Werner Otto (entrepreneur)

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Werner Otto (13 August 1909 in Seelow near the Polish border – 21 December 2011 in Berlin) was a German entrepreneur. He founded Otto GmbH in 1949, which eventually became the world’s largest mail order group.[1] He was married three times and had five children.[2]

Otto and his family persistently ranked among the wealthiest Germans.


Werner Otto was born as the son of the retailer Wilhelm Otto and his wife Frieda. After a commercial apprenticeship, he started his own business as a retail merchant in Szczecin. Because dissemination of leaflets Otto was sentenced in 1934 to two years imprisonment. After his release Otto operated a cigar shop and married in 1939 his first wife Eva Haffner. In 1941 their daughter Ingvild was born and two years later son Michael. The end of the war saw Otto with a head injury in a military hospital. In 1949 he divorced. Motto for his life was "Panta rhei" — everything flows.[3]

Otto foundet the mail order company 'Otto Versand' (Otto GmbH & Co KG) in Hamburg on 17 August 1949.[4] The management of the fast-growing company turned over to his eldest son, Dr. Michael Otto, in 1981.

In 1952 he married Jutta Becker and 1957 his second son Frank was born as the only child from his second marriage.

In the 1960s he started the Sagitta Group, today's Park Property,[5] one of the largest real estate companies in Canada.

Through his North American experiences, Werner Otto got the idea to found another enterprise, the ECE Projekt Management GmbH & Co. KG,[6] which builds and manages shopping malls; finance and staff, regardless of the company Otto. The ECE is now one of the leading developers, implementers, owners and operators of large commercial real estate in Europe.[7]

His third wife Maren gave birth to Werner Otto's youngest children Katharina and Alexander also in the 1960s. Katherina is a filmmaker in New York, Alexander got from his father the real estate company ECE entrusted.

In his range of social causes he founded in 1969 the Werner Otto Foundation, which supports medical research.[8]

In 1973, when he was over 60, Werner Otto developed the Paramount Group in New York, to invest in U.S. real estate.[9]

At Harvard University he donated a new museum building, the Werner Otto Hall, for the art of German Expressionism, out of the Busch-Reisinger Museum. The building has now been demolished as part of a redevelopment project led by Renzo Piano.


Werner Otto was awarded the Grand Cross 1st class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, was an honorary senator of the city of Hamburg, and on his 100th birthday became an honorary citizen of the city of Berlin. Otto is included in Germany’s Hall of Fame in the history museum in Bonn.[10]