How to build a university – Getting started

By Fabian Berger, Head of Administration and Managing Director of KLU, founding staff member

This article is part of KLU's anniversary magazine celebrating our 10th anniversary (see pages 11-12). Have a look at the whole magazine.

The task set by founder Klaus-Michael Kühne was clear: to create a university that would offer a new academic “home” for logistics! And it was this challenge that brought together a small team led by founding president Dr. Wolfgang Peiner in an open-plan office in Hamburg’s HafenCity in early 2010. Their goal: to establish a new university “on the green field” and have it up and running by the fall.

In keeping with Antonio Machado’s famous maxim—“Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.”—the next several months chiefly consisted in starting the journey. What should they call the new university? The name needed to reflect both the institution’s mission and its autonomy, while also conveying a sense of continuity with its predecessor at Hamburg University of Technology, the “Kühne School of Logistics and Management”. Choosing the name “Kühne Logistics University,” or KLU for short, also underscored its innovative status as a logistics university— an identity that remains unique in the academic landscape to this day.

The building blocks

Four building blocks formed the foundation upon which this identity was to manifest, in the course of the process of receiving official recognition as a “university for logistics and leadership”: the founder’s vision was explained in more concrete terms in the mission statement, while a concept paper provided a point of departure and guidelines for the institution’s development. In this regard, central aspects included its focus on working on and for logistics, the institution’s embeddedness in Hamburg, an international orientation in terms of its structure and reach, and a clear commitment to upholding the highest standards for education and research through an interdisciplinary approach. In turn the “by-laws” defined KLU’s identity in terms of applicable legislation on universities, together with the essentials of its governance, and was agreed upon in close cooperation with the relevant authorities. Lastly, a business plan clearly defined KLU’s financial basis and structures, together with the vital commitment of its sponsor, the Kühne Foundation.

Program Faculty

Once these fundamentals had been settled, work could begin on content-related aspects. All of the future university’s functions had to be conceptually clarified and implemented, forcing the founding team to engage in true “multi-tasking.” External experts, who contributed their knowhow to the research and education program, were also essential. One of the most important accomplishments was to establish early on the Program Faculty, a top-notch committee of international academics that contributed important input and offered the new institution the benefit of their reputations. Thanks to their support, the curriculum for the first study program was developed: the “Master in Global Logistics,” which continues to be a success today.

Needless to say, recruiting researchers and students was also vital to a successful start. Risk-takers had to be found who were open for the adventure of teaching or studying at a university still in its infancy. Here, too, the Program Faculty network showed its value: by the time KLU officially opened its doors, two professors and 27 students had joined, making them the true pioneers in its academic operations.

By this time, the project offices were of course no longer sufficient, so a new site had to be found. The goal: to achieve more visibility for KLU with its own building in the HafenCity. Until that was possible, the temporary solution was to use the offices of Germanischer Lloyd. Then, in fall 2013, came the move to the current KLU Building in Großer Grasbrook, home to the “Golden Egg,” our large auditorium, which has since become KLU’s hallmark.

On April 29, 2010 the application for official recognition as a university was submitted to the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg’s authorities for science and education. In an unprecedentedly short time, official recognition was granted on September 22 of the same year, paving the way for Kühne Logistics University to commence teaching activities on September 27. After the university’s first decade, we can take a look back at the footprints it has left behind on its path to success. As we can see, it has left a lasting mark on the academic world.