August 10, 2000 04:31pm
Beate Uhse shareholders greet founder like a star
by: James Mackenzie
(FLENSBURG, Germany) -- Few company heads could hope for as enthusiastic a reception from shareholders as Beate Rotermund, the 80-year-old figurehead of Germany's largest sex business, Beate Uhse AG .
The firm is the first of its kind to be listed in Germany and investors, cheering loudly and lining up for autographs, were attending its debut annual meeting since the listing.
An enthusiastic shareholder turnout was indicative of Germany's booming shareholder culture.
Germans, with a generally relaxed attitude to sex, have had no problem in blending business with pleasure. As service businesses ranging from football clubs to record producers and temporary employment agencies line up to list on the bourse, it was perhaps inevitable that adult entertainment would get in on the act.
Outside the main hall, Flensburger Sparkasse, the local savings bank, had a stand promoting the next major sex company listing, Erotic Media AG, a film licence dealer in which Beate Uhse has a 20 percent stake.
``Public contact and ease with erotica goes without saying for almost all groups in the population,'' said board member Otto Christian Lindemann.
Away from the razzamatazz, Beate Uhse shares have performed respectably, doubling to 15.96 euros ($14.38) on Thursday from their issue price of 7.20 euros in May 1999. Chief executive Ulrich Huelle says he expects first half sales and operating profit to rise about five percent.
Beate Uhse, which operates a string of sex shops across Germany, is one of the best known brands in the country, claiming to be recognised by 98 percent of the population.
The story behind the company is both a dramatic tale and a microcosm of the economic miracle which saw Germany rising from the rubble of World War Two to become an economic and consumer powerhouse.
Escaping to the far north of Germany with small two sons at the very end of the war, Beate Uhse, a Luftwaffe test pilot, began in 1947 by selling information on contraception, paying the printer 5lb (2kg) of butter.
The business grew in the 1950s with publications such as ``Is everything right in our marriage?'' and ``Helga und Bernd'' distributed via mail order.
Two days after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Beate Uhse (Rotermund is her married name) distributed 25,000 of her catalogues to East Germans and expanded rapidly into the former communist east.
The listing in May 1999 was the final step linking the grim post-war world of reconstruction to the new Germany of the Internet and booming stock markets.
In the process, the group has made Flensburg, a tranquil town close to the Danish border, a major centre of Germany's sex industry. The group has also branched out further, acquiring businesses in the Netherlands and Scandinavia and taking a stake in an Australian Internet firm.
Beate Uhse's core business, retailing sex videos and a diverse range of erotic underwear and products as well as non-medicinal lotions and pills for enhancing sexual potency was a first for the stock market.
But for audiences used to Germany's startlingly explicit late night television, little in the catalogue would be new and none of the shareholders at the AGM appeared to find anything in the business to shock.
``It's perfectly normal. It's only the English who get bothered by this kind of thing,'' said one shareholder from Hamburg, declining to specify whether he was a customer as well as a shareholder.