Even if I normally do not comment relevant air cargo media, I nevertheless would like to give my contribution in this publication to honor one of the tycoons of our industry.
It was the middle of the ‘90s when I met Heinz Ruhnau for the first time, at the aviation investment forum for the CIS in Vienna. As my early morning flight from Zurich to Vienna was late, I
reached the venue with a delay and there was no other chance than taking a seat in the last row as speeches and presentations already had started.
A person I knew only from the media asked me to take the last free seat next to him. When I took a look at the person, my blood, so to say, froze. It was Mr. Ruhnau. I had the impression that he felt sorry for me as the stress to reach the venue made me somehow look very deranged and so he even organized a glass of water and a coffee for me. When the break started there was a huge line of people who wanted to talk to him and shake his hands. At that time he was the envoy of Friedel Neuber’s bank West LB in Russia. Additionally, he was advisor to the young and ambitious regional Governor from Nishne Novgorod called Boris Nemtsov. I think we all know the story.
After the session started again, he asked me in which function I had been delegated to the venue. At that time I was the young VP of ASB-Panalpina taking care of the CIS. I proudly presented him our company’s efforts to build an airfreight system to and from the CIS. He listened to me and I was impressed that he never gave me a feeling that he was superior, despite the age difference and moreover the difference of status and seniority. After a very good conversation, I handed him my business card and flew back to Switzerland with the feeling of a very gratifying conversation with Mr. Ruhnau who seemed to understand the Eastern Hemisphere much better than others.
Weeks later a handwritten letter from Mr. Ruhnau reached my desk in Zurich with the request to intensify our dialogue. During the following years I have met Mr. Ruhnau on a regular basis, and I witnessed the way he architected today’s Mitteldeutsche Flughafen AG (Leipzig + Dresden Airport Holding). I always thought that he is years ahead of all of us in forward thinking. Some critics reached him, saying that everything he mentored to execute, especially at Leipzig Airport, felt too big and too over dimensioned for Saxony and the region, until the very moment he scooped DHL Express to Leipzig. Backed up by the local and regional politics and seconded by the brilliant Volkmar Stein (at that time CEO of LEJ Airport), he convinced DHL to set up the intercontinental hub in the middle of Germany or, better said, in the middle of Europe, in his function as the Chairman of the Board. Also here we all know the history.
With his political connections and unbeaten network, Mr. Ruhnau played the crucial role in having DHL in Leipzig today. This is a development from whom generations to come will greatly benefit in
the region. Well done, as he brought “Memphis” to Middle Germany, like he used to say! This is a masterpiece of infrastructure development in air cargo, still as valid as ever before!
What always fascinated me, were his charisma and his enthusiasm in going east. Eastern Germany, Eastern Europe, Russia, and China were his playing fields where I got to know him.
Yes, listening to his anecdotes could entertain you far beyond the time of the final order in the restaurant, far after midnight, be it in the West Inn Hotel in Leipzig or later on in “his” Hotel Kempinski Baltchug in Moscow.
I felt privileged to have been one of the handful people he regularly asked to meet when he visited Moscow in his function of special envoy of the Lufthansa CEO at that time.
Rest In Peace,
It has been a pleasure and honor to have met you in my “air cargo” life.
Moscow/Baku, July 2020