It has been announced that the long-time managing director, chairman of the supervisory board and chairman of the shareholders’ committee of the Claas group, Helmut Claas, died on January 5, at the age of 94.
Mourning his death, which came as a great shock, are not only his family and more than 11,000 Claas employees around the world, but also the entire agricultural machinery sector, where Helmut Claas was a significant European business personality.
Helmut Claas was born in 1926 at Harsewinkel. His parents, August and Paula Claas, managed a small agricultural machinery firm with a workforce of about 100. He completed an apprenticeship as a machine fitter after graduating from school. Practical experience followed in metalworking firms, and further practical training in casting. After a complementary study of agriculture in Paris, he took over the planning and establishment of a Claas distributor in France, which now operates as Claas France SAS. He joined his parents’ family firm in Harsewinkel in 1958. Here he applied himself initially to his particular area of expertise, which was engineering.
His special focus was always on developing pioneering products and mass-producing them economically. During his era, following the success of the combine harvester model Dominator, came the completely new combine harvester construction the Lexion, which is today the most efficient combine harvester in the world. Also, the Jaguar forage harvester and the Xerion large tractor were developed under Helmut Claas.
In 2003 he succeeded in taking an important step towards the company’s future when Claas took over the complete tractor business from Renault Agriculture in France. In other respects, too, internationalisation continued to progress with the establishment and expansion of production sites in Russia, the USA and China.
Accolades in his lifetime included honorary doctorates from four internationally renowned universities in Hungary, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria and Germany awarded honorary doctorates. Goryachkin University in Moscow bestowed an honorary professorship upon him, and Helmut Claas was made a Knight of the French Legion of Honour in recognition of his efforts as a pioneer of Franco-German cooperation.
In November 2013, Helmut Claas was inducted into the Hall of Fame of American Equipment Manufacturers, and another important highlight was the award of the Diesel medal by the German Institute of Inventions in 2017.
Personal awards, such as honorary citizenship of his home town of Harsewinkel, Germany, the Medal of Merit of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, as well as the Order of Merit of the French Agriculture Minister, round off his life’s work.
Helmut Claas was first and foremost a farmer. He ran a farm in East Anglia in Great Britain, and often stayed there with his wife, Erika. He enjoyed keeping in touch with farmers in the neighbourhood and took a keen interest in issues concerning agricultural firms. He also had a passion for hunting.
And he had long since taken care of the ongoing development of the family business; the next generation has already taken over the running of the Claas Group. Today, his daughter, Cathrina Claas-Mühlhäuser, manages the decision-making and development of the successful group of companies.