The Life and Times of Helmut Claas

Published online: Feb 12, 2021 Articles
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Source: Claas of America

Helmut Claas, longtime leader and son of Claas company founder August Claas, was the embodiment of German engineering. He loved agriculture and farming, and he elevated the entire industry through his visionary technology and innovation.

Claas died on Jan. 5, 2021, at the age of 94, but his legacy as a true pioneer of agriculture will live on.

Shortly after graduation, Helmut began his career as a machine fitter apprentice. He continued his work in different metalworking firms and received additional training in casting. 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.

In 1958, he returned to the family business and focused on engineering. Four years later, he became managing director. Helmut eventually became chairman of the supervisory board and the shareholders’ committee when the company restructured in 1996.

Even though he quickly moved through the management ranks, it was clear that his passion was rooted in engineering and product development. He developed a reputation for getting his hands dirty. In fact, in 1982 while attending the Farm Progress Show in Illinois, Claas was scheduled to meet with a group of 15 journalists. When he didn't immediately show, the crowd grew impatient until they heard banging sounds coming from the grain tank of a nearby combine. Helmut was inside the tank making a few adjustments. He greeted the waiting journalists and said, "Gentlemen, you're going to have to have a little more patience. The machine comes first!"

His passion was always on developing pioneering products and mass-producing them economically. Twenty-five years ago, he oversaw the development of the Lexion combine, considered the most efficient combine harvester in the world to this day. The invention of the self-propelled forage harvester and the uniquely versatile Xerion tractor were also the fruits of his labor.

During his tenure, Claas truly became an international company. A number of Claax manufacturing facilities were added beyond the German borders, including production plants in the U.S., Russia, India and other countries. In 2003, the company purchased Renault Agriculture in Lemans, France, which greatly expanded its tractor production capacity. Later, in 2014, Claas acquired Jinyee in China, expanding its footprint and product lines once again.

Helmut Claas's greatest personal and professional accomplishments were profound in the world of agriculture and are reflected in his many accolades:

  • Honorary doctorates in four countries and an honorary professorship from the Goryachkin University in Moscow
  • Knighthood in the French Legion of Honour in recognition of his pioneering efforts in Franco-German cooperation
  • Induction into the Hall of Fame of American Equipment Manufacturers (AEM)
  • Recognition by the German Institute of Inventions with the prestigious Diesel medal

Helmut Claas will be missed by many around the world, but he and his work will not be forgotten. Advancements in agriculture made by the Claas company over its 108-year history – and Helmut’s 63 years of influence on the company – have been profound.

A History of Innovation

It is amazing to think about the changes made during the course of one man’s lifetime. Recently, a collection of 30 videos highlighting Claas-exclusive innovations over the years was released on the Claas YouTube channel. Be sure to check out these ground-breaking advancements – many of which were influenced by Helmut Claas – and appreciate what a change they have made to commercial farming.