Author: Hanno Meier
Pictures: Hanno Meier

Ewald Haimerl: What success is built on

Ewald Haimerl shaped HAIX. When he joined the company in 1987, the family-run business had 15 employees and manufactured shoes for other brands.

The Beginnings

There’s one story that Ewald Haimerl loved to tell: Germany’s victory over the Netherlands in the 1974 FIFA World Cup. It had dramatic consequences for HAIX, as an important Dutch business partner promptly canceled all orders it had placed with the German shoemaker. Haimerl was 12 at the time. He originally planned to be a police officer and passed the entrance test for the Bavarian police force in his early twenties. But his older brother, who had been expected to take over the business, chose a different career path. Their father turned to his younger son. In the late 1980s, Ewald Haimerl became the manager of the family business.

The Decision

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Ewald once admitted in an interview. The first few years were a struggle. In the early 1990s, he faced the same problem his father had encountered 20 years before: A large customer suddenly canceled all orders. The young manager struggled to pay his 15 employees during that time.

The Idea

Ewald Haimerl had always been attracted to “flashing lights and everything that goes nee-naw.” As the deputy commander of his town’s volunteer fire brigade, he and his colleagues regularly found themselves in the signature yellow rubber boots of the time. A terrible fate for a shoemaker. And a gap in the market that would change everything for Haimerl: He set out to develop a leather firefighter boot with a waterproof membrane and ample protection for the feet. Everyone who knew him agrees: “Whenever he got an idea in his head, he dedicated himself to it completely.”

Skill and Creativity

There was a new specialist for functional shoes in Mainburg. Their products were good. The news spread like wildfire, not least thanks to Haimerl’s remarkable sales skills and unconventional marketing. He was comfortable in the limelight and soon became the public face of the company. And his methods certainly drew attention: When nobody seemed all that interested in him during a business dinner in the United States, he promptly climbed onto the set table in his firefighter boots. Suddenly, everyone listened to what the “crazy German” had to say. Was he really crazy? “We’re different to the others. Maybe we’re a bit crazy, too—in a good way,” he commented at the time.

Under Ewald Haimerl’s management, the company developed functional boots for the rescue services, police, and military. Soon, HAIX expanded to footwear for laborers, foresters, farmers and general outdoor and leisure purposes, such as hiking. Suddenly, HAIX was a brand expanding to new target markets at a dizzying pace.

Authenticity and Charisma

Ewald Haimerl was a down-to-earth man who always remained faithful to his home and his way of life. He never hesitated to sit down with his colleagues at the fire station for a casual chat. His charismatic personality made him friends all over the world. When I worked on a report for him in Chicago once, the captain of the Chicago North Fire Station came up to me, asking, “How is my friend Ewald doing?” In Washington D.C., the fire chief personally invited him on a tour of the city on the fireboat. There are countless such anecdotes. And Ewald’s little collection of vintage patrol cars allowed him to be surrounded by flashing lights even at home.

The Maker

Ewald Haimerl always listened when someone had something to say. He made every effort to understand others’ ideas and applied his own knowledge and instincts to formulate concrete goals. “An idea alone is not worth much,” he used to say. “You need to make it happen!” His involvement in firefighting sport inspired him to develop the most lightweight firefighter boot ever made. When a photographer mentioned that the black leather boots made the “HAIX” label difficult to spot, he promptly came up with a yellow label design, which he then turned into important functional features. Today’s iconic HAIX brand identity is the result of this thought process. Once he was convinced of an idea, he made it happen, come hell or high water. This remarkable determination resulted in the innovative fascia technology for safety boots, novel fastening techniques, and indestructible laces – to name just a few of his many inventions. And his decisions almost always paid off.

The Foundation

Within a mere three decades, he turned a small, family-run shoemaking business from Mainburg into a global player. By the time Ewald Haimerl tragically lost his life in 2019, the company’s original team of 15 employees had turned into nearly 1,500 people. Albeit far too short, his whole live Ewald Haimerl said: “I never visited University, but I studied throughout my whole life.”

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