Werner Otto (Associated Press Photo)
BERLIN (AP) - Werner Otto, the founder of the mail-order company that bears his name and a prominent figure in West Germany's post-World War II economic resurgence, has died. He was 102.
The company, Otto Group, said Tuesday that he died in Berlin on Dec. 21 in the presence of his family.
Otto opened a shoe factory in Hamburg in 1945, but it didn't last long in the face of tough competition from southern Germany.
So in 1949, with four employees, he turned to selling shoes by mail order - the start of what became Otto Group, which now employs 50,000 people and has annual revenues of euro11.4 billion ($14.9 billion).
Its first, hand-produced, catalog appeared in 1950, offering 28 styles of shoes. The business then grew rapidly during the 1950s, expanding its range and establishing itself with the help of shoppers from outside major cities who didn't have ready access to stores; in 1963, Otto introduced telephone orders and went online in 1995.
Otto handed over the company's operational management in 1965 and founded another enterprise, ECE, which builds and manages shopping malls in Europe.
He also set up Paramount Group, Inc., to invest in U.S. real estate.
Otto dedicated himself to a range of social causes, including his Werner Otto Foundation, founded in 1969, which supports medical research.
Among other projects, his company said he also donated a new museum building to Harvard University, the Werner Otto Hall, to showcase expressionist art from the German-speaking world.
Otto was born in the eastern German town of Seelow on Aug. 13, 1909, the son of a merchant.
He is survived by his third wife, Maren, and his five children. His oldest son, Michael, is now Otto Group's supervisory board chairman and his youngest son, Alexander, is the chief executive of ECE.
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