3 questions, 3 answers: “Only history can explain the present”

By Nico Fritz 
In 1898, Johann Josef Keller and Jakob Knappich founded KUKA as an acetylene factory for lighting in Augsburg. The first letters of “Keller und Knappich Augsburg” were taken to form the acronym KUKA, which has since become a brand. Over the years, KUKA has repeatedly re-invented itself – and this year it is celebrating its 120th anniversary. But why do companies actually celebrate their birthdays? Dr. Dirk Reder, an expert on the communication of history, explains the significance attached to corporate history nowadays and why we don’t trust nine-day wonders.


  1. Why is a company’s history important?

Only history can explain the present. Without a grasp of history, it’s impossible to understand why KUKA has been set up as it is, why the company’s headquarters are in Augsburg, and why certain values have molded the company. A company’s identity is forged from its past. Anyone aiming to manage and change a company should also learn about its history and its path dependencies. History is of course a wonderful marketing tool, but whoever wants to establish employee loyalty and build a feeling of trust should first recount the company’s history. History authenticates what marketing can only claim.

  1. Is anniversary communication in vogue? And if so, why?

According to my observations, yes. Companies naturally want to, and indeed must, be innovative. However, due primarily to today’s rapidly changing world, people are also seeking something permanent, stable and familiar: this also includes a company’s identity, its values and culture. We distrust nine-day wonders, but are far more likely to place our faith in a 100-year-old company that has already overcome many crises. That’s why history and identity are becoming increasingly important. We can’t invent history; it’s authentic and credible, it builds trust, enhances a brand and inspires employees.

  1. How important is history to a future-oriented company such as KUKA which, above all, is dealing with the technologies of tomorrow?

Even a forward-looking company needs an identity. The interesting aspect of KUKA’s history is that the company has always been involved with technologies of the future. First of all, KUKA developed lighting for the rather dimly lit cities of that era, then invented oxyacetylene welding. It subsequently further advanced welding technology, right up to the first multi-spot welding line for Volkswagen. The company later became a pioneer of robot technology. KUKA can look back on a long history of creating visions for the future. History also proves that KUKA has always been a highly innovative company, and that looking towards the future is part of KUKA’s DNA. This strongly suggests that it will remain this way in the future. Rather than the present, it is an outlook for the future with bold visions that underpins a company’s history. To quote from an Annual Report: “Hello Future”.

After training as a journalist in Cologne, Dr. Dirk Reder (*1965) studied history and economic history, gained his doctorate and then worked for Siemens Marketing in the Industrial Automation division for a number of years. In 1999, together with Dr. Severin Roeseling and Dr. Thomas Prüfer, he founded the “Geschichtsbüro Reder, Roeseling & Prüfer”, which helps companies and other institutions to make use of their history for corporate communication and marketing purposes on a multimedia basis.

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