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In his youth, Robert Bosch would have liked to have studied a natural science, such as zoology, botany or geology. On the advice of his father, however, he opted for an apprenticeship in precision mechanics instead. Nonetheless, he retained an interest in flora and fauna throughout his life. In 1912, when he was in his early 50s, Robert Bosch decided it was time to go back to nature. He bought extensive land in Upper Bavaria and created a forerunner of today's organic farms.
Covering 1,700 hectares and located in the middle of moorland to the south of Munich, Robert Bosch had originally planned to drain the bogs and use the peat for industrial purposes. When this venture failed, he decided to set up a cutting-edge agricultural operation on the property instead, amalgamating seven previously independent farmsteads to create the Bosch Farm.
As grazing was possible only to a limited extent on the sensitive moorland soil, Robert Bosch built the biggest silage complex in Europe to store the fodder needed. The Bosch Farm soon became a model operation with its own dairy, six sales outlets, and jobs for 300 people. Robert Bosch showed his pioneering spirit in farming, too, using state-of-the-art machinery and experimenting with new methods. Above all, however, he took the first rudimentary steps towards what we today know as organic farming. For example, he created an environment that would attract hosts of birds, thus providing a natural means of pest control. The Bosch Farm still exists today – and bears testimony to its founder's love of nature.
When Robert Bosch fought for the cause of unrestricted access to education at the start of the 20th century, he was ahead of his time. For him, education was about more than merely learning facts – it was about doing what was right. And he believed that, only when the majority of the members of society has the ability to do the right thing does it have a chance of success in the long term. That is why Robert Bosch furthered the cause of education beyond his company's boundaries, too, to give as many people as possible access to some form of education.
For example, he founded the “Verein zur Förderung der Begabten” (an association for the advancement of gifted children) in 1916 and endowed it with two million German marks to provide financial support for disadvantaged but talented young people who wanted to go to university. The “Markel foundation,” which he took over and ran after the death of the founder Dr. Karl Emil Markel, had a similar function.
At a time when it was anything but the norm, he also provided financial support for two universities. He donated the generous sum of one million German marks to the faculties of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and physics at the Stuttgart Polytechnic. The Berliner Staatsbürgerschule (citizens' academy), which was based on a joint initiative by Robert Bosch and his friend Friedrich Naumann, was founded on the principle of promoting democracy and international understanding. During the war in 1917, Robert Bosch bought a building on the Kronprinzenufer in Berlin for the subsequent construction of the German Academy for Politics. The aim of this institution was to encourage liberal thinking and prevent every form of political extremism in the future.
From early on, Robert Bosch was interested in factors that would help encourage employee loyalty in the long term and inspire motivation on a daily basis. This was why he made sure right from the start that his company was kitted out with top-of-the-range equipment, good lighting, and ventilation. These were not conditions that could be taken for granted at the end of the 19th century. In 1906, to celebrate the company's 20th anniversary, Robert Bosch was the first employer in the then Kingdom of Württemberg to introduce the eight-hour working day. The positive economic benefit of this philanthropic gesture was that, paving the way for two-shift operation as it did, productivity levels rose significantly.
Bosch showed his appreciation of his associates by providing other benefits, too. These included retirement and surviving dependents' provision and company doctors. One excellent example is his “Jugendhilfe” (youth welfare) project, which was founded in 1938 with the aim of supporting disadvantaged apprentices and young workers who showed outstanding talent. Above all, Robert Bosch motivated his associates by paying comparatively high wages in return for hard work and commitment.
Robert Bosch was also concerned with improving the living conditions of his fellow citizens. He overcame many obstacles and contributed many million German marks to open a new hospital in Stuttgart, Germany, in around 1940. The hospital not only bore his name but was also designed very much in his mold. Throughout his life, Robert Bosch championed research into and the practice of homeopathy, with the aim of closing a gap in the healthcare provision available at the time.
Special: Responsibility creates trust - The spirit of Robert Bosch - still shaping the company today
In 1921, Robert Bosch said: “I have always acted according to the principle that it is better to lose money than trust. The integrity of my promises, the belief in the value of my products and in my word of honor have always had a higher priority to me than a transitory profit.” Almost 70 years after his death, the personality of Robert Bosch still makes its mark on the company. Looking beyond both the company and foundation that he established, Robert Bosch is a role model for others precisely because he was not perfect, but a strong and at times difficult character who was the source of much reverence but also much offense.
The way he lived, also privately, the experience that shaped his thinking, the economic and political challenges he was forced to rise up to – all these things add substance to the portrait of a man who was a freethinking cosmopolitan with solid roots in his southwestern German homeland, a champion of technology whose heart nonetheless belonged to nature, a political thinker prone to outbursts of emotion, and yet a father figure and model of circumspection.
Anyone interested in discovering the origins and values of Bosch or understanding the fascination that the company holds need look no further than Robert Bosch himself. Even if he was an enthusiastic technician and a passionate entrepreneur, it was people he was most interested in. The fact that he is accorded respect right up to the present day is based, above all, on the fact that people knew he was a forward thinker, keen observer, and a person who kept his word.