urope’s top real estate broker, top seller of homes to the super-rich, chief of-
ficer presiding over 10,000 employees at 800 locations in more than 30 countries on four continents. Anyone who knows Christian Völkers a bit better is aware that such lavish praise makes this entrepreneur shudder with embarrassment. But as this year marks the 40th anniversary of his company E&V, it was worth a try to ask him for an interview. To show the passionate force behind Engel & Völkers from a completely different side. The person behind the visionary personality only a few people and close friends get to know and recognize. Christian Völkers and I grew up in the same neighborhood and have known each other for more than 30 years. Twelve years ago, he asked me to take over his magazine. A conversation between friends... As a child, do you remember what you wanted to be when you
You’re right, it really was a hands-on approach.
Not exactly, but I was How did your parents react when you convinced from an early age that told them you were going to become I wanted to do something spea real estate broker? They were horcial. Shortly after graduating rified and said: “What kind of nonfrom school, reality hit and I was sense is that?” All of a sudden, I had forced to ask myself where this strayed very far from the path they had expected me to take after completing conviction came from and what my commercial training and getting a it meant. I didn’t know. Making business degree. They expected me to money had never motivated me, it was always a means to an end. start working at a bank or go into the I was more interested in building import-export business or corporate consulting. Some of my friends were or developing something. I had a production facility of some kind going into the computer business, in mind. In fact, I’m still fasciwhich was a very exotic thing to do. nated by the process of creating But to do a complete turnaround and a product, producing it, developenter the real estate business? What ing a marketing strategy and sellI really wanted to do in fact was start ing it. That’s what I had in mind. something on my own. After all, while I never imagined my product I was training as a clerk I set up a small would turn out to be the systemameat trading business. tized, personnel intensive service Really? What do you mean? The father of a former girlfriend owned a – the most complicated of all. After training as a shipping clerk I big meat trading company – the Dithquickly got a business degree and marscher Katenrauch – and I had nobegan working for Harald Grapticed that the meat that was delivered engiesser at a Hamburg consulton board the ships was of very cheap ing firm, auditing American real quality, and that only parts of it were CV and Martin Freiherr von Jenisch (r.) step off the plane in 1985 carrying the sign for the first E&V shop in Mallorca. estate funds. This was my first used while the rest was thrown away. introduction to the subject of real There was too much waste. So I figestate. Around the same time, I was talking to Dirk Engel, an old ured I could deliver meat in lesser amounts but of better quality. I friend with whom I’d grown up in the Elbe suburbs who had recentdid that for years and started earning good money while I was still ly established the company Engel & Cie. He was trying to sell U.S. quite young. So that was basically the first time you successfully changed an exreal estate to German investors as the exclusive representative of a isting structure? It worked well. What I learned from that practiU.S. broker in downtown Hamburg and things weren’t going very well. I was also dissatisfied with my job and after mulling things cal experience was that you can improve processes if you go about over, we decided to join forces and opened a real estate agency in it in a smart way. the Elbe suburbs. Have you always been fascinated by houses and real estate? No more How many people were you in the beginning? Just four – Dirk Engel, and no less than anybody else. You don’t seem to require a lot of square footage to be happy. In fact, Eva-Maria Haug, Gesine von Ehren and me. I remember how you used to drive your red sports car around Blanke-
you’ve been living in a small mews house in Hamburg for over 30
nese (one of the Elbe suburbs) and confidently approach the owners
years. How much space do you need to feel comfortable? Personally?
of beautiful properties, asking them whether they might be interest-
Very little. I currently reside in a former horse stable that I bought in 1985. While restoring it, I though very carefully about the kind of life I wanted to live and what the topic of this life should be. I didn’t want
ed in selling their homes. That was an unusual and almost American thing to do in such a staid, somewhat conservative community.
Made in Germany, Lürssen, Porsche, Montblanc, Christian Völkers...