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Waltraud Lenhart Q&A: A lifetime partner steps in to carry on Leki's legacy

Leki CEO Waltraud Lenhart tells us what's ahead for the trekking pole brand and how it will continue to innovate while paying tribute to her husband.

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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show July 31 – Aug. 3. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives

Both Waltraud Lenhart and the industry as a whole mourned her husband’s untimely death in a plane crash last year, but she’s determined to keep his legacy alive.

Shortly after Klaus Lenhart’s passing, Waltraud Lenhart stepped into the role of CEO of Leki. She took baby steps to allow herself time to mourn and get used to the position. Now, she said, she’s taken on all the responsibilities of the position she’s held for the past year.

In the last five years Leki has developed a number of technologies Lenhart said she’s proud of — such as the Trigger glove pole system for alpine skiing and the Smart Tip on its Nordic walking poles — and sales are up.

“This is a reason to be happy, but no reason to rest,” said Lenhart, who touches on Leki’s and her own challenges, goals for the future and her business philosophy.

Tell us about your new role with the company.
The past was strongly influenced by my husband’s leadership and his presence. However, I have always been involved in the decision-making processes and the development of the company. For Klaus, it was always of importance to get my feedback. So I could support him more effectively and he could allow himself room for new challenges. During the last year I took over the role of the CEO step-by-step, and accepted the inheritance together with my team.

What has been the biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?
To accept the finality of the fatal accident. In this situation my kids, our friends and certainly Leki were of great importance for me. I am still stunned by the overwhelming support, loyalty and respect that I have experienced since then — worldwide.

When you and Klaus took over the company together in 1984, the goal was to establish Leki as a global technology and market leader. How would you say the company has accomplished that?
By manufacturing sophisticated, high-quality and durable products for these sports, we managed repeatedly to set trends in them. That has made us — and kept us — a market leader.

How will you continue to accomplish this?
For years already, my husband and I had dealt with the subject of succession and a structure had already been established in the company. The new situation required completing these structures more quickly. Each member of our team was motivated from the start to realize the adaptations, which were important for the moment. In order to secure the success of our family-owned company, our son Markus [Lenhart] joined the company three years ago.

What are some emerging trends in trekking/Nordic walking poles?
We see a clear trend towards smaller, more compact and comfortable poles. We follow this trend with our external locking system, SpeedLock, and our foldable poles. Test results with new materials and constructions, which our engineers developed in cooperation with top athletes to reduce weight, were integrated into our production. Following the demand for more comfort, we developed the new Skin Strap. With continuous research and field tests, we follow our target of setting new trends and offering sustainable products for fun and comfort outdoors.

Of Klaus’ legacies, which are you most concerned with keeping intact and why?
Leki’s success is based on our passion for quality and our enthusiasm for innovation — all that at a fair price-performance ratio. My concern is to develop these basic principles further, together with my dedicated staff.

Tell us about your personal business philosophy.
The status we were able to achieve is based on the values of the previous generation. Never stop trying to improve the existing. Part of my business philosophy is to act honestly and respectfully; this is the pre-condition for a reliable and predictable partnership and the positive development of the company. We will continue to work with discipline and passion on our claim to develop sophisticated products, which offer an ideal price-performance ratio for our customers.

How does LEKI get involved in the community?
A major interest of Leki is the promotion of young talent in skiing. The experiences made in competition are important lessons for the whole life. We regularly make donations to organizations with the target to help people in need. We like to do that very quietly. Christian values are the basis. Personal involvement in our parish is a matter of course for me, within the limits of my time.Respectful, peaceful and trusting relationships work best in a functioning society. To make our contribution to achieve this goal is not only a trend for us, but also our inner attitude.

What are some of your goals in the next five years?
A very important goal for me is to continue living the values of Leki and even to strengthen them with the effect of securing jobs.

–Ana Trujillo