I am a professional carpenter - I timbered my first roof structure at the age of 16. After 18 years of work as a building craftsman, I took a job as a consultant and sales director in a large company for construction materials. After seven years, I no longer found this activity to be satisfying. I was thinking ever more frequently back to my time as a craftsman - I was yearning to return to my original profession. I wanted to be advising not only house builders and professionals, but also to be physically involved in building and renovating homes - or at least doing some kind of activity which would breathe life back into my craftsmanship skills and organisational abilities.
I thought up of a small company, with a maximum of ten people, which would build one or two fine houses every year, and also carry out some renovation work. This wish was soon followed by deed, though with the help of friends who knew me well, and who encouraged me unanimously through their belief that I was actually practising the wrong profession. When I finally resigned from my employer in the spring of 1984, I was free and faced with the question of what it was exactly that I should be doing now, and what would I enjoy.
It was a quick decision: First of all, I created a construction services business called the Maurerexpress (Brick Mason Express). This happened very quickly, and I hired two employees and a secretary. Even then, I was convinced that a good secretary on the phone was worth her weight in gold. At the beginning, the phone did not ring particularly often - as hardly anyone knew us. My first employee was Hans Gründbichler - a gifted craftsman and organiser. I owe him very much for those first five years.
Our first headquarters were in an abandoned petrol station on the outskirts of Bad Ischl: No heating, no double glazed windows - a concrete bunker. The first winter was so cold that water was constantly freezing up in the office during the service period. It would have been impossible to work without a warm coat. But we knew how to help ourselves, and warmed the office time and again with a gas torpedo heater, so that at least the typewriter would work. And soon things looked up: Two years later, we bought part of the current headquarters in Pfandl. This was then gradually expanded through the acquisition of five different properties to its present day size.
However, we resided in Pfandl at the beginning in the most basic of spaces - though it did serve us as a warehouse prior to that as well as afterwards. In 1989 the new company building was completed and we moved in, while also renting out a section. This 70m² office space seemed infinitely empty, as we previously had to content ourselves with 25m2. Now there are more than 360m2 and many employees (and their families) who can rely on a solid employer.
The circumstances were initially very pitiful, yet they were always used very efficiently for business. But, as the old saying goes: "He, who does not struggle, does not live!" Irrespective of the Spartan conditions, from the first day onwards, we were always driven by the need to ensure the best possible quality, customer service and timely delivery.
The connection with place and region therefore plays a crucial role for our company. We live in the Salzkammergut - one of the most beautiful areas in the world, with an infinitely rich culture and lifestyle. Tradition here is alive and well, though without much fuss or ado. This is a beautiful and exotic region, with precious individuality and customs: We must ensure to preserve it for the future.
Thus for Zebau, craftsmanship has come to play a special role, seeing that a region's crafts have always affected its pride, culture and cohesion. As Goethe stated, "Therefore all life, all deed and all art must have been initially preceded by craft." This is particularly true for the construction industry.
The Salzkammergut houses demonstrate a special “swankiness” - there is no inept pseudo-architecture. The region is not rich, and the houses are thus practical and adapted to the loveliness of the landscape. However, the buildings should not be allowed to freeze as they did in the past. The interior especially, can and should certainly correspond to the modern era. Every generation will make its contribution in this area, implementing its wishes and ideas. It will bring about the new and change the old - without having to fear that the landscape would be robbed of its originality and the region of its character.
It is precisely in this area, which affects the appearance of the houses, that we all have a duty to act with care and circumspection. All of us - particularly those that carry any kind of influence - bear a very heavy responsibility. It is very important to us that we take this responsibility seriously. You do not have to chase after every trend. Zebau's success is heavily based on these grounds.
The materials and fine designs, of course, always have to be adapted to the budget of the individual. However, tradition is generally not more expensive, and will withstand the judgement of future generations. In 20 or 100 years, no one will ask about the cost of a building. The only thing that will matter then is whether you like it and who built it. You do not need to have the latest and the most modern features always and everywhere - it isn't the flamboyant and extraordinary, but the tried and tested which provide the world with constancy and stability.
Our company can look back on its success story based on these principles. The Zebau philosophy has not changed, and I see it as my biggest challenge to pass this on to my younger colleagues. This however in no way implies that you should refuse technical progress and the spirit of the times - you could not survive economically and would not be taken seriously. As already noted above, it's indispensable to have a sound approach which serves the well-being of the region and its inhabitants. He, who serves others, will ultimately serve himself the most.
The building trade has the chance to essentially help shape the development of the region and the lives of its people. Therefore, it may be the duty of craftspeople, and the construction industry in particular, to handle this great task responsibly for future generations.