Blood and Wine: An 11th generation Riedel with his own ideas assumes the helm of the family-owned Austrian wine glass company beloved by oenophiles

February 28, 2013, 11:48 A.M. ET

Blood and Wine

This article was written by Carrie Coolidge.

It was the suit that announced a new chief executive, with his own distinct style and ideas, was taking charge at Riedel, Austria’s 1756-founded family firm that makes the fine-stem wine glasses beloved by oenophiles across the globe.

Dressed in a burgundy-colored velvet suit, the 35 year-old Maximilian J. Riedel strode purposefully through his company’s showroom in search of the Bloomingdale’s buyer who had flown to Frankfurt, Germany, to see the latest designs offered by his family’s eponymous company. At the world’s largest consumer goods fair that recently took place at Messe Frankfurt, the Riedel firm had constructed an elaborate if temporary stage to present its wine glasses and decanters to wholesale customers coming from around the world to place orders for their retail stores.


Max and Georg Riedel

In America, Riedel products are sold in the likes of Tiffany & Co. (TIF), Macy’s (M) and Williams-Sonoma (WSM). The Austrian firm’s crystal costs up to $160 a stem; if you don’t have some in your butler’s pantry already, it’s likely you have unwittingly sipped from a Riedel product, either at an oenophile’s house or while at your favorite Michelin-starred restaurant.

But this year the Frankfurt showroom wasn’t just a stage for Riedel’s products, or for the glassware of its subsidiaries, Nachtmann and Spiegelau. It was also a stage for the 35-year-old heir apparent. Riedel’s father, Georg, made the announcement in the Frankfurt fair that as of July his son will be the 11th generation to serve at the helm of the family business.

Riedel’s father, Georg, the majority owner of the company that has been family-owned and operated since it was founded in the 18th century, proudly watched his son move from client to client. “I am very happy and proud as a father to say I have somebody who is extremely talented, is the right age, and is willing to join the family business,” the urbane 64-year old said. “There is no regret on my behalf and how it will work out. The future will tell.”

The younger Riedel, who prefers to be called “Max”, might seem young for the job, but he earned his elevation by using his stint in the U.S. to create some of the family firm’s best selling products and by quadrupling sales in North America.

There was no sign, originally, Max would rise so quickly. A poor student, his father made the 12-year-old Max work in a Riedel factory as a glassmaker for two weeks during his summer vacation, learning to appreciate the work performed by the company’s craftsmen. “I had to wake up at 5:00 am every day to go to work,” he recalled. “It didn’t take me long before I realized that school was more fun. So I decided to continue with school.”

After graduating from high school, Max attended a local college so he could split his time between classes and a role in sales and administration at the Riedel Crystal Factory in Kufstein, Austria. Max’s apprenticeship at the family company also included stints at Tiffany & Co. (one of Riedel’s largest retailers), a winery, and time at the company’s French importer. It was all part of a master plan his father had devised for him to gain perspective and insight in all aspects of the family business.

But Max really earned his spurs when, at age 23, he was sent to the U.S. to serve as Executive Vice President of Riedel Crystal of North America. “My father wanted to create a distance between us,” Max explained. “He wanted me to experience the business, learn on my own and prep for my future duties.”

His father also believed that having an ocean between them would be beneficial for their relationship. “With father and son there is always a relationship that is highly sensitive,” said Georg, who admits he did not have a warm relationship with his own father. “A family business can also be very emotional. I thought it would be good for father and son to be apart with six hours of time change. I thought the sparks would not fly over the Atlantic.”

Max thrived in his role. Operating out of an office in Edison, New Jersey, he is credited with increasing sales substantially, in part due to his idea to develop a line of stemless wine varietal-specific wine glasses for consumers who lacked the storage space needed for stemmed glasses. The stemless wine glasses soon became the most successful new collection in Riedel’s entire history. Two years after his arrival in the U.S., Max was named CEO of Riedel Crystal of North America.

Max then designed and developed wine glasses that are dishwasher safe, created specifically for the restaurant industry; he designed a line of wine decanters — one resembles an upright Cobra — that serves as both a work of art and functions as an instrument by aerating the wine as it passes through the coils of glass. “The wine breathes more than it does in other decanters,” he explained. “Form always follows function.”

Max also developed partnerships with other brands, including Miele, the German manufacturer of high tech dishwashers. A partnership with Celebrity Cruises involves wine tasting workshops for passengers who sample and experience wines with Riedel’s Vinum glass collection, a four-pack mailed home to every participant. Max also developed a Riedel online retail store with a microsite dedicated to the restaurant and hospitality industry. Under Max, Riedel’s sales in the U.S. and Canada quadrupled to $50 million in 2012, making North America the company’s largest export market.

The change of leadership comes at a time when the senior ranks at the corporate headquarters in Austria were nearing retirement. “The team that I have worked with for the last 40 years is retiring now,” said Georg, who will continue in an advisory role as the company’s controlling shareholder. “So there is a whole change of generation in the company. It is important that Max chooses his own team leaders and members himself. This is what precipitated the change now.”

His son is eager for the move. He plans to strengthen the company’s core markets in Europe, expand its branch in China and develop new markets in Latin America where he hopes to launch a distribution company within the next three years. It also means Max will soon pack up his apartment in Tribeca in lower Manhattan to return to Austria.

“It will be interesting when I return to Europe with a bit of an American business mind,” Max said with a smile. He intends “to continue the success story of my father” with focus and energy, while also seeing “if I will be able to implement a little bit of American charm, too.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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