Husband and wife Irene and Georg Schwarz, who for three decades led Engel Group, the injection molding technology company, died within only a few days of each other in late March and early April at ages 86 and 88.
“For Engel, the deaths of Irene and Georg Schwarz mark the end of an era. They leave behind a void that cannot be filled,” said Schwertberg, Austria-based Engel in a news release.
Irene Schwarz, the daughter of Engel Group's founder Ludwig Engel, jointly managed the company with Georg from 1965 to 1997. The company had 380 employees in 1965 and has since grown to an industry giant with more than 1 billion euros in sales and nearly 5,000 employees and nine production plants in Europe, North America and Asia.
“With entrepreneurial courage and a special intuition concerning industry trends and growing markets, they guided the company onto a path of growth that continues today,” said the company.
It was early on that they decided to establish foreign subsidiaries, starting with two production plants in North America. They also set up the system solutions business in the 1980s with the development and production of the company's own robots.
“They led the company with farsighted vision and always kept the family succession in focus,” said Engel.
In 1997, the third generation took over the operational management of Engel, when Peter Neumann, husband of Georg and Irene's daughter Helga, became CEO. Later this year, Neumann is retiring and handing over to Stefan Engleder, son of Georg and Irene's other daughter Birgitte Engleder.
The early lives of Irene and Georg Schwarz followed similar paths, both coming to Austria as refugees amid the turmoil at the end of World War II. Irene was born in Neu-Werbass (now called Vrbas) in Serbia, and came with her family to Austria in 1944, where one year later her father Ludwig Engel founded a machinery construction company in Schwertberg.
Georg Schwarz was born in 1928 in Essegg (now called Osijek) in Croatia. His family arrived in Austria as refugees in 1945. Georg and Irene were married in 1951.
Engel said Irene and Georg Schwarz always focused on top quality and on fulfilling the needs of their customers worldwide. The company said Georg “wanted Engel injection molding machines to open up production possibilities that no one else could offer their customers. Very early, he made a name for himself as a visionary in the world of plastics. He gave his staff much freedom; he demanded and fostered innovation. Thus he was a decisive factor in advancing the development of the first tie-barless injection molding machine worldwide.”
Irene, said Engel, “understood how to connect entrepreneurial vision with the practical details. Economy and modesty were her guiding philosophy, and the financial security of the company was her top priority. In the process, she never lost sight of what was in the interest of the employees. She gave special attention to the optimization of internal processes. Wastefulness was a thorn in the flesh for her long before the first ideas from lean management philosophy appeared in Europe.”
Both continued as senior partners and their active involvement in the business. They oversaw Engel's move into Asia with the founding of production plants in South Korea and China, and when flooding destroyed the production facilities in Schwertberg in 2002, they also joined in actively tackling the task of rebuilding.
Irene and Georg were given recognition in the plastics industry and in official circles. They received various honors from the Republic of Austria and the governments of Upper and Lower Austria. They both were made Honorary Senators of the University of Leoben, while Georg was also Honorary Senator of the Vienna University of Technology. In 2009, Georg's name was named to the Plastics Hall of Fame.