Dec. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Werner Otto, who started Germany’s largest mail-order company from a shoe factory in Hamburg, has died. He was 102.
Otto died on Dec. 21 in Berlin with his family at his side, according to a statement from Otto Group and ECE Projektmanagement GmbH today.
Born in 1909 in the eastern German town of Seelow, where 50,000 people perished in the last major battles of World War II, Otto was imprisoned for two years for distributing fliers by an opponent of Adolf Hitler in 1934. In 1945, he fled with his family to Hamburg, where he started making shoes. Four years later, with 6,000 deutsche marks in start-up capital and four employees, he turned the production halls into warehouses from which he began dispatching footwear for former competitors.
“Fortune can lend its hand, but success you have to take care of yourself,” Otto said in a 2009 biography entitled “Werner Otto -- The Centenary Man” by Matthias Schmoock to mark his 100th birthday.
The Otto Group, with 11.4 billion euros ($14.9 billion) sales in the year ended Feb. 28 and almost 50,000 employees, today ranks second behind Amazon.com Inc among companies that sell goods through catalogs, e-commerce and over the counter, according to Otto’s website.
Werner Otto didn’t stop at the mail-order business. In 1965, he started a second pillar, ECE, which has grown to become Europe’s biggest manager of shopping centers, according to ECE’s website.
By that time, he had also branched out into industrial parks and real estate in Canada and the U.S., where he would later establish the Paramount Group Inc., one of the largest privately owned property companies in New York.
Otto devoted his later years to philanthropy, setting up the Werner Otto Foundation in 1969 to promote medical research and provide treatment for childhood cancers in the Hamburg- Eppendorf hospital. The Werner Otto House in Berlin supports children who are deaf and hard of hearing.
He also helped to restore the Belvedere Palace in Potsdam and redesign the Jungfernstieg promenade in Hamburg.
Otto was awarded the Grand Cross 1st class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and is remembered in Germany’s Hall of Fame in the history museum in Bonn.
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