Irene Kärcher Paved the Way for Women Leaders

Categories: ISSA 100th Anniversary, ISSA Insights, ISSA Member Spotlight

By Jeff Cross | January 31, 2023 << Back to Articles Irene Kärcher Paved the Way for Women Leaders

In 1949, Alfred Kärcher married Irene, the love of his life. Over the years, they had two children, with Alfred focusing not only on his family but also on the company he founded in 1935.

Alfred’s goal was to find new solutions to every challenge, and that’s what he did, embracing, inventing, and advancing innovation. Germany-based Kärcher, a long-time ISSA manufacturer member company, was on the move.

In 1959, just 10 short years after marrying Irene, Alfred suffered a fatal heart attack. His sudden death left the company without a leader. But Irene wasn’t a simple homemaker, the role that women were designated at that time in history. She had trained at a home economics school and had worked at Daimler Benz as secretary to the general manager. Irene knew business.
And she was smart.

The unthinkable at the time happened. Irene took over the company, assuming the unfamiliar position of a woman at the head of an industrial company in an industry dominated by men. She faced challenges but met them head-on. It didn’t take long to notice how she excelled at guiding her management staff.

In less than 10 years of her leadership, she doubled the number of employees and sales, paving the way for Kärcher to become a world market leader in cleaning technology, establishing the first sales companies abroad early in the 1960s.

Under Irene’s leadership, the company’s overall sales increased 128-fold, and by 1989, Kärcher, which once had 250 employees, had become a major corporation with more than 3,200 employees worldwide. With Irene at the helm, a culture emerged characterized by sustainability, humanity, respect for one another, and social responsibility, all of which form the basis for Kärcher’s modern corporate values.

About the Author.

Jeff Cross is the ISSA media director, with media brands that include ISSA Today, Cleaning & Maintenance Management, and Cleanfax. He can be reached at [email protected] or 740-973-4236.