The Merry Beer Baroness – Forbes

She originally intended to work at Ottkringer for only two months, but that turned into 25 years. Today, Christian Wenkheim is one of the country's most successful entrepreneurs; He gave the group a new lease of life and opened for the Viennese.

It was in 1997, Christian Wenkheim She had just returned from the US when her father asked her for a favor: her daughter had to step in because there was no marketing manager. She would stay for two months, that was her plan. But she soon became fascinated by the world of Ottakringer. “I looked through all the folders; my father always brought home labels or beer bottles,” says Wenkheim; There was always intimacy with the company. She learned the business from him and really fell into it. He would soon have a career there: Three years later, Wenkheim took the helm and was the company's CEO for 17 years, then chairman of the supervisory board for another eight. A lot happened during this time: “We opened the brewery to Viennese, held events and renewed the brand.” She enjoys doing fun things. The liquor was polished and more visible. Today, up to 300,000 visitors come to the site every year and have fun at events such as the Feschmarkt, FM4 Clubbing or the Rum Festival; Usually it's about fashion, food or drink. Ottakringer is increasingly organizing events such as a May Festival, a “Harvest Tank Festival” (no typo!) and a beer festival in the summer. “We have a great location, and it's a great connection to the Viennese market,” says the 58-year-old.

For a long time, Ottakringer was the most popular beer brand in Vienna, but today it ranks second or third. The Ottkringer brewery has a rich heritage in Vienna: it was founded in 1837 and expanded into a large brewery by its second owners, the Küfner family. Because of their Jewish origins, the Kuffners had to give up brewing in 1938 and the Harmer family took over the business. According to one historian, such exact acquisitions were said to be rare during the Nazi period: the Harmers allegedly did their best not only in 1938, but also after 1945 to provide fair compensation to the Güfners and their descendants. The name Wenkheim first appeared in the early 1960s: Engelbert Wenkheim married into the Harmer family and gradually took over the management until his daughter Christiane followed. Today the group includes brands Ottkringer Beer, Vosslaver Mineralwasser and drinks retailer Del Fabro Kolarik.

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After 17 years as CEO, Christian Wenkheim is now Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Ottakringer Drinks AG.

That Wenckheim made it a woman She couldn't confirm that she had a hard time in this male-dominated industry, but rather: “It's actually always been an asset because it's so unusual.” As a woman, she always got appointments quickly with all clients. That was actually an advantage. Innkeepers found it amusing, and it was easy for her to get new customers. Even then, gender equality was an issue, but she didn't notice if her male business partners weren't really paying attention to it. “I took it in stride,” says Wenkheim. He sent his fellow men only to men above 60 who had no daughters. “I had my limits.”

Today, however, she takes a more critical view of the gender issue and sees more attention being paid to equality as positive. But this doesn't just apply to women; In general, as much as possible should be done against exclusion and alternative treatment, says the head of the supervisory board, Ottakringer. She didn't believe in quota regulations at first, but noticed that it wouldn't work without them: “We only have a few women on supervisory boards in listed companies, and we're still at the bottom in Europe,” says Wenkheim. How did she get to the upper management level? It is important to communicate with people at eye level, and do not forget about humor. You need to accept that there are different voices and show tolerance towards those who think differently. According to Wenkheim, other ideas should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat. In his family, a family charter was even written that embodied all these values. 15 family members also signed it. The charter places a high value on collaboration and listening—and according to Wenkheim, that's what drives Ottkringer's success: “The fact that we have a company with essential brands is a team success.” People enjoy drinks.

For a long time, Ottakringer was the most popular beer brand in Vienna, but today it ranks second or third.

Team members play a huge role in success, says Wenkheim. They identify strongly with the organization; It almost has a family feel. They enjoyed going to work and were lucky enough to have a snack with a beer whenever there was something to celebrate. Unlike other companies, Ottakringer found it easy to find employees: “We have a lot of talent,” Wenkheim says. Additionally, we are regional as a family business, be it festivals or events, be it the State Opera or Nova Rock Festival. But none of this helped during the corona pandemic as Ottakringer also suffered badly. Reason for peace: Inns closed; A dream for a brewery. Sales fell from €242 million to €181 million in 2019 and €193 million in the following two years. Things pick up again in 2022 (€238 million), and 2023 is said to be a good year again.

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However, there is little recovery on the profit side, and huge price hikes are weighing on the outcome. Wenkheim said the company is doing well again, but not great. She doesn't enjoy it because the beer market is declining. Nevertheless, some interesting trends can be observed: non-alcoholic beer is used more often, and its share of sales has doubled in the last ten years to 3.3%. And more women are interested in beer, says Wenkheim. Like recent creations with watermelon and mango flavors, sweet Zwickl is very drinkable for women, but also shady. Additionally, there is a growing demand for lighter and lighter beers with less than 5% alcohol content. In the water sector, things are not entirely smooth: here, sparkling water producers, such as those offered in supermarkets, are causing more and more problems for mineral water producers. After stagnation in 2021, the mineral water market in Austria grew again in 2022. Increases were seen primarily in the convenience segment such as small containers and the water proximity market (drinks with fruit or herbal additives).

The Ottakringer Group sells around 550,000 hectoliters of beer each year, making it one of Austria's top five breweries – despite strong international competition in the domestic beer market.

For the future The Ottakringer group still finds itself well positioned because the beverage business is growing and growing, and according to Wenckheim, its own market position is strong. In 2022, the Ottakringer Group sold almost 550,000 hectoliters of beer in Austria. After the collapse caused by the Covid pandemic, beer consumption has largely returned to normal. Sales have shifted from food retail to restaurants.

Nevertheless, asserting yourself against strong competition in Austria is not easy. “As an Austrian family business, you obviously play hard against international companies in our sector, but I'm very proud that we hold our own very well,” says Wenkheim. Above all, the company can defend itself against strong competition with quality, innovation and consistency. Brau Union is number one in Austria by a wide margin, followed by Steagall in second place. Ottakringer is in the top five, including Egger and Zwettler, data from the Austrian Brewers Association show. According to the WKO, the beer production of Austrian breweries in 2022 will be ten million hectoliters, and sales will exceed €1.4 billion. Taxes on beer bring in about 700 million euros annually to the Austrian state budget. The industry employs 3,500 people.

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Beyond the beer and water market, Wenkheim worries about current global conflicts. In their view, a rekindled Middle East conflict could have even greater implications, for example by strengthening right-wing extremist forces. This needs to be talked about more, Wenkheim says. He is in a WhatsApp group with former research colleagues. Not one of the numerous and international members spoke up after the Occupy outbreak – until a Jewish fellow student pointed this out with astonishment. This shows how important communication is.

The war in Ukraine concerns them too, not just because of the cost escalation. “We have employees with family from Ukraine. We were able to help people find an apartment here.” Incidentally, the apartment doesn't belong to her husband, Eugen Otto, who works in real estate and is the managing director of Otto Immobilien; it belongs to the Wenkheim family. What would it be like to have two entrepreneurs sitting at the family table? “There's a lot of talk about business. My sister always says that our children are in business school at four years old. would say — at home, that is,” says Wenkheim.

Christian Wenkheim keeps the company on track through quality and consistency. Innovations are also important to her – creations such as sandhi with watermelon or mango flavors were created.

Your next path At Ottakringer he is already planning carefully: “In the next five to seven years I want to prepare the next generation and hand over our company in the best possible position.” She has two children, but a total of two to 33 heir candidates. Age of the whole family. “We don't have a specific successor, it's not ready to make a decision yet,” says Wenkheim. It is important to make the youth understand that it is about responsibility and that the company should not be seen as a money machine. “You have to deal with it carefully; You must have great ideas and focus on people and the environment. “If young people look at it this way, they can stay in the company for years, not just a few months.

Christian Wenkheim is the chairman of the supervisory board Ottakringer Beverages AG. Prior to that, he was CEO of Ottakringer Brewery AG. Born in 1965, Wenkheim is married to real estate professional Eugen Otto, with whom she has a daughter and a son.

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