By his own admission, Maximilian Riedel was a terrible student. It probably explains why his parents sent him to Murano, when he turned 16, to learn glass making, a skill the island is renowned for. Two years later, Riedel went to Bordeaux to learn winemaking from the prestigious Moueix family, known for some of the best crus in the world.
“The option was there, of course, and still is,” Riedel says, when I ask him if he had the choice to forge his own path instead of joining the family business. “But who would not want to be in my shoes? I know some of the best chefs and finest winemakers in the world.”
The 44-year-old Austrian is the CEO and 11th-generation owner of Riedel, a glassware manufacturer celebrating its 265th anniversary this year. If Mozart was alive, he would be the same age. The business witnessed the end of monarchy and the rise of democracy, survived global economic and social upheavals, and near bankruptcy during World War II.
Lately, it has been tackling a distinct problem – sustainability. In 2015, Riedel removed lead from its crystal glassware. Leaded glass stays malleable for longer when heated, simplifying the job of the artisan. “It was difficult,” Riedel says. “We’ve worked with lead for close to a century and had to find a material that our glassmakers could work with.”
The change worked. Riedel is now the market leader in crystal glass. Its products are also easily recyclable. In the past, it had to dispose of the glassware in a separate waste bag because of the lead content.
Beyond sustainability, Riedel is focused on succession. He acknowledges the momentous responsibility. “There are few companies like ours that are still in family hands after so long. We’ve been lucky to survive all the crises. I can be successful, but I don’t want to be the last one guiding the family business. The biggest challenge for me is to motivate the next generation. My predecessors did a great job in this area. Let’s see if I can repeat that.”
One aspect Riedel has embraced with gusto is social media. The man is a natural showman, a bundle of energy compressed into 30-second visual and aural bites. He has a cameraperson accompanying him around, taking clips of him espousing different wine vintages while showcasing Riedel’s intricate glassware to over 130,000 followers.
“Maximilian Riedel has become a brand,” he laughs. “But I have to watch myself more than ever because I’m letting people get close to me.”
In the past, Riedel admits that he never considered Zoom presentations and social media platforms as effective tools to share knowledge. The pandemic, however, grounded and forced him to experiment with digital outreach. Now, he’s a convert. “With social media, you can reach tens of thousands of people overnight. It also makes my life easier because I don’t have to travel as much. I can do the outreach from my office.”
What has never changed are his unbridled emotions, which are on full display in the physical and digital realms. “People only buy a luxury product if it touches their hearts. So, being emotional is a good thing. I’m an emotional person and because of that, I can trigger the same in others.”
His strategy is working. During the pandemic, led by its consumer business, Riedel’s global sales grew by 80 per cent. Australia had the biggest growth, and the Asian region wasn’t too far behind.
However, Riedel doesn’t like to take credit. Instead, he reiterates the importance of staff, explaining that he is nothing without them. “Our success is built on honesty and loyalty. Be honest with yourself and be loyal to the people who love you. These two characteristics will carry you the furthest. And you need to have the drive, that small flame in you that spurs you on. Then you can shake the world.”
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