Machinery pioneer Helmut Claas dies aged 94

The long-time managing director of the Claas Group, Helmut Claas, has died at the age of 94, the machinery company said in a statement.

Claas became the company’s managing director in 1962, and was the son of the business’ founder August Class.

Helmut Claas was also the group’s supervisory board chairperson, as well as the chairperson of the shareholders’ committee.

He was born in 1926 in Harsewinkel, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. That town remains the headquarters of the Claas Group.

After finishing school, he completed an apprenticeship as a machine fitter, before going on to study agriculture in Paris.

He then took over the planning and establishment of a Claas distributor in France. He joined the family firm in his native town in 1958, and was made managing director in 1962.

In 1996, as part of the restructuring of the firm into a joint-stock company, he changed from the role of managing director to the position of chairperson of both the supervisory board and the shareholders’ committee.

Helmut Claas oversaw the development of the Lexion combine harvester, as well as the development of the Jaguar forage harvester and the Xerion tractor.

Under him, the company acquired Renault Agriculture in France in the early 2000s, and further expanded its international presence.

He was awarded honorary degrees by universities in several countries, and in 2009 was made a knight of the French Legion of Honour (the highest honour given by the French government) for advancing Franco-German cooperation.

In 2013 he was made a member of the American Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) ‘Hall of Fame’, and was awarded a prestigious medal by the German Institute of Inventions in 2017.

In its statement, Claas said that their former managing director was “first and foremost a farmer”, and he ran a farm in the UK. He also had a passion for hunting.

His daughter, Catherina Claas-Muhlhauser, now manages the decision-making and development of the Claas Group.