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The life of Berthold Leibinger: a retrospective from four vantage points

Talented engineer, risk-taker, cosmopolitan asked about the recipe to Berthold Leibinger's personal success and TRUMPF's rise to a global market leader in mechanical engineering and laser technology, many of his contemporaries point to these traits.

Berthold Leibinger und Ehefrau Doris

"I just want to give something back to this country of mine that has given so much to me."

Prof. Dr. Berthold Leibinger
TRUMPF shareholder with his wife Doris

Driven by a great appetite to embark on completely new paths, Leibinger's work over more than five decades assured TRUMPF an undisputed role as top innovator. He was helped along the way by a work ethic born of a pietistic Protestant upbringing in Korntal and the love of technology and cosmopolitan outlook conveyed to him by his parents. His father, a trained surgical technician, hailed from a family with roots in medical engineering; his mother ran an East Asian antique store in Stuttgart. Leibinger ventured abroad early on, setting out on a path lined with technology milestones that would drive his company's development and transform TRUMPF into a global player.

Berthold Leibinger has three children with his wife Doris. In 2005, he handed over the Chairmanship of the Management Board to his daughter Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller; his son Peter Leibinger became Vice Chairman. The youngest daughter, Regine Leibinger, runs Barkow Leibinger, a Berlin architectural office.

Berthold Leibinger was not only a gifted entrepreneur and engineer ever-ready to bring about change; he was also a public figure who always considered his actions in light of his contribution to society and culture. This page gives a brief account of the influences that made him the man he was, his pivotal inventions and entrepreneurial decisions, and his impact on business, public policy and society.

 

 

"Curiosity as a ground state"

Berthold Leibinger reflects on his love of technology, art, music, literature and Japan.

Childhood, parental home and education – Berthold Leibinger and his early influences

"A laser is a tool that can serve to separate or connect – it all depends on the setting."

Prof. Dr. Berthold Leibinger
TRUMPF shareholder in conversation with Erich Honecker

Leibinger's ingenuity and engineering talent, guarantors of innovation in metalworking

First patents as a student

In 1957, as a degree candidate at TRUMPF, Leibinger analyzed the technical shortcomings of shears commonly used at the time to cut sheet metal. His efforts culminated in the copy nibbler, the machine that was to become the engine of TRUMPF's success in the years of Germany's 'Wirtschaftswunder'. It prompted the press to call TRUMPF the 'nibbling king.' 

Living and working in America

In 1958, Leibinger and his wife Doris fulfilled their dream of living and working in the USA. For two years, he worked as a designer for Cincinnati Milling Machine Company – at the time the world's leading machine tool manufacturer – in Wilmington, Ohio. 

Back in Germany with fresh ideas

It was in the USA that Leibinger first encountered numerically-controlled machine tools. They inspired him to develop his own numerically-controlled copy punch press in the mid-1960s. That bold move paid off: The TRUMATIC 20 landed with a huge splash at the 1968 European Machine Tool Exhibition in Paris.

New inventions in power tools

Leibinger's breakthrough achievement in power tools came in 1963: This new handheld TKF beveller reversed the welding workflow, enabling the worker to bevel a welded edge on the fly by gradually machining a stationary piece of sheet metal. It was to be just of many of his patented innovations. 

A revolution in sheet metalworking

On another visit to the USA in 1978, Leibinger looked into the CO2 laser to learn if it could also cut sheet metal. His intuition again proved to be a sure guide. He presented the first combined punch laser machine a year later, initially with beam sources from the USA. 

A bestselling laser is born

Of course, Leibinger was also keen to make beam sources. He accomplished that in 1985 with the company's first proprietary CO2 laser, the TRUMPF LASER TLF 1000. Just four years later, he rolled out TRUMPF's first "folded" laser; it is still the world's best-selling multi-kilowatt laser. 

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Go multinational, be independent, stay close to the customer: Leibinger's entrepreneurial principles – the driving force behind TRUMPF’s ascent

After his stay in the USA, Leibinger headed up the design department in Weilimdorf in 1961, which was staffed with seven people. He put many important new designs into practice; inventions that would revamp TRUMPF's product range and provide the underpinning for subsequent growth.

Leibinger was Technical Managing Director and Partner from 1966 to 1978. During this time, he and his co-partner Hugo Schwarz continued to branch out abroad, founding subsidiaries in Switzerland and other countries, and setting up sales and service organizations in many key European markets. To this day, customer proximity remains one of the most important pillars of TRUMPF's success.

Leibinger opened TRUMPF's first factory outside Europe in 1969. He managed to plant TRUMPF's footprint early on in the United States, in Farmington, Connecticut, on the east coast. At the time, the USA dominated the global market for machine tools. After China it remains TRUMPF's largest offshore market outside Europe.

After submitting his thesis, Leibinger registered several patents on his inventions. He gradually acquired company shares with the royalties. By 1978, at the age of 48, Leibinger held a majority stake in TRUMPF.

In 1978, Leibinger took over the Chairmanship of the Management Board and TRUMPF's revenues surpassed 100 million German marks for the first time. By the time Leibinger handed over the reins to his successor in 2005, he had transformed TRUMPF into a global player with 1.4 billion euros revenue and around 6,000 employees.

In 2005, at the age of 75 and after 40 years in management, Leibinger decided it was time for the next generation to take charge. His daughter Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller stepped up to become Chairwoman of the Management Board; his son Peter Leibinger Vice Chairman. Berthold Leibinger assumed the Chairmanship of the Supervisory Board, which he held until 2012. 

"Remember, it's better to be 80% on time than 100% late."

Prof. Berthold Leibinger
TRUMPF shareholder

Patron and public figure: Leibinger's work outside the company


Your contact for more information

Dr. Andreas Möller, Leiter Unternehmenskommunikation und Politik, TRUMPF
Dr. Andreas Möller
Head of Corporate Communications and Public Policy

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