Most companies are just businesses, organizational machines created for making money. But for GHOST Bikes founder, Uwe Kalliwoda, his company means so much more. When he started the brand, he couldn’t have imagined that it would grow to become an international supplier, but it has always been based on the friends and relationships he has made along the way.
Uwe didn’t get his start because he was into bikes. In truth he was a skier and grew up racing a number of alpine disciplines. But as is the case with any seasonal sport, he had to find ways to stay in shape during the off-season. Bikes being a great leg-centric workout proved just the ticket to fill his cross training needs.
A friend who had helped introduce him to bikes worked in the bike industry at the time, and was already on the professional track in 1990 when he invited Uwe to come visit him in Taiwan. The trip was an eye opener for him, and when he took an internship there, it gave him a firsthand look at what real mass production bicycle manufacturing looked like.
Back in Germany, Uwe went to work at a friend’s bike shop, mostly assembling new bikes and this helped him develop his bike mechanic skills. As his knowledge grew, he eventually got into the sales side of the business as well, giving him a pretty well rounded view of how a bike shop ought to run.
But it wasn’t until he moved back to the little town of Waldsassen that things really started to take shape. Uwe and a friend, Klaus Möhwald, went together to start a bike shop. They knew that they needed a hook, something to distinguish themselves and set them apart from all the other shops in their area. Instead of selling all the same brands that could be had anywhere, they decided to take the chance on something new.
The answer they created was the GHOST Bikes brand. Their area of northern Bavaria, known as Oberpfalz, is a fairytale landscape punctuated by densely wooded hills perfect for mountain biking, so it should be no surprise that the first bike they produced was made to tackle their hometown terrain. Named the Lector, this first bike was a revelation in their regional market and set the bar for both price and performance in its class across Germany. Within two to three years demand had ramped up so much that they grew to four store locations.
The major turning point in the brand’s evolution came when they took the big leap to expanding their distribution. While the store chain had given them the platform to incubate and nurture the brand, going beyond their own brick and mortar confines and selling to other dealers is what really shifted GHOST into high gear.
It might have been easier and certainly cheaper to uproot the company and head to a place that made more logistical sense than little Waldsassen, but Uwe has always taken a different approach. Unlike the modern business being guided by the bottom line, he wanted to share with the community that had given him so much and reward friends and family for their trust and service.
When GHOST set about building a new headquarters in 2007, Uwe met with local officials and his employees to share his vision. He wanted to erase any notion that a new, modern building in Waldsassen might be construed as self-aggrandizement on his part. This was not for him he assured; it was for them.
The view Uwe presented could hardly be farther from the majority of corporate realities today. By rooting the company in his hometown, he hoped to create jobs there and support the local economy. It was an investment, yes—but in his town, in his employees, and what he saw as a growing GHOST family.
But lest you label the man as a hopeless romantic who was putting the health of his company at stake, Uwe also forged an alliance with a powerful partner to help secure the brand’s future. He saw the hostile landscape of acquisitions and mergers plucking up niche brands and decided to defend against it. By joining forces with Accell NV, a Dutch powerhouse with enormous manufacturing and distribution capacities, Uwe not only protected the company from insecurities, he also improved GHOST’s production priority at the factory.
Certainly Uwe and his GHOST brand have come a long way since the first Lector mountain bike, and he sees exciting new developments on the horizon. For the first time, the company is testing the waters in a completely new product segment for them—urban bikes.
GHOST caters to urban bike commuters in partnership with COBI
Uwe challenged his team to focus their passions on creating innovative products for the discerning commuter. With the new emphasis on alternative transportation modes and the increasingly digitally connected world, he felt this would be a great place to make a mark and again prove the brand’s commitment to creating unique, quality bicycles that fulfill people’s wants and needs.
Uwe is certainly a singular leader in the modern corporate age. He has worked hard over the years to build his business making a lot of sacrifices on his road to success. But to this day, he values the people he has met and those who have joined him along the way. GHOST is a bicycle brand yes, but what Uwe stands for is so much more. His drive and tireless dedication to the brand are unmistakable, and yet it is his passion to secure solid employment and a good living for his friends and neighbors is what sets him apart. If asked about his greatest success, he might just answer that above all, building the GHOST family is what matters most.