Marie Langer Took Charge Of Her Billionaire Family’s 3D Printing Firm Months Before Covid-19 Struck. Here’s How She Navigated The Downturn—And Her Plan For The Future

Marie Langer, CEO of EOS GmbH

or more than three years, Hans Langer, founder of Germany’s EOS Group and the world’s first 3D-printing billionaire, had worked with his two adult children on a succession plan. In the fall of 2019, Marie Langer, a psychologist who is 34, took over as chief executive of the group’s largest operating business, EOS GmbH, which makes printers for metals and polymers. It was terrible timing: The Covid-19 pandemic hit that winter, and EOS’ sales, like that of many manufacturing companies, tumbled. By year-end, EOS Group’s revenue had fallen more than 20%, to around $325 million.

“I was quite new in the role,” Marie Langer told Forbes in a recent video call. “After half a year, I learned what ‘crisis management’ means.”

The goal, she says, was to stabilize the business, which is based in the town of Krailing on the outskirts of Munich, during the economic uncertainty without having to do widespread layoffs, while setting it up for future growth. In that, she succeeded. Already, she says, monthly orders have turned back up in a sign that the worst is over. In the last quarter of 2020, for example, orders surpassed $120 million, including the company’s single biggest order for 3D metal printers from a U.S. aerospace company.

EOS set up its first pilot factory last year, which is now producing 3D-printed eyeglasses. It’s also in the final stages of development of a new polymer 3D printer system that uses up to 1 million lasers for faster, more tailored production that could replace injection molding in some applications. The result: This year, the group expects revenue of some $385 million.

“We used the time to do our homework, to say there will be time after the crisis where the business will go up again, and we are experiencing that already,” she says. “We were really lucky.”

Hans Langer, now 69, is one of the original entrepreneurs of 3D printing, having started EOS more than 30 years ago and expanded it to become one of the major players in industrial 3D printing with customers that include BMW, Boeing, Siemens and Lockheed Martin. (For more on Hans Langer, see our 2019 feature story.) He and his family own all of EOS Group, which includes EOS GmbH and other related businesses. Though his net worth has dropped substantially on the downturn, he’s still worth $2.5 billion, by Forbes’ calculations.

“After half a year, I learned what ‘crisis management’ means.”

Marie and her older brother Uli, a 37-year-old physicist who now runs the group’s venture arm, AM Ventures, grew up in the family business, going to summer parties and visiting their dad at his office. “We were part of a lot of intense discussions that my dad and my mom had about human resources and strategy and customers during lunch and dinner,” she recalls.

As a teenager, she says, she knew there might be an option to join the family company someday, but she wasn’t sure that was the path she wanted. “I could not really relate to it,” she recalls, “and I felt that I need to a little bit live my freedom.”

She studied psychology at the University of Vienna, with a focus on organizational psychology and educational psychology, and spent a semester abroad at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. After graduation, she spent time working for an organization that offered sanitation to low-income households in Peru and founded Element A, an initiative to promote innovation in early education.

“When I was 25, my dad started to ask again, ‘What about joining?’ And I told him, ‘Hey, not now, maybe later.’ Then, five years ago, we decided that we have to think about it more closely and deeply as the company is owned by us as the family. My dad said, ‘If you don’t want to take over, we have to find another way.’”

EOS founder Hans Langer

To figure out what they wanted to do as a family, Hans, Marie and Uli began working with Michael Bordt, a Jesuit priest who heads the Institute of Philosophy and Leadership at the Munich School of Philosophy. Bordt, author of numerous books including The Art of Disappointing Your Parents, has worked with other wealthy European families on business succession, as well as with executive teams from corporations that include BMW and the chemical company Wacker Chemie. His intensive process uses meditation and goes deep into helping people understand their own motivations, and he works only with business owners willing to accept that their children might say no.

As part of the process, the family sat down together and wrote a mission statement for the group of companies, thinking about what had made them successful over the past 30 years and where they wanted to push forward. As Marie was considering the possibilities, she not only shadowed her father at meetings, she also connected with other owners of high-profile family businesses, including Ruth Wertheimer, daughter of Israeli industrialist Stef Wertheimer. “I discussed a lot with my dad the impact this technology could have in the world. I always wanted to do something big and change the world,” she says.

Unlike her father, a physicist who founded the company based on his expertise in laser technology and who remains chairman of EOS Group, Marie is neither an engineer nor a scientist. Instead, she says, having studied psychology and organizational behavior, she believes she can expand the business and change the way that it operates. In building out her own team, for example, she created two new roles, that of chief performance officer and chief transformation officer, bringing in outsiders to the company and the industry—Florian Mes and Ruha Reyhani—for both. “For me, it is so exciting to bring other perspectives that are from the cultural side,” she says.

“I discussed a lot with my dad the impact this technology could have in the world. I always wanted to do something big and change the world.”

There’s a serious dearth of women in manufacturing, and one of her big goals is to reach a 50-50 split between women and men in the company, up from 30-70 today. Reyhani ran simulations on how long it would take, she says, and the results were disheartening: If they hired 70% women for every open position (the business’ typical annual turnover is 6%), it would take 11 years. The gap between men and women in leadership positions was even larger. “We said, ‘We really have to get this thing going because that’s a long game we are playing here,” she says.

Another major focus is environmental sustainability—a key factor in her decision to take on the CEO role. She began to see how EOS’ 3D printing technology might make manufacturing more sustainable by allowing factories to produce parts on demand rather than stockpiling millions of pieces that might never be needed to cope with complex supply chains.

She now hopes to nudge the industry far beyond that basic concept by using green energy to power smaller, digitally operated factories, creating biodegradable materials and cutting the amount of materials waste. The ultimate goal: carbon-neutral manufacturing. She points to the recent book by Bill Gates on climate change as a sign of how much the thinking has changed. “Five years ago everyone told me I’m crazy,” she says. “But now customers ask for it.”

I’m a senior editor at Forbes, where I cover manufacturing, industrial innovation and consumer products. I also edit the Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before