come up with a German engineer solution. We have to consider if it is necessary and what does it do to enhance the picture. Some may make sense in the future for professionals and be introduced down the line, and others may be a gimmick.

Leica’s world-wide workforce is a little more than 1,100. In German there are a bit more than 500, and of these, 20 per cent are R&D. So we have 4 departments – mechanics, electronics, software, and optics. These are 4 main components of future cameras.

Q: As excited as everyone is about yesterday’s announcement of the M9-P, a lot of people would still like to know when the M10 is coming out. *grin*
Dr.Kaufmann: Usually, this industry has cycles in the 2-years range, which is usually Photokina. So if people were to come to Photokina in 2012, maybe they may see something. What they will see? No comment on this. We have a very clear roadmap over the next 5-years.

But our life-cycles are definitely much longer especially for the M. Would it make sense to produce the same camera in 2016? Probably not. But for instance, I still use my M8.2 to shoot great black and white pictures (without using the UV/IR filters). I think the life-cycle of these products is longer because the real development in the industry are not done every 3-mths. It takes longer, sensor development, a new processor, etc.

Q: How about production of the of the film Leica M7 and MP?
Dr.Kaufmann: We’ll still produce them, as long as people want them, we will produce them – it is quite simple. We’re the only camera manufacturer who does analogy cameras, compact cameras, digital rangefinders, and digital SLR… the only company in the world. We do them, and if people want them – sure. Will there be development – probably not. The numbers are small, but it sense for us and the customer.

Q: Following the Leica collaboration agreement with Magnum Photos, are there anymore such collaborations in the pipeline for Leica?
Dr.Kaufmann: The Magnum photographers have a pool of M and S cameras and lenses and we will do features in HD, “the making of” ete. We will show these in our galleries and especially through our stores. You know, we have now 58 point of sales (boutiques and stores) worldwide. This will grow probably up to 70, and we will show this in the stores in the boutiques, these kind of iconic pictures – old and new. There is also another cooperation in the pipeline with a group of American photographers who have a bit of a different aim from Magnum. We think that this is a good way to work with photographers to help to spread the news that it’s about the good picture.

At the end, it is what comes out, what the photographer does. And this (M) is just the means, hopefully a good one. In the end, it is about the photographer. And when the photographer is good, suddenly you might have a piece of art. And I think that this is a good process. We have worldwide now 7 galleries, we might have another few, so be next year there might be 10 Leica galleries, which is also great for photographers.

Thank you, Dr.Kaufmann.

Text & photograph: Edward Teo

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