Talking with the Doctors

August 13, 2015

Jan Henderson, co-editor of (inside) magazine, chats with Dr Markus Miele and Dr Reinhard Zinkann, the current proprietors of Miele, to learn more about them and their iconic brand.

Above: Dr Markus Miele (left) and Dr Reinhard Zinkann (right).

At the recent opening of the latest Miele Experience Centre on the Gold Coast ADR was part of a round table discussion with two special guests, Dr Markus Miele and Dr Reinhard Zinkann, the current co-proprietors and joint executive directors of Miele & Cie. Established in 1899, Miele is a family-owned and run business and the two doctors are the fourth generation in direct line from the founding fathers. This discussion gave an opportunity to find out what makes Miele the success that it is and to understand a little about the men behind the iconic brand. 

Has it been challenging to continue a business that your great-grandfathers established?

Dr Miele: Yes, it has been difficult sometimes. We are lucky that the children from four generations have wanted to take the responsibility and were able to take the responsibility of the business.
Dr Zinkann: Ours is a marriage that can’t be divorced; if the families divorce, then the business would divorce. If you enjoy what you’re doing, if you follow the same goals and if you have similar views of getting what’s best for the business, it works. We are a good team. We take each other’s opinions, listen, think and rethink. You always have to take each other on board when there are two people managing a business. Secondly, both of us voluntarily entered the family business. We applied for the job like everybody else and then got these jobs. We’ll see what the next generation decides for themselves.
Dr Miele: Dr Zinkann’s father was the technician and my father was the sales and marketing person, but now it’s the other way around. It doesn’t always mean we have to follow the same paths as our fathers.

What happens if there aren’t two successors from the two families?

Dr Zinkann: We want the business to stay in the family hands. If it’s not family members who directly run the business, then it has to be known external family members, who have proven ability to run the business, in which case the family would be on a ‘family board’, commonly known as the advisory board.

Did your fathers share their opinions on decisions you were making after you’d taken up your roles?

Dr Miele: My father died in 2004; I joined Miele in 1999 and became a member of the board in 2002. I was not working in my father’s field because I was more on the technical side. I was working more closely with Dr Zinkann’s father, and vice versa. And that was also the case with the previous generation.
Dr Zinkann: I entered in 1991, and I was working with Dr M’s father. My father always had many, many questions for me, but he never interfered with my work. He always said, “It’s your business, it’s your generation and you do things your way.” Also, we have the advantage that the present Dr Miele is a technician and engineer and I am a salesman through and through. So it’s an ideal situation, as we are not in the same field.

What’s the key to the success of the Miele brand in Australia?

Dr Miele: We went out to Australia because in the 1980s Australia was at a similar technical standard, unlike the US, for instance, because we used the same 240-voltage. Australia was our first step overseas in the 1980s, as we could adapt the machines easily and this was even before we reached the US. We had huge success.
Dr Zinkann: Also important is that we have always fulfilled our promise in terms of ‘Immer Besser’ (translates as ‘forever better’) in terms of service, what we offered and what we give to the consumer. And secondly, we have a continuity of leadership. Peter Murphy (one of the first Australian managing directors, who was pivotal in establishing the Miele brand in Australia) and the retiring current managing director, Michael Jeanes, were both here a long time. The continuity is important because the relationship depends on continuity and everything we do depends on long-term thinking.

(From L-R): Dr Markus Miele, Sjaak Brouwer (managing director of Miele ANZ), Dr Reinhard Zinkann.

(From L-R): Dr Markus Miele, Sjaak Brouwer (incoming managing director of Miele ANZ), Dr Reinhard Zinkann.


Where do you see Miele in Australia in 10 years’ time?

Dr Zinkann: Definitely growing. We have had a huge growth in the last 10 years. Of course we are dependent on the currency rate, but with our current product line and the distribution system and the products in the pipeline, the Australian market is sure to grow.

What is the point of difference with your brand?

Dr Miele: When you sell Miele, you have to explain what’s behind Miele. The Experience Centre showrooms are all over the world and now we have more than 80. With our Centre here [on the Gold Coast], you will always feel at home. Anywhere around the world is the same and we show continuity, reliability for the consumers. It’s all about the feel, smell, touch.
Dr Zinkann: I think the main difference with the brand is that we never talk about pricing; we know we cannot win the consumer or any battle with pricing. We talk about value as we give more value than the product gives. We believe laundry is your second skin. We talk about how to treat your second skin – we talk about how to treat silk, cashmere and ask customers to try, learn and understand the difference between our products and others in the market. There are two examples of this: firstly, in Hong Kong we rented a tiny showroom below the number one ladies hairdresser in Hong Kong and we invited the staff and customers from the salon to bring their laundry and experience the machines themselves to see the difference. It was a great success. For the Singapore opening, we teamed up with a high-end women’s lingerie brand (La Perla) and the reason we teamed up with them was to show how the machine is safe to wash delicate and expensive garments. They are a premium brand and they wanted to show that you could wash these expensive garments in a washing machine. This is taking care of the second skin. That is why we often have machines active to show people how they work and so they can see the difference.
Dr Miele: The idea of Miele was in the first products (butter churns) to have superior materials and quality and test the products so that they really last and this is what we have taken to the market.
Dr Zinkann: The advantage of a family business is that we can take our time and sometimes a product needs time or a new market needs time. The advantage of an independent family business is that we just report to our board, there is no bank involved, no financiers. It’s our money, so we can stick to products and markets in difficult times and that’s the important message and part of our success story.

How much of your money is put into research and development?

Dr Miele: We invest five to seven precent and there are 1200 to 1300 people working on research and development. We redid more or less all the products in the built-in range two years ago and last year was the big remodelling of drying and washing products. So we have invested quite a lot of money in new products and we now see that the sales are growing and the revenue is coming.

Is steam the biggest technological change over the last five years? And what is the next big innovation?

Dr Miele: Steam is strong all over the world. It’s been taking off, as one of the things it does is to promote healthy cooking. The next big thing is to help the consumer to get a better result. For example, with our automatic programs, if someone is not used to cooking with these, we will help them to get a better result; for example, by introducing more sensors. Everything around the smart technology will be part of our future, but it has to relate to giving great results, which is at our core value.

With thanks to Dr Miele and Dr Zinkann and Lisa Green, Editor-in-Chief, Australian House and Garden, a participant at the meeting.

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