Driving force behind Claas equipment company dies

Helmut Claas, the pioneer behind Claas agricultural machinery, died Jan. 5 at the age of 94.

Born in Harsewinkel, Germany, in 1926, he was exposed to farm machinery at an early age because his parents managed a small agricultural machinery firm with about 100 employees.

“After studying agriculture in Paris, he took over the planning and establishment of a Claas distributor in France, which now operates as Claas France SAS. He joined his parents’ firm in Harsewinkel in 1958,” said a company news release announcing his death.

Claas became managing director of the firm in 1962, a partner when the company restructured in 1978 and then chair of the board and shareholders in 1996 after the firm became a joint stock company.

“His special focus was always on developing pioneering products and mass-producing them economically. During his era, following the success of the Dominator combine harvester, came the completely new development of the Lexion,” the news release.

“The Jaguar forage harvester and the large tractor Xerion were also developed under Helmut Claas.”

Claas took over the tractor business from France-based Renault Agriculture in 2003 and expanded production sites in Russia, the United States and China.

The machinery pioneer had honorary doctorates from four universities and was made a knight of the French Legion of Honour. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of American Equipment Manufacturers in 2013.

“Personal awards, such as honorary citizenship of his hometown of Harsewinkel, Germany, the Medal of Merit of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, as well as the Order of Merit of the French agriculture minister, round off his life’s work,” the company said.

Claas owned and ran a farm in East Anglia in Great Britain and was an avid hunter.

His daughter, Catherine Claas-Muhlhauser, now manages the development of the Claas group of companies. It employs about 11,000 people.

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