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Ulli Schmid-Maybach: From cars to luxury goods

By Bruce Love

Throughout the history of the motorcar there is a select group of family names which have themselves become iconic automobile brands, Ford, Morgan, Daimler, Packard and Renault. But one name alone can claim to represent not only the earliest innovations and technical brilliance in the field, but also our contemporary view of the peak of luxuriousness and automotive splendour. That name is Maybach.

Founded in 1909, the business built incredible brand value in the luxury car space, but production ceased at the end of the Second World War. In spite of this, the company's brand lived on, and has been reinvigorated, albeit in two very distinct industries. The automotive branch still exists and is controlled by the Daimler Motor Company. But the other branch, overseen by the great-grandson of Maybach's founder, is exploiting the luxury ethos of the brand in an entirely different sector.

So what role did the family play in re-establishing the dormant brand? In 1997 the Daimler Motor Company – at that time Daimler Chrysler under CEO Jurgen Schrempp – made the decision to relaunch the brand, explains fourth-gen Ulrich “Ulli” Schmid-Maybach. “The first of these new cars shipped in 2002. I functioned as a pastor of sorts representing its heritage. That brand ran until 2012, at which time it was twilighted.”

Towards the end of that run, IVKO – a small German bespoke producer of eyewear, working for Cartier, Chrome Hearts and other high value eyewear – had written a licence for the Maybach brand. “We got involved with them. Together, in 2013, we formed the Maybach Icons of Luxury company,” Schmid-Maybach adds.

That company now owns most of the non-automotive rights to the brand and logo, and Schmid-Maybach is rolling out a retail strategy that includes both very high quality saddles, luggage, bags, handbags, accessories, eyewear and other items to be announced. Items sell from several hundred US dollars up to $6,500 for one of its Voyager I travel bags. Maybach Icons of Luxury opened its first boutique in Berlin in February last year and has another shop planned for Abu Dhabi, where Schmid-Maybach says the brand is extremely popular. In November, it honoured legendary US music producer Quincy Jones with the Quincy Icon Collection of custom-designed, hand-painted bags.

“Between authorised sellers in China, Russia, the Middle East and Germany, the brand is doing pretty well,” he says, although revenue figures are not disclosed.

Meanwhile, Daimler AG currently has plans to bring back the Maybach name as a long wheel-base iteration of the Mercedes S Class.

Schmid-Maybach currently has no ownership in the publicly-listed Daimler Motor Company: “The only thing I have ownership of is the heritage and the name; the keeper of the values and therefore an interest in Daimler being successful. It's Mercedes' brand. The Daimler company itself is so closely linked to my own family history that it's like a sibling, and I'd like them to be successful in this project.”

Extending the legacy
Being an entirely separate company, Schmid-Maybach feels as though he is launching a whole new brand that is extremely bespoke and not based on any Mercedes DNA. His family's reputation for innovation and commitment to excellence goes back over a hundred years. And it is those brand values - innovation and excellence which he feels people associate with the name.

“Superficially people might say, 'oh it's shiny, it's a fancy brand'. But when they study the history of it they understand it even better. Any buyer and connoisseur of bespoke items of super luxury value ends up doing the research; Why is this watch so valuable? Is it just because of the brand or is it because of the values that stand behind the brand? In the super luxury space it's not just the hours of work that went into producing the product, it's also the 150 years that stand behind it and the values, commitment and sacrifices that have been made over that time. With Maybach Icons of Luxury, it's my commitment to make sure that we can stay true to those original values.”

Which is why Schmid-Maybach has no interest going down-market: “With a brand like this we have to be appealing to leaders. Why bother going through all the rigour of creating this quality and finding the very best leather – the very best components, the very best design – otherwise?”

To provide the highest quality products, the firm works with ateliers rather than factories: “With our eyewear there are people who have been working there for 20-plus years, crafting, hand-making these frames out of water buffalo horn or other precious materials. With the leather, some competencies are outsourced to Florence and to Northern Italy, but for the most part crafting is done in Germany.”

Schmid-Maybach currently lives in San Francisco but spends two-to-three weeks in Germany every other month. A lifestyle he has been living for the past 15 years.

Maybach Icons of Luxury consists of five people at management level and between 30-to-60 in production, as well as those parts of the business which are outsourced. Schmid-Maybach's remit is global strategy, in what he freely admits is essentially a risky startup: “From a family office portfolio investment point of view, we classify it more on the alternatives allocation.”

All in the family
Attention to quality is a family trait. Schmid-Maybach's brother has been making wine since 2003.

“It's a similar kind of story; very small quantity, very high quality,” says Schmid-Maybach. “Maybach Family Vineyards in Napa, California, is award winning. He's got some extremely high rankings on wine lists, but one year it rained into July and the summer was truncated. The fruit never developed properly so we ended up pouring the wine out because it wasn't acceptable. Instead, the people on his mailing list all received a small sculpture that my sister made. It's a very personal relationship with the buyers. There is a limited number of bottles that any buyer can purchase and we hold back some part of the production to make sure it gets to some key restaurants.”

The company itself, Maybach Icons of Luxury, is a family office asset. The seed funding is treated like an alternative investment: “On a very objective tactical level, that's how we looked at it. It was something that had to be negotiated. And yet from a legacy perspective and from a continuity perspective it's a little like hopping from stone to stone to cross a river. You've been safely on one side and you need to cross to the other, how are you going to go about doing it? You need to find a place to cross and go for it and hope you don't get your feet too wet. It wasn't without a struggle.”

Schmid-Maybach says while it is too early to tell, for him Maybach Icons of Luxury feels a little like bringing the family's classic brand back to life: “The Maybach brand pretty much hibernated for a long time. It continued to produce high quality engines for almost hundred years, originating with my grandfather with the assistance of my great grandfather. I did not have an operating role with the Daimler Motor Company. I only worked with them on the relaunch of the Maybach car.”

Now, it seems, the great grandson of the original Maybach innovator is engineering a new path for the family to continue down the road of providing the world with ultimate icons of luxury. May the journey continue. 

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