Schwalbe founder Ralf Bohle has died

04-26-2010 - Ralf Bohle, founder of Ralf Bohle GmbH and the tire brand Schwalbe, passed away last Sunday in Bergneustadt at the age of 75 after a long illness.

In five decades as an entrepreneur, Ralf Bohle set standards: As a bicycle specialist, he campaigned for the bicycle as a means of transport,: As an Asia expert, he established lifelong business partnerships and friendships: As the founder of the Schwalbe brand, he initiated industry leading innovation. He raised Schwalbe to be an undisputed European market leader and he always gave his employees more than just a secure workplace.

His son, the present managing partner, Frank Bohle, summed up his father’s work as follows: “Everything that constitutes the Bohle Group with the Schwalbe brand today exists due to his efforts, his ideas and his vision.”

Ralf Bohle

Ralf Bohle had just begun his studies when the premature death of his own father forced the twenty-year-old youngster to become a businessman far sooner than planned. The year was 1955 when the first successes of the German economic miracle became evident and the majority of Germans still needed low-cost bicycles for commuting. Since 1906, the Bohle family had experience in producing bicycles and bicycle parts and, under the leadership of Ralf Bohle, the company began exporting German bicycle parts and motorcycles all over the world.

But this became more and more difficult in the Sixties as higher wages made German bicycles more expensive. Many of the once proud manufacturers were no longer competitive and by the beginning of the Seventies, a large number of bicycle manufacturers had gone out of business. This is when Ralf Bohle started a new venture. He was well-acquainted with Asia and had met a fascinating family who manufactured bicycle tires in South Korea and this was the factor that determined Ralf Bohle to found the Schwalbe brand, which is now the undisputed European market leader in bicycle tires.
From 1973 onwards, he promoted an ever-closer partnership of two family-owned companies in spite of the vast distance that separates them: The Germans became responsible for development, marketing and distribution, and the Koreans for production.

Even, early on, when turnover with large multiple stores and DIY stores outside the cycle industry lured, Ralf Bohle remained loyal to the specialized trade as the sole partner of the Schwalbe brand and insisted that Schwalbe continue as an exclusive brand for the specialized trade. Nowadays, the bicycle market is one of the few industries in Germany where, in the last few years, the specialized trade has been gaining market share. His entrepreneurial style was marked by fairness and reliability. Decades of loyalty to business partners and employees became the basis for his success. He prepared and implemented the handover to the new generation with foresight. In 1999, he invited his son, Frank Bohle and son-in-law, Holger Jahn, to join the Board of Directors and since 2002, management has been on three “pairs of shoulders”: Frank Bohle is the Spokesman of the Board and responsible for marketing and distribution, son-in-law Holger Jahn is responsible for development and technology and the director, Andreas Grothe, is responsible for finance.

Ralf Bohle was an entrepreneur and visionary. He was a family entrepreneur in a double sense, because he saw and treated his employees as an extended family. He spoke of the bicycle as a means of future transportation when, at the time, it was ridiculed; as the owner of a SME, he began a business partnership with South Korea at a time when multinationals had just started to talk about Japan. Believing in the growing popularity of the bicycle, almost twenty years ago, he courageously invested in the company’s international headquarters and large logistics center in Reichshof-Wehnrath.
Even as a young man, he was a friend of and expert on Asia. In particular, he was fascinated with Asian culture from an early age. However, for all his cosmopolitanism, he always remained attached to his Oberberg home. In his home town, Bergneustadt, he was a co-founder of the table tennis club, which he ran and supported for decades: Today, it is known as the TTC Schwalbe Bergneustadt, which is successfully established in the Federal Second Division. For many years, he performed voluntary work in the Evangelical Congregational Church in his home town and, in addition, was actively engaged in the charitable sector, by preference, discreetly. He showed a rare combination of human warmth and entrepreneurial daring and determination.

After a life full of work, the family would have loved to have spent more time with him. A short time ago, although bearing the marks of his long and serious illness he was, at least, able to celebrate his 75th birthday with his immediate family.
On behalf of all employees, the Personnel Manager, Jürgen Krischke, said a final farewell to late lamented: “You have not only led the way for your employees but, through your kind, down-to-earth and wise manner, you have created a great role model for us. We could always rely on your willingness to listen and to help. You are and remain our boss – a very special type of boss.”