When the co-owner of the Haas Group asks you to conduct the interview over lunch, one simply says yes, particularly when it’s the Tuttendorfl, a classic Austrian restaurant that sits on the banks of the Danube.
It was a short drive from Leobendorf to Korneuburg on a beautiful summer day, a route dotted with red poppies and one that Josef Haas, co-owner of the Haas Group, knew well, having dined with his father at the Tuttendorfl many times in the past. In fact, as I later found out, Haas Sr. had a special bottle of Armagnac reserved at the restaurant, the vintage going back to 1940.
“And you must try the Wiener Schnitzel,” Josef told me. Of course, how can one be in Austria and not try the Wiener Schnitzel? As we sat in the back garden area of the restaurant —the shade trees providing just enough cover and light to comfortably view the famed Danube flowing by — Josef and I chatted about growing up in the family business and working with his father.
It became clear that Josef had a special father-son relationship with his dad.
“I remember spending summers in the workshop when I was a teenager,” he tells me. “All my friends were enjoying the summer at the sea and here I was sweating in the shop. I didn’t particularly like it at the time, but when I think back now, it was a critical part of my education in the family business.”
Josef also recalls starting his professional career with Airbus in France as an assistant salesman, a move that wasn’t well received by his father. After a year and a half of learning how to sell airplanes, Josef was about to be promoted.
“That’s when my father started panicking; he saw I was going to get a nice offer,” he says. “My father then indicated that it was time for me to join the family business since he was getting tired and didn’t know how long he could run the operation.”
And that’s when Josef formally returned to Haas, starting as a project engineer and then moving into sales.
“We had a great relationship, my father and I,” he recalls. “Yes, there was friction at times, but it always was positive friction. My father had a strong personality. But I wanted to find my own style. At the end of the day, however, we would always have our beer together.”
In reminiscing about his father and discussing the challenges of preserving a family business for the next generation, Josef noted that it’s been 10 years since he and his cousins, Stefan Jiraschek and Johannes Haas, took over managing the company. The current fourth generation has done well, growing and diversifying the Haas Group to be a €278-million equipment supplier of confectionery and bakery equipment.
Nonetheless, “I still miss him,” Josef says. And that’s when he ordered the vintage Armagnac kept in storage. A toast to the past, present and the future was coming.