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Ulrich Kayser's life, career and long association with Bernhard & Co

Posted on November 26, 2013 at 2:50 PM

Ulrich Kayser’s association with Bernhard and Company goes back a long way.

“I first met Jeffrey Bernhard, father of Stephen, while I was a student at the Royal Horticulture Society in Wisley in 1964, where I was studying Horticulture.

I remember looking through a garden centre directory and it listed the very first centres that had self-service, a new concept then, so I made a point of visiting him, explained that I was a student from Germany and we got chatting about the International Gardening Association.

The following year Jeffrey went to the International Garden Centre Conference in Vienna and we met again, and from there, our long friendship and association with our families grew.”

Ulrich’s father was a landscape architect who also founded one of Germany’s largest Herbacious nursery’s, Kayser & Seibert back in 1909. It was a successful business employing over 70 people.

“I followed in my father’s footsteps and studied Horticulture. One of my son’s is now also a landscape architect – so I think the love of plants, gardens and the outdoors is buried deep in the Kayser genes. My father was also an Anglophile. He loved England and English gardens and was keen for me to study there. My sister also lived in London for 25 years.

After college I went to work in Notcutt’s Nursery in Woodbridge, Suffolk for a year and then planned to go back to Germany to work for my father, but in the meantime my father passed away and the partner did not want to share the Company with me, so we split up and in 1968 I opened my own garden centre in Mannheim. I was 25 years old. Looking back I was far too young and I didn’t have the business experience, so it was a tough time and a big learning curve, but I ran it for 15 years. It was certainly a success, but it was difficult to make money.”

Jeffrey introduced Ulrich to his son Stephen back in 1973 when he’d finished his own Horticulture studies in Holland and USA. The family were just launching a new business exporting British garden products and manufacturing aluminium greenhouses. These were sold to big garden centres right across Europe. With their European network of contacts they became agents for Atterton Ellis, established manufacturers of reel grinding machines.

This is when Stephen headed across the Atlantic to concentrate on building the USA market. Ulrich stepped up his involvement first in Germany and then spread the operation right across Europe starting in France.

“At that stage we were selling mostly to workshops rather than golf courses. I suppose we started selling directly to golf courses in the early 1980’s.

Stephen and I did trips together around Germany and I became a distributor of sorts – always freelance, but I sold under the Bernhard and Company name. The business grew steadily in Germany, Austria and Switzerland and it was a time in my life that I loved selling a special niche product. I am well known in the market and felt very fortunate to be working with such a good bunch of people.

The market grew and together we set up a network in over 25 European Countries with distributors to handle the demand.

I don’t think anyone in the Company has sold more machines than me in Europe. I’ve been doing this job for 35 years, and very recently was presented in the Factory with a gift to celebrate 40 years association with the Company.

I now work alongside our new German distributor, Golfkontor and our relationship is excellent. They have a very good name in the golf world and I have many good friends and contacts in the business so we make a really good team.

The market is definitely improving at this moment, so we are happy. We have come a long way.”

Ulrich has two sons. Christoph, 38, who lives in Abu Dhabi and Stephan who is two years younger and lives in Heidelberg.

He divides his time between his hometown of Heidelberg and his partner of ten years, Helga’s home in Schriesheim, 5 Km apart where she lives with her three daughters. He loves the area, and the wine festivals and the wine.

He likes to play golf but rarely has the time, and he’s passionate about gardening – although with two homes there’s always plenty to do.

Asked what Ulrich considers are his greatest achievements he said, “For me, working with the Bernhard family has been a very good time. We have such a long association.

Providing Tournament Support was my idea back in 2000 and that has been a success for us. We did the first two in the UK at Royal Lytham and Wentworth and then in Germany we supported the BMW Open in Eichenried and the SAP-Open at St.Leon-Rot. This way we learned a lot during our work with the PGA and from a lot of dedicated and exceptional people around the Globe.

Overall the best thing about my job has been travelling. I love meeting people and we have very nice people in this Industry and I have a good relationship with most of them - that is very satisfying”.