Economic Pioneer of the Post-War Period

The first Horten supermarket

Helmut Horten, born on 8 January 1909 in Bonn on Rhine, founded the Helmut Horten Foundation. He was one of the entrepreneurs who triggered Germany's post-war economic boom. The Horten department store group was established in the fifties and expansion was achieved by enlarging the Horten group and acquiring other department stores. Encouraged by the example of American consumption, Helmut Horten opened the first supermarket in Germany in the late fifties. The success of this venture was outstanding. When Horten's department store group reached an annual turnover of one billion Euro and had over 25'000 employees, he decided to convert the group into a joint-stock company in 1968. He believed that such a large enterprise should not depend on a single leader. This move provided the conditions needed to maintain the group under joint-leadership.

A Businessman Committed to Society

Helmut Horten

Helmut Horten was a businessman in the truest sense of the word. His interest manifested early during his adolescence, he completed a business apprenticeship at the Leonhard Tietz department store in Düsseldorf. This was against his father's wishes, who, as president of the Senat at the Supreme Court of Cologne, would have preferred an academic career for his son. This unwavering determination, already noticeable, coupled with his solid business acumen became the key to his economic success.

Helmut Horten, tall, thin, with striking facial features, was a sensitive, reserved and vulnerable person. On the outside, he concentrated on high performance, success and recognition and was committed to these goals, while his inner self was constantly searching for values which would give his life purpose and meaning.

This helps to explain his great interest in medical and biological research for the protection of human health.

His employees were the first to benefit from this interest. Helmut Horten provided them with medical support which was unheard of in those days. He soon established a pension fund to improve existing retirement plans and often made generous contributions to the fund. His provision of a convalescent home for the firm's employees was also unusual.

Withdrawal into Private Life at the Peak of Success

Helmut Horten withdrew from the business world at the height of his economic success. He and his wife moved to Croglio, in the Canton of Ticino, at the end of 1968. In 1969-70, he sold the majority of his shares and, by the end of 1971, his remaining interests in his department store chain.

Several factors persuaded him to take this work. Second, as a strong advocate of free enterprise, he feared that increasing state intervention could severely restrict freedom of action within the market place.

Final Years in Service to his Foundations

After withdrawing into private life, Helmut Horten devoted himself primarily to his foundations in Switzerland and Austria. In 1971, he established the "Foundation Villalta" in Croglio with a starting capital of one million Swiss francs. Subsequent to his death in 1987, it was renamed the "Helmut Horten Foundation".
Over the years, he increased the foundation's capital several times. Through his bequest, it reached its level of 60 million Swiss francs. The Foundation seeks to promote "Health improvement through donations to research institutes, hospitals and other healthcare institutions, as well as to individuals in need of medical care. All measures intended to promote human health are eligible for support".

In 1972, he set up a similar foundation with a capital of almost 6 million Euros in the Carinthian town of Sekirn, as a gesture to his wife.

During the last twenty years of his life, Helmut Horten did the things which he previously had neither time nor leisure to do. Thanks to his extensive business experience and his liberal, market-related political views, he was often asked for advice as an "elder statesman". As he grew older, he narrowed his circle of friends and adopted an increasingly ascetic lifestyle. He passed away at his home in Villalta on the morning of 30 November 1987.


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