RATINGEN, West Germany — She began her career as an apprentice baker more than 30 years ago, but she was recently named West Germany's Businesswoman of the Year.
Of course, being the boss's daughter may not have hurt Marlis Blohm-Harry, but even her competitors agree that she is in large part responsible for turning the family name into a household word in northern Germany.
Harry Brot (Harry Bread) is the region's most popular brand, with sales last year of more than $70 million for 130 million pounds of bread. And the Harry family firm is now one of West Germany's largest bakeries and certainly the oldest, dating from 1688.
Harry Bread products are now exported to a dozen countries, including the United States, where it is sold in speciality food stores.
"We specialize in whole grain and sourdough breads, those that will keep their freshness, too," the stylish Blohm-Harry said in an interview at the company's baking plant in this suburb of Duesseldorf, just off the Rhine River.
"We put the emphasis on healthy kinds of bread, with whole meal," she added. "All our breads have high fiber and nutritional content and are made without use of additives or preservatives."
Women are a relative rarity in West Germany's high business and commercial posts, making up only 2% of the managers. Germans tend to regard business ability, a talent for management and a readiness to take risks as Teutonic male virtues.
The title of Businesswoman of the Year is awarded by the French champagne house of Veuve Clicquot, because in 1805, Nicole Clicquot, widowed at 27, took over the management of her husband's champagne cellars.
As Peter J. Ziegler, managing partner in Veuve Clicquot Imports of Wiesbaden, explained, "We want to show our respect for a woman who has made her way in business."
Blohm-Harry has been a leading executive of Harry Brot since 1957 when she entered the family business after an arduous apprenticeship in several smaller bakeries in northern Germany.
She is a member of a baking family founded in the 17th Century by Johan Harie (later changed to Harry), who set up shop in Altona, now a part of Hamburg.
Through the generations, the company grew slowly, at one time specializing in providing ship's biscuits in Hamburg port. It was not until the postwar years that sizable expansion came, with the company taking over smaller bakeries.
"When I was young," recalled Blohm-Harry, "I always wanted to a be a baker like my father. I liked working with dough and bread and being around people."
In 1957, Marlis Harry officially joined the family firm. A year later, she married Hans Juergen Blohm, and, retaining the Harry name, took over part of the management of the bakery operation. She became the ninth generation of her family to do so.
The firm expanded from Hamburg to Hanover and Ratingen, and Blohm-Harry introduced modern, mass baking technology. The company now employs a staff of more than 1,000.
Blohm-Harry and her husband divide management duties; she specializes in sales, distribution and marketing, and he handles production.